Living in Phoenix as a child, my family would periodically make the five-hour trip south to Puerto Penasco, commonly referred to as Rocky Point, on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico to buy seafood. At the seaport my mother and grandfather would find a fisherman to bargain with to get the best deal. Then they would fill the trunk of the Cadillac with ice and pack it with fresh lobster, crab, and giant shrimp.
The savings on the seafood made the drive worth it, and it was a nice getaway for the family. After arriving home the feast would begin. Mom would bring out the butter and melt it with garlic, pepper, and salt to cook up the sea’s bounty that we had netted. The seafood stockpile would feed our family an ocean delicacy a few times a week for months.
In Vancouver 25 years later as I visit Fisherman's Wharf alongside Granville Island I see seafood in a new light—viewing it no longer as an effortless gourmet meal through the eyes of a child but as a way of life for those labouring each day to bring it to the tables of seafood lovers to enjoy. Here the harbour is filled with fishing boats coasting in with their holds full of the day’s catch.
British Columbia’s spot prawn season just kicked off May 8, with the Chefs’ Table Society of BC’s 4th annual Spot Prawn Festival on Granville Island that will carry on for eight weeks.
The California spot prawn—a misnomer as it is in fact a shrimp—is the largest of the 7 commercial species of shrimp found on Canada’s west coast. Vancouver chefs have been promoting local spot prawns as an alternative to farmed tiger prawns which are considerably more expensive and, due to mass production, may contain antibiotics and other contaminants.
According to SeaChoice, which supports sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, the spot prawn fisheries in Alaska and B.C. are robust and effectively managed— therefore an excellent choice for consumers.
Ninety percent of B.C.'s spot prawn catch is exported to Asia and not until recently have the juicy crustaceans become a market on Canada's west coast. Sometimes eaten like popcorn out of a bag, spot prawns have a lightly sweet flavour and firm snap. Available only from late spring to early summer, the prawns are so-called because of the two white spots they sport on each side of the tail.
Another popular and abundant west coast favourite is the Pacific halibut. Known to grow up to 8 feet and packing almost 600 lbs., this white fish is high in protein and low in calories. The ocean's largest flatfish inspires a plethora of tasty recipes ranging from your basic fish n' chips to low-fat apple kabobs or fillets baked in blue cheese.
B.C. is lush with many species of seafood, including herring, lingcod, sole, scallops, oysters, clams, and Dungeness crab. The famous wild Pacific salmon season will start around mid-summer.
Of the five species—chinook, coho, sockeye, chum, and pink—this Omega-3 and vitamin D-rich fish may not first come to mind as an ocean dweller. Salmon in fact live in two worlds, beginning life in fresh water, venturing into coastal waters to mature, and later returning to their natal rivers for spawning. All five species vary slightly in size, flesh colour, and flavour.
Farmed salmon is popular on the west coast as well, but nothing can beat wild stocks for their rich food value and distinctive taste.