Chef Chris Cosentino discusses why Alaskan seafood deserves to be on the plate, interview
While Chef Chris Cosentino has many accolades attached to his culinary career, he understands that the table is the place where bigger conversations can be had. Although he can be found biking for a cause throughout the world, he has been a proponent of getting cooks, both professional and at-home, to better understand the food on their plate. Whether it is cooking from nose to tail to sustainable choices, there is a story to be told with every ingredient. When it comes to fish, Alaskan seafood puts its sustainable front and center.
From his Houston restaurant Rosalie Italian Soul to his win on Top Chef Masters to other food television appearances, Chef Cosentino appreciates that the has a platform to inform cooks while presenting impeccable flavors. While his Houston restaurant might be inspired by his grandmother, the food is creative, sometimes playful, but has quality ingredients front and center. That same ingredient forward approach can be seen in some of his other partner restaurants, like Cockscomb, Jackrabbit, and Acacia House.
Although home cooks might not have the vast resources like professional chefs, they can and should make better choices when it comes to their ingredients. While the farm to table notion tends to be more front and center due to farmer’s markets, seafood should be more than just picking any fish from the case. Choosing one type from a particular source over another option is vital not just for flavor but for sustainability.
For Chef Cosentino, he said, “When sourcing seafood, I always check the origin. I love seafood from Alaska because it’s wild and sustainable, which is important to my guests. In fact, Alaska is the only state with sustainability written into its constitution.” While many people can easily recite which state has the best produce or a particular dish, it is important to remember that Alaska’s waters do have some of the best seafood available.
In particular, that locale influences how the seafood tastes. As Chef Cosentino said, “In addition to Alaska seafood being sustainably managed, the glacier-fed waters produce fish that is lean and natural with a superior flavor and firm texture. The colder the water, the higher the fat content of the fish, which adds to the flavor and makes it a little more forgiving in the cooking process.”
For the home cook who might not be as confident cooking fish, the higher fat content helps to lessen potential mishandling. Although cooking fish should not be met with trepidation, the reality is choosing the right fish is an important first step.
Speaking to why he chooses Alaskan seafood, Chef Cosentino said, “It’s important to me to know where my seafood comes from, that proper fishing practices are being used, and the longevity of the fisheries are being protected. 90% of our nation’s wild seafood comes from Alaska where the industry is committed to sustainability and the long-term health of the fisheries and their surrounding ecosystems.”
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Given that people want to choose food and organizations that align with their beliefs, this idea of sustainability has become even more important. Just like choosing in-season food, organic options, and other conscious choices, picking one fish over another does matter.
Since home cooks can and should experiment with some different Alaskan seafood options, Chef Cosentino recommends thinking about fish options just like produce seasonality. He said, “Just like fruits and vegetables, seafood is seasonal. In Alaska all fish are harvested seasonally. Alaska halibut and sablefish are part of the spring catch. You can have fresh Alaska halibut and sablefish during spring harvest seasons and it’s also available frozen year-round.”
Although some home cooks might be more familiar with tuna, some white fish, and others, Chef Cosentino wants people to discover sablefish. Given that “Alaska is home to the world’s largest sablefish population,” it is prime for cooks to appreciate its bounty. Even more importantly, the sablefish population is “responsibly managed under the industry’s strict and robust sustainability practices.”
Speaking about his appreciation for this fish, Chef Cosentino said, “I love using Alaska sablefish, also known as black cod, because it is buttery, velvety and intensely flavorful. Its richness & natural fat content make it difficult to overcook. Even if you overcook the fish, it is forgiving and stays moist thanks to its fat content. It is a great substitute for other proteins in a wide range of dishes. By replacing the chicken legs in cacciatore with Alaska sablefish, the richness of the fish is a great balance for the rich tomato sauce, olives, fennel and herbs of the traditional rustic Italian dish. The Alaska sablefish is a perfect balance of rich and buttery with a perfect texture to replace that chicken leg while giving the dish a refresh.”
While the Alaska sablefish has that robust flavor, the Alaskan halibut is the opposite. Chef Cosentino shared, “Alaskan halibut is a mild whitefish, with a sweet and delicate flavor, and a firm, flaky texture that makes it extremely fun to cook with. Alaska halibut has a great fat content so it is a versatile fish and can be used in a variety of cooking techniques from baking, to grilling, and from searing to steaming. The texture also makes Alaska halibut a great alternative to other proteins. At my restaurant Rosalie Italian Soul in Houston, I serve an Alaskan halibut marsala, which is a great way to showcase the fish while allowing the richness of the mushrooms to bring out the sweet delicate flavor of the halibut. This classic dish typically features chicken breast, but the Alaska halibut provides a health boost while keeping the meaty texture and richness that the dish is known for.”
As home cooks look beyond the plate for choices that align with their beliefs, it is time to look for some Alaskan seafood to highlight on the table. From delicate halibut to rich sablefish to a variety of other options, it is time to put sustainability into the recipe. Luckily, Alaskan seafood is ready to oblige.