Tuesday, December 5, 2017

FISH-O-GRAM #29. Fish-O-Gram!! PINKS TO THE PEOPLE!!! SCALLOPS STORM BACK TO THE PLATE!!! JFF Goes Low on Albacore Loin! Christmas Coho! More Sturgeon! Oyster Of the Month! Razor Clams 2-U. Urchins--Get Them Now! Science Corner--the Echinoidea Edition!!

All Pinked Up in Bellevue!!!  Bake's Place Posts First Scallop Photos of the Season!!

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Pink Scallops Hit Bake's Place in Bellevue! Thank you Nicholas!

Dear Fish-Hounding Customers, 

It just doesn't have to be this way....

Dive Deep, Look Hard.  It's all out there.  
These dark and stormy days call for extra-vigilance in searching for exceptional seafoods.  Some distributors have resigned themselves to Farmed Salmon, Panko-Breaded Ocean Pout and Arkansas Chicken--But you don't need to settle!  We here at Jones Ranch  are hard at work keeping wild and wonderful offerings in front of you.  Pink Scallops are back for the duration, oysters are prime right now and Urchin is well and available.  Look for daily flashes and updates on Sturgeon, Steelhead, Razor Clams and East Coast Fishes.  Also, please consider.....

West Coast Albacore Loin.

We do it funky and pass the savings on to you.

For years one of our favorite products has been the West Coast Albacore.  Fresh season runs from July-September annually and we enjoy, sell, and promote as much of this fish as we can in fresh form.  West Coast Albacore is flavorful, deep and has a much more complex taste than the warm water or Fiji product typically seen in the business.  To us it is one of the true glories of Northwest Seafood, right up there with Pink Scallops, Salmon and Black Cod.

Most of the fish are bled and blast frozen at sea, or FAS, as the industry terminology goes.  This is a terrific thing for the albacore--they do not hold up well fresh, over a few days their flesh goes grey and begins to gap.  The flavor remains, but the fish becomes challenging for center-of-the-plate presentations.   Bled and Blasted Albacore retain the superlative properties of a truly fresh West-Coast Albacore.  
Back in the day, most West Coast product was re-shipped and canned--largely in American Samoa.  In the past few years a new product has developed--a sashimi grade vacuum packed, 100% usable meat loin.  This product is produced by band-sawing the whole fish in sub-zero conditions, trimming skin and bloodline off with grinders and then glazing and vacuum packing the finished loin--all while the fish is still frozen.  The effect of all this is to produce a finished, 100% usable product that has the integrity of a FAS fish--unlike many tuna options, the fish is never thawed.

FAS Albacore loins are good enough to be served raw, and showy enough to be a star center-of-the-plate.  They are MSC certified, the only tuna fishery to earn this distinction--Albacore trolling has effectively no bycatch and the resource is strong and growing. Plus they are extremely convenient-zero waste, zero shrinkage. 
The past few years have seen a down cycle for Albacore fishing in our waters.  The fish have been farther off-shore than usual and our West Coast fleet has struggled to maintain production.  Consequently, pricing on this product has risen year-by-year and the primary producers of the product are always oversold.
We have been offered a volume of these loins at a very nice price.  Our motto here at Jones Ranch is, "We do it funky and pass the savings on to you."  Come and get them!

Christmas Coho.
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A Rare and Seasonal Beast.

A little known joy of Washington fisheries is the secret run of Coho that trickle in after Chum salmon have been and gone.  Returning in small numbers to rivers throughout the basin, this is an extremely low-volume, Tribal-Only fishery.  The flavor is more subtle than summer/fall coho.  It holds the Coho delicacy and fattiness we all treasure, but with a hint of melancholy mixed in-- a fish to remind us of pleasures behind and pleasures ahead.  Christmas Coho. 

Wild Sturgeon, By and By
Bit by Bit, we will keep you fed. 

We expect another shot of wild sturgeon for Monday.  Order Now!!! These fish never last long!! Available in 30# average bullets and filet. 

Oyster of the Month
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Congratulations to Miss December!

Our Oyster of the Month for December is the Calm Cove.  A light, supple oyster, the Calm Cove is the Queen of Hood Canal Oysters.  This oyster has slowly grown on us and has become our own Happy Hour Oyster of Choice.  Grown by the same folks as grow the Hammersley, the Calm Cove benefits from the same attention, care and passion.  Beach finished, the Calm Cove is well polished, retains liquor and has an inimitable, quintessentially Hood Canal finish, light and clean but with the rounded depth and richness of a fully finished oyster.  Special Pricing for the Month of December!!

Razor Clams In the House!
Cutting through your winter blues.

