[Video] Gone Fishing for Florida Stone Crab Season

It all began with a hunt for a frog leg source in 2006 when Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink was a set of plans and dreams. Some 12 years later, fisherman George Figueroa of Trigger Seafood is Michael’s source for everything under the South Florida sun including these Everglades treats, from local spiny lobster to his company’s namesake triggerfish when we’re lucky.  Like most long lasting relationships, things grow and evolve.  You see each other when you can — sometimes more often than others, but it’s always like yesterday and there’s always an opportunity for a spontaneous adventure.  When George happened to be by the office last week to pick up a check, he asked if I wanted to join on the boat Sunday for the 2018 Florida Stone Crab season harvest.  Frog gigging?  Sure, Michael has donned the headlamp under full moonlight.  Wild boar hunting? He and culinary director Bradley Herron joined George on the swamp buggy.  But after all this time, it would be our first time pulling traps — and certainly not the last!

Unlike recreational opportunities, our fisherman has a commercially-regulated (for sustainability) license where he may legally harvest both claws — if they are legal in size and the crab continues to feed (as many frisky ones we encountered today without claws were doing in the traps.) The crabs’ natural predators in the bay including triggerfish, dolphin, turtles, and octopus actively prey on both clawed and clawless specimens. The reality is we encountered pilfered and stolen traps all day long, which is bad for everyone, especially the health of our fishery.

Stone Crab season is one of those give-ins. Not taken for granted but to a certain degree expected.  Nothing should ever be that way, and we are grateful to have had the opportunity to realize it through this past weekend’s experience.  George’s office is like that.  It appears to be a constant — the crystalline water of Biscayne Bay, the blue sky embracing its National Park, the delicious seafood.

Scratch the shimmer though, and the squalls, the tropical changes, the pirate’s-life-for-me blood coursing thick and hungry in all of us down in these wild parts rise to the surface.  That’s the thing about buried treasure.  It makes us all go a little crazy. Go rogue in the rush of discovery and payday in glorious sweet meat.  But what will you pull up?  Has someone gotten there, to your licensed traps, first? The unpredictability of it all runs deep, and that’s the object lesson we took away with our 65-pound claw haul. Protection and regulation can only do so much for our natural resources.  It takes a little more work than that.  It takes respect, and education even when it’s not always easy on the eyes is a fine place to start.

Thank you @jorge_trigger_seafood for showing us the #stonecrab ropes, sharing insight into the challenges of managing this fishery, and always telling it like it is. Keep it real and come along for the ride with us on the video above. When you enjoy some claws at MGFD or Amara at Paraiso there will be new meaning and respect to contemplate — how they got to the table and in some cases why they’re absent from it.

 

What’s in the Walk In? Great White Winter Predators.

Golden Tilefish at Trigger Seafood.

Golden Tilefish resting pretty at George Figueroa’s Trigger Seafood.

“Striped bass, trout, and stuff like that. Scallops… That’s the ocean I come from,” Fi’lia chef de cuisine Tim Piazza begins.  “When I was working at (Michael’s) Genuine, I began figuring out what South Florida has to offer as far as local sustainable fish. Golden tilefish is one we really look forward to.”

Coming from New York, Tim had to learn the seasons, the ingredients, all over again, and same goes for the sea as it does for land.  With grouper out until summer, the arrival of swimmers at the top of the food chain is the perfect trigger for the kitchen to revisit fish dishes on the menu.  Changing the set up is always on the table, but so is a switch more subtle yet maybe even more significant. Tim turned up the volume on one of my favorite dishes simply swapping snapper for golden tile.

“You get something a lot cleaner, with a little more firmness and structure to the fish. Which means a higher fat content, so the bite is a little more luxurious,” he explains. “I had to wrap my head around it but it’s just a constant thing and part of the process for our kitchen, menu development. It’s just about getting smarter as a cook down here. You flip the script like 100%.”

Talk to fishmonger George Figueroa of Trigger Seafood, Michael’s good friend and dispatch of what’s running since Genuine’s early days, and he’ll yarn a tail as only his dying breed can, one that makes the fish leap from the plate with context essential to the understanding – and therefore ultimate enjoyment – of the ingredient.

