Alaska Pollock: The Forgotten Protein

When it comes to picking and choosing seafood, many customers look past this healthy, Responsible Choice protein. For many years, pollock was known as the cheapest option in seafood and was widely consumed by households, schools and local fish fries in the form of fish sticks and fried fish.

Alaska pollock is slowly gaining momentum and returning to the table in different forms. From surimi to trendy fish tacos, it is the most versatile of all whitefish varieties. Alaska pollock is easy to prepare, delivering a mild, appealing flavor with consistent snow-white flesh and a tender texture that has excellent flaking qualities, meeting the taste preferences of consumers who prefer more delicate fish. Alaska pollock is delicious poached, baked, broiled, steamed, sautéed or deep-fried, and can be paired with any number of flavors and ingredients.

Alaska’s most abundant seafood species, genuine Alaska pollock is a member of the cod family—not to be confused with Atlantic pollock, which is darker, oilier and ‘fishier’ tasting. The most versatile of the Alaska whitefish varieties, Alaska pollock holds its own in a variety of different preparations.

If you are looking for a low-cost, good-tasting, healthy protein, look no further than this Alaska species. Visit Hy-Vee today and select Alaska pollock and all the other ingredients you need for a delicious and healthy meal.

Think Healthy, Think Local

Nestled in America’s Heartland – an area typically known for its endless rows of corn fields – lies one of the largest state-of-the-art aquaculture farms of its kind. VeroBlue Farms in Blairsburg, Iowa, raises one of the healthiest seafood species available today: “America’s Sea Bass” or barramundi.

When it comes to a farmed species, barramundi is just about perfect. VeroBlue’s proprietary aquaculture system creates a self-contained, nourishing environment where the fish grow firm and meaty for remarkably great taste, with no impact on the environment or disruption of nature. Using the natural elements of air, water and care, VeroBlue can replicate perfect growing conditions, allowing the fish to thrive. This provides seafood that’s delicious, healthy and extraordinarily sustainable. Because the fish are raised in VeroBlue’s ultramodern self-contained environment, they have no environmental impacts and receive Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice logo of approval.

VeroBlue Farms’ land-based, farm-raised barramundi deliver a one-of-a-kind flavor that has quickly become a favorite of many fish lovers. Similar to wild-caught coho salmon, barramundi is also a natural source of beneficial heart and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, making it one of the healthiest proteins to eat.

From the beginning, Hy-Vee has helped and supported this Iowa-based company by offering its sustainable barramundi to consumers. Consumers today want local, fresh and sustainable seafood options. VeroBlue’s facilities are less than 90 miles away from Hy-Vee’s fresh distribution center in Ankeny, Iowa.

Not only can you find this fresh, delicious fish behind the Hy-Vee seafood counter, but you can also find it featured on Hy-Vee’s Market Grille seasonal menu.

To learn more about VeroBlue Farms, click here to visit their website.

Responsible Choice Lobster Tails

When it comes to sourcing Responsible Choice spiny lobster tails, Hy-Vee looks to the mecca of the Caribbean – the Bahamas. The Bahamas are known for their breathtaking beaches and crystal clear waters, but in these waters lies a rich, environmentally responsible source of spiny lobsters. These creatures play a huge role in the economy of the Bahamas and they rely on a strict management process to maintain this resource for future generations to enjoy.

Unlike American lobsters, spiny lobsters have a spiny hard shell for protection and lack large front claws. These warm-water lobster tails are smooth and have a spotted, greenish shell. Their soft texture and delicate flavor make them a favorite among chefs and foodies around the world.

In the Bahamas’ spiny lobster fishery, “condominiums” – or “casitas” – are placed by fisherman on the sea floor. Spiny lobsters seek shelter beneath this protective enclosure. Over time these man-made structures have become a permanent habitat for marine life, including the spiny lobsters. Divers from skiff boats dive down and lift up these condos and harvest lobsters that have a carapace length of at least 3.25 inches. Hooks are used to pull the lobsters out from under the condo. The lobsters are then carried to the surface where they are immediately placed in ice holds on the skiff. Once aboard the skiff, the tails are removed and they’re delivered to the mother-ship. Once full, the ship heads back to the mainland where they are processed, tested, cleaned, graded, frozen and then packed into 10-pound cases for delivery to the United States.

Upon arrival in the U.S., Hy-Vee requires that the lobsters are U.S.D.C. inspected to ensure that they are of the best quality before selling them to our customers to enjoy.