Our Coastal Clam Digger friends are taking advantage of the clement weather and low tides this week to make some traction on razor clams.  We expect to have live razors available Thurs/Fri. and for an extended spell thereafter.  

Urchin Update!! 
In spite of last weeks' foul weather, our intrepid divers made it out midweek and we are delighted to have abundant urchin for the end of the week and beginning of next week.  Quotas are winding down and the fleet has voted itself reduced weekly catch limits to feather out the end of the season.  At this point we expect to have urchin through the New Year, but we are definitely on the back side of the season.  In honor of the beginning of the seasonal wind-down of the Mighty Urchin, we have dedicated this weeks' Science Corner to our spiny friends.  The least you can do is dedicate a corner of your menu to this Hometown Hero.  

Science Corner--All Hail the Echinoidea!! 
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A Lovely, Curious Animal.

The Lusty Urchin
Here at Jones Ranch we have a special place in our hearts for Urchins.  Uni is one of our absolute favorite foods, and we anticipate the opening of Urchin season each fall with bated breath and sweaty palms.  We have two commercially-harvested species in these waters.  the Green and the Red.  Worldwide some 950 species creep around the seafloor.  Urchins are to Northwest Cuisine as truffles are to French cookery--the ultimate, ephemeral, essence food.  The edible portion of an urchin is the Uni, or gonads and quality improves through the fall, with the ripening of the gonads.  Sometime in late winter, based on some temperature or environmental cue, the urchins spawn and the uni is spent and no longer desirable.  Urchins have a very long and involved free-swimming larval stage, they can swim for as long as 50 days, during which time the key development is growth of ever-increasing numbers of arms, during which time they feed on microalgae, or phytoplankton.  Eventually they settle and begin life as baby urchins as we know them.  Well-Fed urchin seem to spawn yearly, but success of the spawn, as measured in recruitment of baby urchins is highly iffy--sometimes years and years will pass without successful urchin reproduction, though a year with prime conditions for larval and settler Urchin can yield fantastic numbers of babies.
The promise of Tomorrow.

The Edible Urchin.
We primarily sell urchin live and whole for table-side dismemberment.  We also do offer, from time-to-time, a fresh-shucked uni tubbed in salt water.  Shelf-life on fresh uni is around 5 days in the shell and maybe 10 days tubbed in brine.  Most processors treat uni with alum, which changes the flavor, stiffens up the uni and extends shelf-life to several weeks.  The alum-treated uni is a fine product, flavor-wise, but is different enough from the fresh to qualify as an entirely different thing.  Frozen is even more so. 
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The Real Thing.

The Resilient Urchin.
Uni quality varies wildly year to year, area to area and even among a given group of urchins--this is a major point--inexperienced or heedless divers can pick huge volumes of urchin, but to pick quality product is an art and a science.  Urchins are one of the toughest and most resilient of sea creatures.  Their primary diet is kelp and rooted seaweeds.  They can plow through phenomenal volumes of sea foliage when conditions are right, but when conditions turn against them they can live for years in a sort of fugue state, subsisting on micro-algae and rock.  During these spells the Uni, or urchin gonads become almost non-existent.  When kelp returns they get right back to work, though it is generally a few years before the Uni quality is back up.  Something like this is happening right now in California.  El Nino conditions destroyed kelp beds along vast expanses of California coastline.  The urchins are fine, but their uni is so degraded as to be un-harvestable.  Now, kelp is making a comeback and the California urchin should be back on point in a year or so.  

The Immortal Urchin.
This capacity to go dormant is just one Urchin Fun Fact.  The bulk of living tissue is around the outside of the shell, in a undulating, living skin anchoring and animating the spines along with tens of thousands of tendrils with suction cups.  These suction cups fasten and release to allow the urchin to scuttle along at speed.  They have a unique, five-ways symmetry with 5, 2-fold vascular systems feeding the living skin covering through thousands of pin-prick holes through the shell.  The urchin mouth is suspended at the center of the bottom of the shell in a remarkably mechanical-looking arrangement, and is made up of five self-sharpening teeth.  This is known as an Aristotle's Lantern.  These teeth can chew through rock.  In some areas urchin will excavate little cubbies for themselves out of live rock.  Urchins are highly coveted by predators and are subject to a variety of diseases.  Outside of that, however, urchin have no physiological reason to die.  They do not age or degrade.  Urchin can regenerate themselves indefinitely and as such are theoretically immortal.  

Aristotle's Lantern. 