“Right now the season opened on the golden tile and the long liners are out off Florida’s north Atlantic coast, even at Pulley’s Ridge about 140 to 160 miles northwest of Key West in the Gulf,” he explains. “It’s where these guys like to be, deep in the trenches. That’s why they have this angled head, to bury in the sand.”

#whatsinthewalkin

#whatsinthewalkin

NOAA’s commercial season began on as appropriate day as any, January 1. Midnight on New Year’s Day the boats George works with went out from Port Canaveral. We received our first delivery last week. Deep sea fisherman like these are the real deal. They’re allowed a 4-5,000 pound haul per boat trip, each lasting about eight, sometimes 10 days. This is serious fishing, with in some cases five miles of hooks gleaning specimens of 20 to even 60 pounds from downwards of 1,000 feet. In keeping with regulation, the boats must be at least 200 miles from nearest land mass. This is a better fishery than close to shore, and where you can find the queens (snapper,) snowy groupers, wreckfish… basically all the stuff that keeps things interesting and cooks on their toes amidst schools of mutton, yellowtail and mangrove snappers. People will be fishing golden tile hook and line for the rest of the year, after the long liners finish their allotment.

Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink chef de cuisine Saul Ramos will receive 200 pounds this afternoon from Wild Ocean Seafood and, not unlike a whole pig, he’ll work through every inch, using the bones for a fish fume with lemongrass, the cheek on the grill with scallion, ginger and lemon, the fillet into the wood oven or pan seared. The scraps will go into ceviche at the raw bar, and the collar will be served crispy on the outside with fatty flakes of juicy white flesh in the nooks.

“These big fish are more fun. Carrying it, you feel the weight, and from the moment the knife cuts into the flesh,” he says. “One of the things I love about golden tile is that it has a subtle flavor of lobster and crab.  Cooked perfectly, you really get a nice flavor of shellfish.”

Saul explains that when breaking down these big guys, you need to know where to enter and be precise, following the cuts to get the most yield.  He uses three knives — a fillet knife, which is more fragile and has two different blades for a cleaner cut.  Then there’s the chef’s knife to get at the bones. A pairing knife goes around tighter places like the neck.

Chef Saul and Sous Randy showing off their mutton snappers from George a couple days ago.

Sous Randy (left) and Chef Saul (right) showing off their mutton snappers from George a couple days ago. Today we will trade peach for speckled golden.

Because of the challenges of this fishery, especially how long the fish are out of the water compared to shallow dayboat catch, George is careful who he works with despite what would seem to be a task only for the most seasoned, simpatico professionals.

Size and quality are top priority. First, you’ll want to put the fish into a chill brine, which is basically what it sounds like – a slushy mix of salt water and ice which really drops the temperature quick – and then on ice. And you must bring to shore as quickly as possible, not camp out for more yield when it compromises the catch.

“You have to stick to your guns, when some customers want fish that just isn’t available from sources you trust,” he reflects. “That’s how my business started. I can only work on small scale, because you’ll get old fish, and it’s going to hurt. I don’t want to get any bigger. You have to be willing to say it’s not available. Everyone wants the fish, but there’s only so much and we can’t just be like everyone else. When grouper season closed it was like disbelief. It’s like take it off your damn menu already! Take what’s available, the best product. Be flexible.”

Triggering a Conversation in the Great Fish Debate

Welcome back Kristina! Ms. Francillon, no stranger to The Genuine Kitchen and @MGFD_MIA where she is responsible for the weekly Sunday Brunch bell, joins us this summer as Brand Coordinator. Whilst juggling her role at HQ as a Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink reservationist, she’ll be supporting marketing efforts across all The Genuine Hospitality Group restaurants. You can follow Kristina on her blog at tastingitlikeitis.wordpress.com or on Instagram @tastingitlikeitis.

