WORDS BY ROZ CUMMINS
One of the nicest aspects of living in New England is having access to fresh, local seafood. Local waters were once world-famous for the variety and abundance of their fish. These days, fish populations are in flux, but there is still plenty of delicious local seafood to be had. You just need to know what to buy and where to shop.
Fortunately, there are many fishmongers in the greater Boston area who know their fish and who take the trouble to go directly to suppliers and look the fish over personally, handpicking the ones they want before they buy. It’s worth seeking out a good fishmonger if you want to get high-quality fish at the peak of freshness.
If you want to buy fish that are sustainable as well as local, the New England Aquarium recommends Atlantic mackerel, hook-caught haddock, bluefish and striped bass (although the aquarium’s materials note that the Environmental Defense Fund has assigned bluefish and striped bass health advisories due to high levels of mercury and PCBs in bluefish and high levels of PCBs in striped bass.) The aquarium says that local farmed shellfish are also good choices. You can find local clams, mussels, oysters and bay scallops at most area stores.
According to the Blue Ocean Institute, other local species that are sustainable include pollock, scup, squid and lobster. Species that are on the “yellow” list (meaning that some problems exist with this species’ status or catch/farming methods, or information is insufficient for evaluating) include hake, monkfish and black sea bass.
Here is a guide to some markets that sell locally caught fish and shellfish as well as farmed fish, imported fish and fish from other parts of the United States.
On Cape Ann
In Gloucester, locals buy their fish at Steve Connolly Seafood, just down the road from the Gloucester Fish Exchange. Located on the harbor, a small corner of their large industrial space is devoted to retail sales. There are fresh fish in the wet case and a large selection of prepared dishes in the freezer. Fresh local fish on display include swordfish, sole, cod and haddock as well as flounder, cusk, hake and grey sole. Their lobsters are local and sometimes they have local halibut and scallops.
They also sell locally caught seafood via their website, including some local fish, crustaceans and shellfish, as well as some labeled as “party essentials”: smoked fish, smoked shellfish and pate, many of which are made from local fish and shellfish.
Steve Connolly Seafood Company
431 Main Street
In neighboring Rockport, Roy Moore Lobster Company, easily identified by the large lobster-shaped sign that hangs outside the tiny hole-in-the-wall store, sells local lobsters—really local lobsters. Owner Kevin Porter told me that all the lobsters sold there are “Rockportoricans,” i.e., caught in Rockport waters. You can take them home to cook yourself or have one boiled for you on the spot. There is a deck out back that overlooks the water where you can sit and eat your lobster or one of the other locally caught seafood offerings: stuffed clams, fishcakes, steamers and smoked mackerel. Clam chowder is available too.You can buy local haddock, swordfish, tuna (usually bluefin, sometimes yellowfin) and grey sole to cook at home as well. Oysters from Wellfleet and Ipswich can be eaten on the half shell at the shack or sold whole to take home for cooking. Be forewarned that Roy Moore Lobster Company is open only from March 15 to November 1. Roy Moore Fish Shack, a sit-down restaurant with a full menu, is located not far away at 61 Dock Square and is open from April 1 to December 15.
Roy Moore Lobster Company
39 Bearskin Neck
The Greater Boston Area
In Cambridge, the New Deal Fish Market offers a wide array of local fish spread over ice in their two wet cases. Owner Carl Fantasia, the third generation to run the store, greets regular customers by name and lets them know if their favorite fish are in that day.
Local fish in the case include John Dory, haddock, hake, pollock, cusk, cod, halibut, flounder and sole, as well as black sea bass and scup. They also carry bluefish, mackerel, monkfish, ocean perch and tautog. In the summer, they carry whole striped bass. Local squid and shellfish round out the offerings, and they carry Maine shrimp in season. Fantasia explains that they make at least one if not more runs to the docks in Boston each day to replenish their stock.
Fantasia explains that there are currently several factors at play that are making the seafood business more difficult than it has been in the past, such as increasing regulation and price volatility. The changing prices are influenced by climactic conditions and the cost of fuel. He remarks that selling seafood is not just a difficult business, it’s one that’s difficult to do well: Skills that are necessary to make a business thrive include knowing how to buy the freshest fish and shellfish, how to store them properly and display them well. Fishmongers also need to know how to process fish (cleaning and filleting) for customers once they’ve made their selection. Fantasia puts an emphasis on educating customers, giving them ideas about what kind of fish they might like to try, and how to prepare it.
New Deal Fish Market
622 Cambridge Street
A bit farther down Cambridge Street you’ll find Courthouse Fish Market. Opened in 1912, they carry local fish and shellfish as well as imported seafood (sardines, stickleback) flown in from Portugal weekly. Their local fish include cod, haddock, grey sole, flounder, hake, perch, scup, sea bass, mackerel, whiting and—when the waters here are warm in summer and autumn—local tuna and swordfish. They also carry an unusually wide variety of local shellfish, including periwinkles, conch, clams and oysters, and their mussels are from Canada. Ingredients used in Portuguese and Brazilian cooking are available as well.They own a restaurant, Courthouse Seafood Restaurant, a few doors down at 498 Cambridge Street.