The Talented Urchin
Our diver friends tell of urchin behaving like a herd animal far beneath the surface--they move together in coordinated groups.  Experienced divers will target urchins for quality at specific points around the herd--middle of the pack animals tend to be poor.  While Urchin typically haunt the photic zone--the top 8- or so feet of the seabed where macro algae grows, herds of urchin are known to descend to depth to cross to greener pastures on the far side of big water.  Urchins have played a significant role in various forms of applied medicine and science, given their unique, but easily observed properties.  The cutting edge of human longevity research is focused on studying Urchin, and modern In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) techniques developed out of observations of Urchin fertilization, much of which research took place at the Friday Harbor Labs, just across the water from us.
Otter Eating Urchin.  How the competition does it. 

The Storied Urchin.
Eating urchin was long a staple of Coastal natives and the ever-adventurous Japanese, Urchins were neglected and scorned by Puget Sound settlers and Fisher-Folk.  Fur-trade driven eradication of Sea otters Coast-wide led to a gigantic boom in Urchin abundance.  Urchin in their turn largely eradicated kelp forests.  This is the reality that pioneer-era water-folk experienced in Puget Sound.  Then in the late 1960s something odd happened.  As Japan pulled itself out of it's post-war wreckage and began to become rich, a desire for traditional foods pushed Japanese buyers to alien shores.  Early urchin fishers used rakes and dip nets along with some disastrous attempts at dragging for urchins.  Then eager trainees in the new discipline of SCUBA diving figured out that there was money to be made in prancing along the sea floor, picking up urchins, in tandem with this, kelp beds came roaring back, fueling another boom in urchin abundance.  By the mid-80s the urchin boom was in full swing, with bonanza volumes and pricing.  Maine has a robust urchin fishery, as does Atlantic Canada.  On this coast California has always been the center of gravity for Uni production, with a small fishery in Oregon, a robust resource in Puget Sound and fitful production in Canada and Alaska.  This was an exclusively export-oriented business with huge money.  Your Fish-O-Gram correspondent remembers when urchin divers were the high-rollers and big-spenders of the San Juans fisher-folk.  Then the Japanese economy crashed in tandem with a down-tick in the resource.  For twenty years or so the urchin fishery settled down to a low murmur, with a handful of die-hard divers plugging away at very low prices.  Quotas were never filled, instead the fishery would taper off late winter when the urchin spawning began, and in Puget Sound the tribal quota was fished little if at all.  During this spell a robust domestic market gradually developed.  Starting with sushi bars and spreading ever-outward in the fancy food world, West Coast Uni is now primarily consumed domestically.  

The Coveted Urchin.  
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Onward to the Middle Kingdom.

These last four years urchin pricing has roughly doubled, one year to the next.  Divers are now making real money for the first time in decades.  Puget Sound Quotas are now fully subscribed, both for state-licensed and tribal fishers.  California production has slowed at precisely the moment Uni has gone mainstream.  We are delighted to see Urchin get the acclaim and menu space it deserves.  Looking forward we expect decent abundance through mid-January, mostly from tribal boats.  Urchin are the ultimate distillation of the Salish Sea, their variations and inconsistency an endless pageant.  Even their fickle nature makes part of their appeal--urchin refuse to adapt to living in tanks--when we or others try to hold urchin in tanks, even with abundant kelp for food, the uni quality degrades within a matter of days.   Right now the Salish Sea is well stocked with harvest-size urchin and from our perspective, the uni has never been better.  Looking ahead, our divers report that recruitment has been poor these past few years, indicating lean years ahead--this is strictly cyclical, not indicative of any long-term trends--they will be back.   Alaska urchin fisheries have collapsed with the resurgence of Sea Otters, as have California urchin fisheries in otter-colonized areas.  As such, we expect urchin to become ever more precious, expensive and sought-after. Further, Chinese buyers are now getting in on the action.  China has zeroed in on Urchins in the same way China now hoovers up fine cognac and prime beef--Uni is now identified a prime luxury food from the West.  Several new Chinese -owned brokerages have set up shop in Seattle recently with the notion of mass-exporting reds.  This new trade route will be in full swing by next year and will likely put a serious hurt on local urchin supply channels.  Right now, urchins are readily available, quality is phenomenal and pricing is still reasonable.  Salish Sea/Puget Sound Urchin is as good as it has ever been, and will ever be.  These are the days when......

Oyster Tasting December 5 Franks Oyster House.
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Please join us Tuesday at Franks Oyster House for an oyster/scallop tasting.  5 pm 'till the bivalves are gone.  
Until next time, we are your Scallop Friending, Chicken-Eschewing, Albacore Hounding, Calm-Cove Shucking, Christmas-Coho-ing, Ugly-Fish Cutting, Urchin Researching, JFF Crew. CALL OR WRITE TODAY!!!