At The Genuine Hospitality Group, using local and seasonably-sourced ingredients is as much a part of company culture as it is our kitchens. So it really hit home when we caught wind of the recent publication (June 26, 2014) of “American Catch: The Fight for our Local Seafood” by James Beard Award-winning author Paul Greenberg, especially the wave of mainstream headlines that followed. Greenberg noted in a recent interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air that, according to Oceana, seafood may be mislabeled at all points of the supply chain including restaurants as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time for fish like red snapper, wild salmon, and Atlantic cod, disguising species that are less desirable, cheaper or more readily available. Shocking indeed to know our very own industry is one of the biggest offenders in this delicate ocean-to-table dynamic. In his novel, Greenberg also discusses how over 90% of the seafood consumed in America, is imported from Asia and is farmed, particularly shrimp, salmon, and tilapia.

In light of this national discussion that has bubbled up, we thought it was a great opportunity to hear what our trusted expert on fishing local waters had to say about it all. George Figueroa of our purveyor Trigger Seafood is never one to hold back on making his opinions known nor shy from jumping behind the line to whip up Florida lobster ceviche as he did for Vice Munchies (see minute 9:18) — only part of why we love him! Through his lens, we focus today on the disadvantages of non-local seafood and ways we can continue to support the fishing industry off our own shores.

Trigger Seafood is a fishing specialist in South Atlantic waters, which encompasses the Keys and South of US 1. George has supplied TGHG restaurants with local, wild caught seafood, since our inception and primarily offers us triggerfish, wreckfish, yellow jack, cobia, snappers, and more since Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink first opened in 2007.

Kristina: George, thank you for taking a few minutes to speak with us. How long have you been a fisherman and what attracted you to the field?

George: I have been involved in the local industry all of my life, due to my family. As far of making it a business, we have been here since 2004.

Kristina: Paul Greenberg’s recent publication: “American Catch” has caused a buzz about the perils of importing seafood, rather than consuming local fish; what are some disadvantages in your opinion of imported and non-local seafood in general?

George: As long as it is domestic, I usually feel pretty strongly about the fish. There is more quality control with an American product. Of course, the closer you are to the fish, the quality will be better. For example, Pompano Beach is within an hour drive and you have control of what is being fished; whereas, if you are buying a fish from Seattle, you may not be familiar with the fish or the fishery. The closer you are to your fish source, the greater the quality of that product. If you are buying a fish from another country, you are not sure of who packs it, how, or in what period of time; that is my greatest concern. Salmon is the most common fish consumed in the US and over 85 % of it is farmed. Some farms use non-natural food, a form of keratin in the fish’s feed, which gives it the false color. The orange that you see on a salmon is not natural, typically.

In the walk-in, Raul holding up a mutton snapper

In the walk-in, Raul holding up a mutton snapper in the Michael’s Genuine walk-in cooler.

Kristina: Wine producers are able to indicate a level of quality with the “AOC” label, for example. Does the fishing industry offer a similar method to control what we consume?

George: NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) monitors everything that is caught in the United States. They monitor quota, sustainability, seasons and what is being caught. You have certain quality controls with NOAA. The key is to consume something domestic; once you leave the country, those rules can no longer be applied.

Kristina: How can consumers educate themselves on the matter?

George: In stores, it is difficult [to mislead the consumer] because stores have to label by FDA standards. But in the restaurant business it is a lot more private and they can get away with anything. They can mention local and it may not be. Unless the consumer does some research on the restaurant and finds out who the purveyors are, then they can be more sure. I offer restaurants the opportunity to put my name as a purveyor of local fish and label where it comes from, which helps the consumer.

You can also visit websites for NOAA and FWC (The Florida Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Commission). With that information, you will know the expected size of a fish and you can check the season to know when a fish is available. In that way, you ensure that you get the variety that you asked for and that it is in fact, local.

Kristina: What are some other benefits of consuming local seafood?

George: Obviously, it helps our local industry and our sustainability, by buying the correct fish at the right season. You could choose not to elect an out of season fish, to avoid imported and commercialized [options].