Courthouse Fish Market
484 Cambridge Street
Across the Charles River in Allston, the striking blue façade of Sakanaya—which opened in January 2011—hints at the watery wares within. Fresh and frozen fish are available as well as made-to-order sushi rolls. The shelves are lined with a variety of ingredients and mixes used for making Japanese dishes at home: miso soup mix, nori sheets, rice, tea, sesame seeds, tamari, ponzu, soy sauce and rice vinegar. At the counter there is a box for collecting donations for disaster relief for the survivors of the 2011 earthquake in Japan as well as several Japanese-language publications.
The sushi case contains sea urchin from Maine, local bluefin tuna and local fluke. There are other sushi ingredients in the case too: Matsutake mushrooms from Maine, Oba leaf and sweet egg omelet. The refrigerator case holds pickled ginger and seasoning mix for sushi and the freezer contains several types of local fish including mackerel, pollock, blackback flounder and hake as well as squid (yari ika) used for making sashimi.
Owner Yoshi Kawamura shows me the special freezer that takes the temperature of the fish down to -80 degrees, which kills bacteria and parasites, making it safe to serve raw once it has defrosted.
75 Linden Street
In neighboring Brookline, the fish at Wulf’s Fish Market are displayed on a table next to the large picture window that faces Harvard Street. Since there’s no pane of glass between you and the fish, you can smell them as well as see them, and you can bend over them closely enough to check to be sure that their eyes are clear. Wulf’s sells many types of local fish and shellfish: black sea bass, bluefish, flounder, fluke, cod, pollock, haddock, line-caught swordfish, skate, red snapper and kingfish. There are local scallops, mussels, oysters, lobsters and clams, and Maine shrimp when they’re in season. There are a few condiments for sale, but no prepared dishes: This store is dedicated strictly to selling unadorned seafood that will be cooked at home. Vintage aqua tiles line one wall, a few clam rakes hang on another—and a wooden seagull that’s been there for 30 years hangs from the ceiling, watching over the customers as they come and go.
409 Harvard Street
In Wellesley, the lengthy wet case at Captain Marden’s Seafoods showcases a wide variety of fresh fish and shellfish. Among the local fish they carry are haddock, grey sole, flounder, monkfish, longline swordfish, halibut, bluefish and Long Island stripers (striped bass). Local shellfish frequently in stock include oysters from Wellfleet, Duxbury and Wareham, as well as Westport Island (ME) and Pepperell Cove (PEI). If you want other local shellfish, you can call ahead and order it. They also carry Maine shrimp in season.
In the rest of the store—decorated with whimsical fish and a wooden lighthouse—there is a freezer that contains, among other things, creamed Finnan Haddie, frozen fish stock, bouillabaisse, lobster mac ’n’ cheese, honey-roasted bourbon haddock and shrimp egg rolls. Smoked salmon, smoked mussels, smoked scallops and quiche are stored in the refrigerator. When you are done shopping you can duck next door into the attached restaurant, The Captain’s Table and TakeAway, for a few clams or oysters, or breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Keith Marden Sr., the son of Master Mariner Captain Roy Wilfred Marden, is the second generation to work in the store and his son is the third. His business has one of about 20 seats on the Gloucester Fish Exchange and they supply seafood to some local restaurants, such as Lumiere and Hammersley’s, as well as to the public.
279 Linden Street
When Fresh Pond Seafood Market & Takeout opened on Summer Street in Arlington last year, two questions were answered: What had happened to Fresh Pond Seafood, and what was going to open in the former car dealership across the street from the ball field.
Fresh Pond Seafood carried local cod, scrod and George’s Bank flounder, as well as local swordfish. They also carry Maine shrimp in season, local squid and Jonah crabmeat from Maine. Nantucket scallops and local oysters, clams and mussels are also on offer. A series of open lobster tanks lines one wall.
There is a takeout menu that features seafood and there are benches and tables indoors where customers can sit and eat. Enjoying a lobster roll while watching a ball game across the street could make for a perfect summer evening.
Fresh Pond Seafood
75 Summer Street
At the Quarterdeck Fresh Fish and Meat Market in Maynard, you’ll find local cod, haddock, sole, flounder, hake and pollock and—when seasonally available—local swordfish and tuna, including big eye, yellowfin and bluefin. Squid from Massachusetts/Rhode Island waters are often available, and local shellfish in the case include mussels from Maine and Prince Edward Island, Nantucket scallops, clams, oysters from the Cape (Nauset and Wellfleet) and Maine shrimp in season. Hard shell lobsters from Canada are available most of the year. They offer some prepared dishes made in their kitchen as well, such as Maryland crab “bites,” stuffed clams, fish cakes and black bean burgers. They smoke salmon on the premises, using a rosemary brine and apple wood.
Owner Chris Basile has spent 30 years working with seafood and says that he loves what he does. He goes to the Fish Pier every morning to select the fish and shellfish he wants to offer his customers that day, and he enjoys seeing the other fishmongers and suppliers as he does his shopping.
Quarterdeck Fresh Meat & Fish Market
175 Main Street
A + P Fish is just a few short minutes off the Pike. The store is located in a long, low building that includes a fruit and vegetable stand that is open in the summer. The fish market is open all year, and sells local species including cod, haddock, whiting, sole and, in season, local yellowfin and swordfish. There are Blue Point oysters from Connecticut; Malpeques from Canada; clams from Narragansett, Rhode Island; and steamers and mahogany clams from Maine. They also sell Maine shrimp in season and there are lobsters in several tanks.
A + P Fish
1059 Grafton Street
Roz Cummins writes about food and sustainability with a particular emphasis on sustainable seafood. She celebrates Meatless Monday by making it Mollusk Monday