If you’re still in need of a dinner that will “wow” your valentine, stop at your local Hy-Vee seafood counter and ask for these fresh and delicious tails from Bahamas lobsters, which are featured in this week’s ad. You can even share the lobster’s story with your sweetheart and tell him or her that you made a Responsible Choice for them.

Alaska Crab: On Sale Now

It’s time for our annual crab and seafood sale, the absolute best time of the year to pick up some of Alaska’s most prized and sustainable resources. All Alaska crab sold by Hy-Vee is labeled with our Responsible Choice logo because Alaska crab fisheries are some of the best-managed wild fisheries in the world.
In Alaska, crab is king. No other shellfish in the world offers such widespread appeal than Alaska King Crab. Harvested from the icy waters off Alaska, this shellfish is always sweet, succulent and flavorful. It is also nutritious, low in fat and is unmatched for its natural rich flavor and tender texture. The largest and most impressive of all the crabs caught in the world, Alaska King Crab lends itself to a variety of attractive plate presentations from appetizers, chowders and soups to main course entries.

All of Hy-Vee’s Alaska King Crab is fully cooked and ready to eat; just heat and eat. I suggest pre-scoring the legs with a butter knife before heating to make the cracking a lot easier. Melt butter, add little garlic powder and enjoy! If you have any questions on how to prepare it, just ask your local Hy-Vee seafood crew.

Celebrate the holidays this year with Responsible Choice Alaska King Crab. You and your guests will love it!

Heading To The Source Part Two: Island Fit For Kings

Jason and John

Last month I had the opportunity again to visit the mecca of sustainable seafood, this time on Akutan Island, Alaska, during the peak of the king crab season. This time I was accompanied by Jason Pride, Assistant Vice President of Meat/Seafood Operations at Hy-Vee.

Akutan Island is located in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands chain, approximately 750 miles southwest of Anchorage. This is one the most remote places in the world. On the map, it looks like a desolate island that lies in the middle of the Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean. However, this island houses one of the largest seafood processing facilities in North America, which is owned and operated by Hy-Vee’s seafood partner Trident Seafood. With more than 1,400 company-housed employees on site during peak seasons, this year-round, multi-species frozen seafood operation is capable of processing more than 3 million pounds of raw seafood each day. Wild Alaska pollock – which is the Bering Sea’s most abundant sustainable whitefish – is the main focus of this facility. This day the focus was not pollock, but instead Responsible Choice Alaska king crab.

How remote is this facility? There are only two ways in: by boat or by helicopter. First you must find a break in the weather to get a plane into the neighboring island of Akun. Other than the airport, the only thing on the island is a small herd of wild cattle that were originally brought in as a food source for locals. Once you arrive at the airport, you must then get on a boat and brave the open water or take a helicopter to Akutan Island. Your stay on Akutan may change at any time depending on Mother Nature, meaning you could be stuck there for a while.

The weather was in our favor, but only for six hours. After that point, we had to get off the island and in the air, otherwise we could have been temporarily stranded there. We did our best with the time we had to tour the massive seafood processing facility in full production of processing king crab from start to finish. It was truly a sight to see! Jason and I had the privilege to handle some of these deep cold water creatures as they were being offloaded into the facility.

Jason John and Sig

Part of the tour took place on Sig Hansen’s famous Northwestern crab boat, which was offloading its final catch of the year. I will never forget chatting and hearing stories from Sig and his crew. The crew was tired but in great spirits as their king crab season was coming to an end after only two weeks. The word on the docks from the fishermen was that king crab was bountiful and crab were everywhere. This was great news after preliminary management test catches came back poor, which resulted in large quota cuts on all Alaska crab.

Our tour of Akutan Island came to end as we received word that we needed to leave in order to beat the weather and move on to the next leg of our trip to Kodiak, Alaska. Here lies another community built on sustainable fishing. The shorelines were lined with seafood processing facilities. None stood out more than that of Trident’s trio of facilities: Star of Kodiak, Pillar Mountain and its newest expansion, the Near Island facility. This facility houses a new fully-automated production line for pollock and salmon. The facility features renewable energy produced by a combination of hydroelectric and wind generators. It was amazing to see the full-automation process in operation processing pollock. The only human interaction and handling was at the time of checking weights on cases before they head into the blast freezers to be frozen. This automation takes food safety to the next level.

Crab

Our journey gave new meaning to the phrase “Heading to the Source.” Seafood is truly a global industry that one cannot fully understand by reading an article or by surfing the Internet. To fully understand it, you must be there as the product is being offloaded, processed and packed. But most importantly, seeing the communities, families and fisherman firsthand and witnessing their passion gave us the will to support and sustain these fisheries!

