Eat Locally, Fish Globally

By Suzette Martinez Standring.

Ah, the wonders of the deep.

Why not go beyond the predictability of cod, salmon, and haddock? In Southeastern Massachusetts, fresh fish lovers can discover the glories of grouper, mackerel, and red snapper. But where to go to buy? I grew up in a Filipino family in San Francisco, and every Sunday we went to markets in Chinatown where tanks of live fish were commonplace. My shopping experience was rooted in the smell of brine, the flash of silver scales, the firm touch of fish flesh. Now living in Milton, I prefer to seek out the widest variety of fresh seafood, and Asian, Portuguese, and Cape Verdean fish markets are a favorite source.

Quincy has a large Asian, fish-loving population; therefore, hard-to-find seafood is widely available. For example, Kam Man Foods is the area’s largest Asian market. Live tanks hold tilapia, lobsters, and crabs. Scoop up a small bucket of periwinkles. Grab a bundle of razor clams for grilling. It’s a seafood lover’s dream with 30 varieties of fresh fish—perch, flounder, and bass—lined up on ice-filled counters. Outside of Hawaii, parrotfish, beautiful in blue and green iridescence, is rarely sold. Yet on occasion, they are available at Kam Man. The exotic varieties change, but standards such as fresh salmon, cod, and others are featured daily.

Due to the potential for a language barrier, there is a sign above the Kam Man fish counter with illustrations for 1) scale the fish; 2) clean the fish; or 3) filet the fish. Just point to what you need and give the numeric sign by hand. If desired, use the universal gesture for “cut off the head.”

Here’s a tip regarding service at some Asian fish counters which, typically, are frequented mainly by Asians. Often the salespeople do not speak English. It would appear that whoever gets the attention of the fishmonger gets service first, and “being in line” doesn’t matter.

The trick is to keep a keen eye for when your turn comes up and to be assertive about it. Raise your hand and announce loudly, “I’m next!” and insist on taking your turn. No one will take offense. It’s just the way things are done.

Some restaurants in New Bedford, a city renowned for its thriving Portuguese community, offer Mediterranean favorites. “Best Restaurant” lists feature Portuguese, Greek, Italian, and Lebanese cuisine where fish dishes are part of destination menus. Home cooks boast their own family recipes using specialty seafood. At Amaral’s Fish Market, for example, one day’s fresh offerings featured branzini (Mediterranean sea bass), red perch, whiting, and squid. They pride themselves on offering authentic Portuguese cuisine that everyone can enjoy, including bacalhau, a dried and salted Cod. Amaral’s online presence also includes other seafood from Portugal such as sardines (a national delicacy) and tuna.

Portugalia Marketplace, in Fall River, does not have a fresh fish counter but offers a dizzying array of bacalhau. A large freezer holds frozen octopus from around the globe—the Philippines, China, and Spain. I bought a two-pound block of frozen baby octopus. At a nearby counter featuring freshly cooked Portuguese takeout, I sought advice from the chef, she advised me to boil the octopus gently for 40 minutes in garlic flavored salted water and use in a favorite recipe. So tender!

In Brockton, Vicente’s Supermarket caters to a large Cape Verdean populace and offers hard-to-find seafood such as snapper, grouper, red mullet, bass, and tilapia. Fresh octopus, de-shelled conch, clams, mussels, and giant prawns round out their “Seafood From The Pier” counter. I bought a 1.5-pound whole grouper. They also carry an array of salted cod in a nearby refrigerated section.

Most people buy fish already filleted, such as haddock or cod. So how to prepare a whole fish?

It’s easy. Have the fishmonger scale and clean a one to two pound whole fish like bass or grouper. At home, lightly oil and season the fish and bake it at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until the fish flakes easily. (Note: a larger fish can take 45 to 60 minutes.) After baking, let the fish rest for a few minutes. Cut away the edges and run a knife just underneath the flesh, slicing across the fish between the head and tail to lift off the entire top filet. Remove the spinal bone, and voila, the bottom filet can be lifted cleanly.

Explore a world of tastes and textures from the sea. Bake a whole black sea bass with ginger, scallions, and sesame oil. Enjoy the sweet, delicate taste of snapper lightly sautéed or the robust taste of Spanish mackerel broiled with teriyaki sauce. Try chunks of grouper stewed Caribbean style. And be sure to explore Portugalia and Vicente’s impressive aisles of wine, perfect for pairing with fresh fish.

Fish markets from a variety of different nations will surprise and delight fish and seafood lovers with adventurous possibilities. Make them a destination and explore international heritages and influences just outside your door.

Amaral’s Fish Market
488 Belleville Avenue
New Bedford, MA 02746
(508) 996-1222

Portugalia Marketplace
489 Bedford Street
Fall River, MA 02720
(508) 617-9820

Kam Man Foods
219 Quincy Avenue
Quincy, MA 02169
(617) 328-1533

Vicente’s Supermarket
160 Pleasant Street
Brockton, MA 02301
(508) 580-0296

Suzette Martinez Standring hails from the foodie city of San Francisco and since 1996 has embraced New England, especially the South Shore. Finding international ingredients and adventure cooking are her thing.

Caribbean-Style Mackerel Baked in Spicy Coconut Sauce

  • 2 large or 3 medium mackerel, cleaned
  • 2 limes
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • 14 ounce can coconut milk
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 or 3 medium tomatoes, fresh, frozen or canned, roughly chopped
  • 1 sweet red pepper, chopped
  • 1–3 jalapeno peppers, chopped
  • 1 habanero pepper, minced
  • hot pepper sauce, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil, for the pan

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse mackerel and pat dry. Squeeze one of the limes all over the mackerel inside and out, rub with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, and allow to rest while you prepare the sauce.

Chop the scallions and put the whiter parts into a middle-sized saucepan; reserve the greener parts for later. Add to the pan the coconut milk, garlic, tomatoes, and all the peppers, and bring to simmer. Cook on medium-low for about 15 minutes, or until tasty and somewhat reduced. Season with salt, pepper, and hot pepper sauce.

Wipe the mackerel dry and place into a lightly oiled baking dish. Pour the spicy sauce over and pop in the oven. Bake until edges of fish are a little crispy, and the flesh of the fattest part is done to your liking when you prod it, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the fish. Scatter with reserved scallions and squeeze over the remaining lime.

Serves 4, over rice.