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.

Responsible Choice Alaska Halibut

March typically kicks off spring and warmer grilling weather, but in
Alaska, this marks the opening season for harvesting Pacific halibut. Braving the elements of Mother Nature, Alaska halibut long-liners make their way out in the rough waters in hopes of landing this first-of-the-season catch.

Considered the “steak of seafood,” Alaska halibut has earned its reputation as the world’s premium whitefish for its firm white, flaky texture and sweet delicate flavor. Halibut is considered one the most versatile fish, and the thick, meaty texture can hold up to a number of cooking methods and sauces. When the season opens in March, seafoodies around the country look forward to adding this prized fish to their menus, fresh seafood counters and dinner tables.

When it comes to managing fisheries, no one does it better than the state of Alaska. Many years ago, the halibut season consisted of derby-style fishing methods, meaning there were predetermined, very competitive fishing periods that were 24 to 48 hours in length, sometimes in dangerous weather conditions. Now, the International Pacific Halibut Commission meets every year to examine scientific data in an effort to ensure that this fishery can maintain a healthy stock for future generations to enjoy. Due to these tight management practices, quotas and strict harvesting method, you find Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice logo displayed on all of our fresh Alaska halibut.

Our Responsible Choice halibut is some of the freshest you can get in the Midwest.  All of our Alaska halibut is flown in overnight from Alaska to Des Moines International Airport, where it is then delivered to Hy-Vee’s PDI Distribution center in Ankeny, Iowa. The halibut then goes through our strict USDC Inspection Program before it is ready to be shipped out to stores that very day. Depending on your store’s delivery schedule, the halibut on your plate may be less than 72 hours from being out of the water. Now that is fresh!

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.

Seafood Education: Questions for the Fishmonger

Working as a Hy-Vee fishmonger for more than 20 years, I have received my share of customer questions. I thought I would take a moment to answer a few of the most common questions that we get day in and day out here at the Hy-Vee seafood counter.

  • Q: How much shrimp do I need for my party?
  • A: People will eat as much shrimp as you serve them. You can offer shrimp with almost every other appetizer and people will circle the shrimp like sharks! I suggest purchasing as much shrimp as your budget can afford, and call it good. I also suggest putting the shrimp out in stages, as opposed to putting it all out at once. This will help stretch your shrimp throughout the party as well, as guests will eat other items until the next plate comes out!
  • Q: What type of salmon do I want?
  • A: I think it depends on what types of salmon are available at that particular moment. If fresh, wild salmon is in season, then I tell customers to go wild! If we are outside of fresh salmon season, then I suggest Mt. Cook farm-raised King salmon. Another option is previously frozen Alaskan Sockeye. Of course, we always offer the Verlasso farm-raised salmon in portions and filets all year, and they are incredibly consistent in both flavor and texture.
  • Q: The sign next to the salmon says “color-added.” Is that bad?
  • A: When some people see “color-added” they think that the fish are injected with food coloring. I like to take the time to explain how the salmon actually have color added to them. Wild salmon get their color by eating krill and shrimp. Think about the color of cooked shrimp, and you will understand why salmon is red to orange in color. However, farm-raised salmon don’t get the luxury of dining on shrimp and krill. They get a food pellet that gives them everything a growing salmon needs except for a colorful flesh. The key component in shrimp and krill that gives them the vibrant color is called astaxanthin. This has to be added to the farmed salmon’s food pellets in order to get that orange color. If it was not added to their food, the flesh would be white to gray in color. The astaxanthin is added by either natural ingredients like algae and/or pulverized crustaceans, or by synthetic compounds. Either way, it allows the farm-raised product to closely resemble their wild counterparts.
  • Q: I heard on television or I read that….. (You can fill in the blank)
  • A: Every week we get people asking about a news report saying how bad a particular fish is, how bad fish from a particular country is, or how bad farmed anything is. Here’s my response: Hy-Vee hired its own U.S. Department of Commerce (USDC) lot inspector to ensure the quality, safety and integrity of the fresh seafood it buys. The USDC inspector is stationed onsite at the PDI distribution facility in Ankeny, Iowa, where he routinely checks incoming shipments of fresh seafood, ensuring that it meets Hy-Vee’s standards. Our purchasing and sustainability policy is the strictest around. Our seafood team at PDI is meticulous in its sourcing and accountability of our suppliers. Nothing gets past us. If we get tilapia from China, it has to be good. Just because the news report said all Chinese fish is bad, does not necessarily make it so. Our farm-raised fish and shrimp are raised by the best companies in the world for sustainability and environmentally friendly practices. I say TRUST us. We’ve got this. We worry about these things so you don’t have to.

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.

Verlasso Salmon: Responsibly Sourced

Verlasso

At Hy-Vee, we value excellence in our suppliers. Verlasso offers a more consciously-farmed, premium salmon that meets our high standards of taste and quality.

Verlasso puts the health of its salmon first. The Verlasso crew raises their salmon in the beautiful, pristine waters of Patagonia, Chile. There’s very little industrial development in Patagonia, so the water is free of pollutants. This area is in the lowest region of Chile, away from industrialized farms, creating the perfect environment for fish.

The salmon also have lots of room to swim and to grow. Verlasso’s ocean pens are spacious, with fewer than four salmon, which surpasses other producer standards. The pens are widely spaced, and after each harvest period, Verlasso leaves them empty for a period of 3 to 6 months so the water can rejuvenate. The ocean waters are 60 to 80 meters deep, with a strong tidal flow for optimal salmon growth. Verlasso doesn’t use hormones and allows its fish to grow to harvest size over a period of two years.

Verlasso has also reduced the number of wild-caught feeder fish it uses. The quantity of small fish like sardines, anchovies and mackerel has been reduced by 66 percent to reduce the depletion of oceanic resources.

The company’s salmon are raised and harvested entirely on site, where the company takes pride in being able to track every moment of their lives. Verlasso can trace its fish back seven generations. Once harvested, a gill tag is put on every fillet and whole fish so that customers can learn about the region the fish come from and learn more about the farm.

Verlasso’s goal is to minimize stress in their fishes’ lives up to and including harvest, so they are as healthy as possible. The company’s harvest approach is to minimize trauma—and preserve quality. The mission at Verlasso is adaptation; its employees are committed to continuous improvement in an effort to make the harvesting of fish more sustainable for the long term.

Verlasso salmon has a bright and delicate flavor. With slightly more fat content than wild salmon and a higher moisture content, the result is a buttery yet firm texture. This extra moisture also makes it delightful to cook. Verlasso’s levels of omega-3 are ideal for a heart-healthy diet.

Verlasso is the first Atlantic salmon to receive a Good Buy Alternative “Yellow Rating” from the Monterey Bay Aquarium® Seafood Watch®. Stop in at your local Hy-Vee and talk with the seafood experts about the quality of Verlasso salmon and try some of this delicious fish!

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.