It’s not every day we get to hear from one of the world’s leading seafood experts, but, in celebration of the first-ever National Pescatarian Month, we’re excited to welcome Chef Barton Seaver on our “Dishing With…” series!
Before leaving the restaurant industry to pursue his passion for sustainable seafood, Barton Seaver was an award-winning chef leading top seafood restaurants in Washington, DC. After traveling the world with the National Geographic Society, he translated his experience into leadership in the area of sustainable seafood innovations. Not only has he authored seven seafood-centric books and represented the United States in international conversations on sustainability and the role of food in resource management and public health, Barton Seaver is also the Founder and Chief Education Officer of the Coastal Culinary Academy.
We’re thrilled that Barton took a break from his busy schedule to chat with us and discuss everything from his lifelong love of seafood, his passion for sustainability, and the celebration of all things pescatarian. Bonus: He also shares some surprising tips for cooking seafood at home with the Dish on Fish E-Cookbook, of course!
Tell us about yourself and your background as a chef.
It all started when I was a child. I was inspired by my father’s cooking, the fabulous regional seafood of the mid-Atlantic, and the immigrant community where we lived. It was a natural progression into the culinary industry and one that proved very kind to me. I worked hard and kept learning more and more about the food systems through which my kitchens were supplied. This led me to develop a missionary zeal for sustaining fisheries and fishing communities.
What’s your favorite way to cook seafood, and what’s your favorite seafood dish to make?
I’m pretty partial to the grill. The flavor of seafood paired with rustic live-fire cooking is something magical. And though we live in Maine, I’m outside grilling 12 months out of the year. Sometimes I have to find the Weber grill underneath all the snow, and other times I’m able to bask in the perfection of Maine in summertime. It all reminds me that seafood is part of global ecosystem and that it links us to our natural world in beautiful ways.
My favorite dish to make is cold-smoked salmon. I love the multi day process and the nuanced care the cook must take to manage every step in the preparation.
What’s your advice for people who may be intimidated cooking seafood at home? Any seafood prep tips you can share?
THE TOASTER OVEN!! We eat seafood 15-20 times a week in our house and I involve my little kids in the process. He’s 2½ years old, so managing him takes a lot of my attention. I generally cook seafood in the toaster oven because it’s quick to heat up and efficient as your only heating a small area. It’s also super easy to manage the temperature and food. I like to use a slow roasting technique in which I use 275-300 degrees to slowly cook the fish. Sure, it takes a while to cook it, but it also takes a while to overcook it – so I’ve got plenty of leeway.
A general tip for seafood cooks is to use lower heat. I don’t believe that seafood benefits much from high-heat cooking. Sure, sometimes a nice crust is great. But the heat required to give texture to the outside ends up sacrificing the quality of the rest of the fillet.
What’s the biggest misconception about seafood?
That it’s hard to cook. The difficulty with seafood is that it’s hard to buy. But that’s changing. Knowledgeable counter staff, shorter local supply chains and improvements in quality frozen seafood are making it easier for us to find inspiring-quality seafood at reasonable prices.
What’s your favorite seafood item to eat at restaurants?
While I no longer work in restaurants, when I eat out, I always look for the flavorful and lesser-featured species such as mackerel and bluefish. Sure, any cook can make a nice dish with halibut, but can they coax from bluefish its beautiful personality and pair it with compelling ingredients? That’s what always grabs my attention on a menu!
What is your go-to pescatarian dish?
My go to dish is a simple pan-roasted piece of fish nestled into a bed of cherry tomatoes, olive oil and garlic. The fish cooks at the same time as do the tomatoes gently simmer into a sauce providing a one pan consistent easy meal.
What advice would you give to those wanting to incorporate more seafood into their diets?
I’d first start with some words of encouragement: it’s so easy. The vast majority of seafood cooking at my house happens in the toaster oven, often times with the seafood pulled straight from the freezer cooked from frozen. It doesn’t have to be complicated. 90% of cooking great seafood is buying great seafood so find a fishmonger you trust or a brand you love in the freezer aisle and cook with confidence.
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