Conversation: A Fishy State

In Carolina Catch, Debbie Moose has written a cookbook for conservationists

In terms of multitasking, author Debbie Moose has found a way to do many things at once via an unlikely source: food. Moose’s seventh and latest cookbook, Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast, takes an aquatic perspective on the currently explosive farm-to-table movement.

“We’re a very fishy state, and I’m not just talking politics,” Moose says.

The eat local movement is very common in our country today, or at least in the larger cities. This movement mostly pertains to beef, chicken and pork, but not fish. Moose believes this is because we have simply not asked for it.

“I think it’s a lot like the eat local movement,” Moose says, “That [movement] started from a small group of people who were aware, and it’s grown. Same thing can happen for eat local with seafood.”

Her most recent cookbook contains a whopping 92 different recipes that showcase the many fish and shellfish commonly found in North Carolina waters. Many were once referred to as “trash fish,” a nickname which the author despises. She suggests substitutions such as North Carolina black drum in place of grouper, dogfish for cod, sea mullet for flounder, amberjack for salmon, and so on. All these fish have been commonly seen as unusable in the eyes of most North Carolinian households.

The book also has a strong educational element to it. Anyone new to the seafood world might find the simple task of shopping daunting, simply because most people have never been shown what seafood is good and what isn’t. Moose includes comprehensible descriptions and characteristics of what fresh really looks like and what is safe to eat, ensuring that shoppers purchase the best and most local product possible.

Carolina Catch addresses that the issue of overfishing has risen to an alarming degree with the popular varieties of fish being sought out at a much higher rate than others. Moose shows all the aspects of how overfishing our shores for the popular species (grouper, flounder, salmon, etc.) and how this effects even the fishermen themselves. This is why Moose draws from her library of incredibly delicious recipes that use types of fish one might not pick as first choice
for eating.

“They’ll provide fisherman with more income if we eat those fish,” says Moose “There’s a pretty well documented issue with overseas fish farming. About 90% of the United States seafood is imported.” With the majority of our fish and shellfish coming from Asia, it would make sense that anybody who may take issue with the loss of American jobs would find a way to convince their local Whole Foods to stock fish from our coasts.

This all comes from someone who until she was in college had only seen fish in the form of frozen rectangles. She’s very upfront in sharing this embarrassing fact in hopes that she can be an example that if someone wants to learn more about fish, they can.

“This is a cookbook. I couldn’t go into a tremendous amount of detail about the issue of fish politics and how government regulations play in because it gets very complicated,” Moose says. “It changes all the time. But what I did want to do was encourage people, and say ‘These factors are at play.’ Go find out how it’s effecting what you can get on your plate. And here are some resources to help you go do that. Rather than deal with so much of it in the book, I offer the means for people to go educate themselves.”

One thing emphasized and explained is seasonality. This is second nature to most of us when it comes to our produce, but we seem to forget is also true of seafood: certain fish aren’t going to be in season.

“A criticism I hear is local-caught fish costs more, or it costs more than at the mega mart … which is why I stress seasonality in [the cookbook]. There is a season for fish like there is a season for peaches and tomatoes. If you want to buy a tomato in January, yeah, it’s going to cost more. But if you buy tomatoes in July, they’re practically giving them away at the farmers’ market because they’re overloaded with them. Find out when the season is.”

Although Moose personally believes flounder has as much flavor as the cover of her book, she understands that its widespread popularity is due to its mildness. And with such a foodie type community found in grabbing distance of wherever the eat local movement is present, hopefully changing up the types of fish available can add some variety.

“I was shocked you couldn’t find fish caught off our coast in Raleigh. We have fish, we have a coast, why do we not have that here? It’s because the supply lines have not developed … but a lot of it has to do with consumer demand.”

Carolina Catch feels more like a tool than a cookbook. With it, the reader will be equipped with confidence to request the fish needed in the recipes. All that’s left is to start asking local shops and vendors to sell North Carolina fish of all types, popular or not.

“[Whole Foods] did that because there was money to be made,” says Moose. “They did that because consumers demanded it. Consumer demand makes a difference.
Ask for it.”