It was on one of our first cool, early fall days, when Paul Greenberg arrived at our apartment wearing shorts, a baseball cap, worn sneakers, and the remains of a summer tan. He was on his way to catch a boat leaving from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, to go fishing. Not for sport, but to catch dinner.
Aside from canned anchovies, he only eats fish that he catches and that was what he'd be doing after recording our podcast interview with him about his book, Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food (Penguin Press HC, hardcover, $25.95).
Paul Greenberg is a journalist, a novelist, and a fisherman. But probably not in that order. I'm sure the fisherman in him comes first. And fortunate for us that it does because his book, written as part memoir and part investigative reporting, is both humbled by and intimate with the sea.
And the four fish? Salmon, tuna, sea bass, and cod. But he might have well have been writing about every species as he asks the hard questions about the relationships between fishing and ecology, economics, politics, food trends, health, ethics, and greed.
We should thank Sam Sifton of The New York Times for putting Mr. Greenberg's book on the front page of the Book Review Section a few weeks ago . His astute and personal review was informed by the fact that Mr. Sifton is one of The Times' best food writers, and currently its restaurant critic. This spotlight helped push Four Fish into, at last reports, its fifth printing. And just in time: the FDA is in the midst of making a controversial decision whether or not to permit genetically engineered salmon. Some experts, including at the FDA, say it's necessary if we are to continue to feed the world. Others are not so sanguine. We all could use some independent insight into what the right answers are.
Mr. Greenberg has something to say about this and much more in our podcast interview. He's a realist and knows that the rest of us can't spend days fishing in order to put seafood onto our dinner tables. So I asked Paul to talk with me from, and for, the perspective of the home cook who is increasingly confounded by trying to make good choices when it comes to buying fish. I told him how a reader had chastised me for buying tuna and I asked if my albacore defense was credible. Despite his guidance, I'm still confused, although I doubt I'll be buying any kind of tuna for a long while.
If you buy and cook fish and shellfish, here are four suggestions:
- One, you should listen to what Paul Greenberg has to say in our podcast with him.
- Two, buy or borrow his book. Four Fish is not only compelling and informative; it's a personal journey that is a pleasure to read.
- Three, if you don't already, rely upon the people at Monterey Bay Aquarium for up-to-date information about which seafood is safe to buy and safe to eat. We've added a link below to their Seafood Guide. Their "Seafood Watch Pocket Guides" are kept current, and because much of our seafood is local, the Guides are detailed on a U.S. regional basis. There is no better source for reliable information.
- Which leads me to number four: stay informed. Buy from a responsible fishmonger and ask questions. If you don't like the information you get at one market, shop somewhere else. We have more than 30 very good-to-excellent fish merchants located throughout New York City included in our database at The City Cook. In addition, many of our Greenmarkets are host to fishermen who sell their local catches. If you're not in the New York area, start with your local farmers' markets and ask for recommendations for the best seafood merchants in your area.
I often quote the great Julia Child who said "know where your food comes from." In the case of fish and shellfish, Paul Greenberg's Four Fish is a good place to start.