Crew

The Perfect Oyster

Oysters have been a favorite delicacy for centuries. Today, oysters often are enjoyed in restaurants, but they also are available at your local Hy-Vee grocery store. The demand for these tasty mollusks has never been stronger. Because of increased demand, cultured or farmed oysters help support and take some of the pressure off of wild stocks.

Seafood lovers often look for a clean-tasting oyster, especially when eating them raw. This is what you’ll find in our Responsible Choice Gold Band Oysters from Motivatit Seafoods. The Motivatit company was founded in Houma, Louisiana, by Ernest Voisin in 1971. Today, the Voisin family continues to operate the business. The company has 16,000 acres of natural water bottom, spread throughout the Louisiana coastline. Its fleet consists of 20 to 30 boats ranging in size from 20 feet to 80 feet.

Gold Band Oysters are harvested, processed and shipped fresh and quicker than those of any other company in the industry. The award-winning pre-shucked Gold Band Oysters are made possible by their patented, USDA-approved High Pressure Processing technology. The process reduces harmful bacteria to non-detectable levels and uses no heat, therefore the process has little effect on the taste or texture of the oyster. Prior to the process, gold plastic bands are heat-shrunk around each oyster to assure that the oyster’s liquid remains within its shell. This process undergoes quarterly tests through private laboratories to assure the validity of its results.

Gold Band Oysters make it easy for any consumer to open and enjoy. There is no need to become an expert in shucking; simply cut the bands and grab a butter knife to pop open and enjoy. When looking for that perfect oyster this holiday season, stop in your local Hy-Vee seafood market and look for the oysters wrapped in gold!

http://www.theperfectoyster.com/

Heading To The Source

To see how a product truly comes together from boat to dinner plate, one must see the process firsthand by being present when the fish comes in.

Last month, I made the journey north to one of the most famous fisheries in the world: the Copper River in Cordova, Alaska. Its population is under 2,000 people and is only accessible by plane or boat. Cordova is the mecca of sustainable wild salmon.

img_2596The shorelines of the community were not filled with million-dollar homes or 5-star resorts, but instead multimillion-dollar fish processing facilities, one of which processes and packs Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice fresh salmon. I was lucky to witness a fresh run of wild Alaska coho salmon being processed, much of which later made the journey to our distribution center in Ankeny, Iowa, and then out to Hy-Vee customers in our eight states.

Watching the process from start to finish – and realizing the amount of time and effort that goes into handling product – is truly a sight to see. I’m a seafood buyer, and seeing the pride that these workers take in what they do gives me a great feeling about doing business with them.

Part of my days were spent at the docks with fisherman, listening to some of their wild stories as they maintained their nets and boats. Even after just a short amount of time on the docks, you can sense the camaraderie that the fishermen share. All are competitors when it comes to catching fish, but are friends who would help out each other in a time of need. One fisherman was familiar with Hy-Vee; he is a Minnesota native who lives in Cordova six months out of the year just to fish salmon.

img_2601The life of an Alaska salmon fisherman is not something anyone can just walk in and do. There are only about 540 commercial fishing permits available. Many of these permits have been passed on to younger generations from their grandparents and parents. It is not unusual to see a fisherman’s young son or daughter take over the reins of the family’s quota and boat. Permits do occasionally go up for sale, and can cost $200,000 or more. That is a huge investment for a business where the returns are unknown, as so many variables stand in the way – including weather to reduced quotas. Salmon fishing isn’t an easy job. Most of the vessels are operated by a single person. The operator’s job experience and good fortune undoubtedly affect the amount of money he brings home.

My evenings were spent around a dinner table at the homes of several local fishermen, which is an experience I will not soon forget. I was able to get a peek inside their lives and their reasons for doing what they do. Listening to their stories gave me a whole new perspective on what life is like outside of the Midwest. Wild salmon fisherman have a strong work ethic and spend endless hours managing, harvesting and maintaining their “harvest” – in this case wild salmon. It’s really somewhat similar to that of a cattle or agriculture farmer here in the Midwest. The only difference is that they are out pursuing “the last of the hunted proteins,” and if the fish aren’t there or the weather is too bad to fish then they come home empty-handed. The unknown never stops them from going back out, as they know that one good trip could result in a bountiful payoff.

It’s hard to fully grasp all that goes into a wild fishery. My goal for this trip was to obtain a better understanding about what makes this fishery one of the finest. The amount of knowledge and understanding that one gains in a trip like this is truly priceless.

Seafood strategy: Global Seafood

There have been a lot questions about the safety of imported seafood. Seafood comes from a global supply and it’s necessary to import products from all over the world to meet our customer needs. There isn’t enough domestic (U.S.) production to meet the demand.

