Food & Drink

Cooking with Ed Chiles: Sustainable, high-quality seafood within reach

Mackerel Crudo. PHOTO PROVIDED
Mackerel Crudo. PHOTO PROVIDED

This thing is starting to really happen. Folks are paying attention! I'm talking about our area's heretofore unrealized potential to be a beacon for addressing the world-wide issues relative to how we are going to feed people healthy, sustainable, high-quality seafood.

Recently, a group that we are excited to be involved with won the Gulf Coast Community Foundation X Prize Challenge. The challenge welcomed all comers to present business plans for developing environmental, sustainable businesses focused around our area's unique marine environment.

The GCCF recognized this unrealized potential and the fact that we have one of the oldest continual fishing villages in the state of Florida, in Cortez, and that we are the only place in these United States of America with three national estuaries on our borders, Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay and Charlotte Harbor.

More than 40 proposals were submitted. Five finalists were picked and the winner was the proposal put together by Healthy Earth in conjunction with the Anna Maria Fish company; our restaurants -- The Sandbar, Beach House and Mar Vista; Mote Marine Laboratory, which recently sold Healthy Earth their Siberian sturgeon caviar aquaculture project and partnered with them in the development and commercialization of other aquaculture and marine-based projects; START, the grassroots nonprofit organization that deals with harmful algae bloom and water quality issues; The

Patel College of Global Sustainability at USF, and Bay Shellfish, an international leader in bivalve aquaculture. It is quite the collaboration!

The funds provided from the X Prize award will help us realize our vision and development of our native marine resources in a sustainable and value-added way.

It's about developing full utilization of our area's No. 1 seafood resource, grey striped mullet, by continuing to develop and promote bottarga, the gourmet, high-dollar product that is produced from the roe of the females, as well as harvesting every other part of this great fish, for fresh filets, fish meal, fish oil and fertilizer.

It's about ultimately building a state-of-the-art plant where we process not only mullet but many of our other native seafood resources in a sustainable, value-added way by fresh packing, canning, curing, pickling and smoking them.

It's also about addressing the tremendous deficit in our aquaculture production.

Full utilization of our local marine resources in a sustainable way is a big step, but it won't make much of a dent in addressing the issue of how we feed the growing world population. Aquaculture is a critical component of how we do that!

I was startled by this fact. The U.S. produces only 1 percent of the world's supply of aquaculture. You read that right, 1 percent.

We are spending billions of dollars on farm programs and yet we haven't even begun to address this issue in a meaningful way.

Our project seeks to do so by utilizing a larger portion of the 270,000 acres of approved shellfish waters we have on our states' coast lines to greatly expand our bivalve production with the hard-shell clams that are currently being grown and the new project that Curt Hemmel from Bay Shellfish has initiated, whereby our native sunray clams are being commercially produced for the first time.

This has the potential to be a multi-million dollar industry that improves our marine environment. Bivalves filter 10 gallons of water a day per organism and improve the benthic environment by promoting sea grass.

Ambitious, you bet. I'm proud to be associated with these partners, who are willing to step out and take risks to be a leader in this regard.

Our area can be a model for how other communities utilize their intrinsic resources to promote economic development in an environmentally sustainable way.

Spanish mackerel is another one of our underappreciated marine resources.

It's one of my favorite fish and they are running this time of year. Here is one of my favorite preparations.

Mackerel Crudo

Crudo is the Italian form of sashimi. It's sort of like ceviche but you put the acid on at the end just before you serve it, not in the beginning where it cooks the fish.

I love crudo and mackerel is my personal favorite.

Thinly slice fresh Spanish mackerel. Lightly sprinkle with some good finishing salt like Maldon and chili flakes. Add a touch of something crunchy -- lime toasted pistachios or matchsticks of radish. Put the acid on at the end and serve. Acids include fresh citrus juice or rice wine vinegar.

Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar, BeachHouse and Mar Vista restaurants on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, can be reached at 941-778-1696.