Screen shot 2014-07-15 at 3.22.24 PM

Tigger Seafood’s Yellowjack on the prep table at Harry’s Pizzeria, at the hands chef de cuisine Steven Martin. This particular fish may ultimately be served as a filet, but it’s always coming into the restaurant whole.

Kristina: Cobia, grouper, mahi, and snapper are well known local fish in the Genuineland, but what are some other varieties that have a strong Florida presence?

George: Wahoo is another option, wreckfish found in the Cape Canaveral area, American barrel fish, and pompano. If they go to the FWC and NOAA websites, consumers can review our local species to determine what is sustainable and available.

Kristina: Our team is proud to feature your fresh fish at our restaurants and we thank you for your input on this debate. Do you have any additional points you would like to share?

George: If they know whom they are buying from, they can be more educated on what they are getting. Obviously buying the local product, you will get a fresher fish.

You want to keep your sources close.

To learn more about local sourcing, visit our “sourcing” section on the blog and of course, stay tuned for further coverage. You may also visit the NOAA and FWC websites, which George mentioned, listed below for your convenience.

http://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/

http://myfwc.com/fishing/

[VIDEO] [RECIPE] Our Latest Vice: Getting the Late Night Miami Munchies

Miami specializes in shady characters!

Up to no good!

Today VICE “soft opens” its new food channel, yet another indication of pop culture’s obsession with all things culinary, and we are full of giggles.  Fittingly, the debut coincides with the release of another episode of its fun-loving, if not slightly raunchy series “Munchies: Chef’s Night Out.”  The subject? Miami and these three stooges above.  Yes, it’s Michael Schwartz’s turn for a night on the town, and he has chosen a motley crew in Bar Lab’s Elad Zvi (The Broken Shaker) and TGHG’s Eric Larkee (The Genuine Hospitality Group) with some surprising cameos along the way from Tap Tap to The Cypress Room.  Watch how this recipe for innocent disaster unfolds in the episode below, and if you must try this at home, we have the closing meal’s sweet and decadent ending in fisherman George Figueroa’s Spiny Lobster Ceviche below.  Substitute sweet Florida key west shrimp or rock shrimp when not Florida lobster season. Cheers to good friends and good times!

Spiny Lobster Ceviche

Serves 4

2/3 cup fresh lemon juice, more to taste
1/3 cup fresh lime juice, more to taste
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 cup good-quality soy sauce
Pinch of cayenne
1/2 pound spiny lobster meat, removed from tail sliced thin
1 tablespoon of masago
1/4 cup thinly sliced cucumbers
1 teaspoon thinly sliced jalapeños (to taste)

Combine the lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar, soy sauce and cayenne in a medium mixing bowl. Toss in lobster meat and make sure it is completely submerged. Let soak for thirty minutes.

Serve the lobster meat over freshly sliced cucumbers, adding jalapeños and masago in top.

Recipe for Sustainability: While Michael Cures Sierra Mackerel for Solutions in Monterey Bay, We Watch the Seafood at Home

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program is helping all of us help the oceans.

Michael’s headed to California today on an invitation from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to attend its annual Cooking for Solutions event where he will be honored with a distinguished group of chefs as a Seafood Ambassador.

The focus of Cooking for Solutions is to help people connect their individual buying decisions to the health of the oceans and the soil.  The events support the aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, helping consumers make informed seafood choices while dining out or in the grocery store through pocket guides, website, mobile applications and outreach efforts.   Since 1999, it has distributed tens of millions of pocket guides, had more than 240,000 iPhone app downloads, and cultivated close to 200 partners across North America, including the two largest food service companies in the U.S.

Seafood Watch is also a resource for the decision makers on the supply side of the marketplace — restaurateurs, food service companies and retailers like us.  In fact, we recently called on their help with a question about grouper.  Our sourcing decisions are made based on longtime relationships with trusted local suppliers, first and foremost.  So when fisherman George Figueroa from Trigger Seafood came to us wanting to offer spear caught black grouper in the area of the Florida Keys, and because of the particular stigma attached to grouper, we made sure to check with Seafood Watch, too.

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