In order to offer variety, we must import some of our seafood. All product that is imported is subject to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspection upon arrival in the U.S. Also, all foreign facilities that offer product for sale to the U.S. operate under a FDA-mandated HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) plan.

Food safety isn’t our only concern. Hy-Vee goes to great lengths to ensure the fisheries and farms we buy seafood from are responsibly managed, and do not cause any negative environmental impacts.

Hy-Vee owes much of our success to our suppliers who have worked with us to reach and also maintain our Responsible Seafood Commitment. Read more about our efforts here.

We have developed a group of suppliers that share our same goals for food safety. We have a “trust and verify” system in place where we require documentation from our suppliers that our products are safe and that they have proper quality assurance steps in place. This requirement is for all seafood products, no matter where it comes from.

Hy-Vee seafood buyers make sure to buy from reputable suppliers. Our vendors have people onsite testing the products we purchase to ensure that quality always come first. Plus, as an added quality-check, we have a full-time government USDC Lot Inspector onsite at our warehouse in Ankeny, Iowa. He inspects all of Hy-Vee’s fresh seafood along with many frozen products that arrive here. This helps us ensure that our customers are receiving top quality seafood.

Here is a list of the things Hy-Vee’s suppliers must guarantee:

  1. The production facilities comply with FDA’s HACCP guidelines.
  2. They comply with good environmental and aquaculture (if applicable) practices.
  3. The plants apply the HACCP principles to farming, harvesting and processing of fish and shrimp.
  4. The plants guarantee that they have not used illegal additives, antibiotics or other chemicals.
  5. The suppliers use independent lab analysis overseas and in the U.S. for verification.
  6. The supplier does frequent plant visits. Many suppliers have a full-time staff at the plants to verify that the quality standards are met and to pull samples for lab analysis.
  7. The supplier has third-party audits completed at its facilities.
  8. The product has 100 percent traceability.

Over 90 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, but Hy-Vee has still successfully worked with its suppliers to only source responsible seafood. Globalization is essential to the seafood industry. Hy-Vee will continue to focus on food safety, sustainability and quality.

Fair Trade Tuna

Hy-Vee is working toward offering 100% Fair Trade tuna by partnering with Anova to supply our fresh seafood cases, sushi shops and Market Grille restaurants.

Fair Trade Certified products are acquired with respect for people and our planet. When customers purchase a product with the Fair Trade Certified label, they can be sure that the fishermen and workers who produced it received a fair deal for their hard work. This means better prices and wages, safer working conditions, environmental protection, and additional funds to invest in community projects like education, health care and clean water.

Fair Trade USA informed us that Hy-Vee is the only retailer that is pursuing an effort of this scale. To learn more about Fair Trade tuna and the process behind the product, check out this short video about a small-scale handline-caught tuna fishing in Indonesia.

Watch the YouTube video on the Fair Trade Program here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSiGXptU6kk?

This video was produced by the MDPI Foundation.

Loving Lobster

Lobsters are arguably one of the most delicious seafood treats of the summer. The American lobster is the sweetest, most flavorful lobster around. Lobsters have been an integral part of the coastal region for generations.

When it comes to sourcing these delicious Responsible Choice lobsters, Hy-Vee looks no further than the coast of Maine. The strict management practices enforced there ensure that the lobsters will be around for future generations.

Lobsters are graded as soft-shell (new shell) or hard-shell (old shell). So what’s the difference?

Lobsters will periodically shed their shells as they grow. This can happen as many as 25 times before they are 6 or 7 years old. After that, males shed every year and females shed every two years. When lobsters become very large, molting is less frequent. After they shed they have a paper-thin shell, which can take up to two months to harden, and are called soft-shell, new-shell or shedders. The debate goes on as to which is most tasty, though the soft-shell are definitely easier to crack! Either variety is welcome on our dinner table!

To make the more than 1,000-mile journey to the Midwest, Hy-Vee must source hard-shell lobsters. The more delicate soft-shell lobsters simply will not make the trip.

Upon arrival at our perishable warehouse in Ankeny, Iowa, the lobsters are counted and checked thoroughly before they are placed in our state-of-the-art lobster tank where they sit in holding for 24 hours before being shipped. This ensures that they are hearty and healthy enough to ship.

Then the lobsters make their way to our Hy-Vee stores, where they are often placed on display much to the delight of Seafoodies and children alike. If you have any questions about preparation or how to eat lobster, just visit with your local Hy-Vee seafood counter team. They’re happy to share their knowledge to allow you to enjoy fresh and delicious lobster right in your own home!