Blog of an aspiring foodie

Archive for July, 2012

Russian king crab – bad or good?

Posted by beer_chris on 27-July-2012

Well, the clear answer to this question is an easy one: of course Russian king crab is good. It’s king crab for goodness sake.

However, this specific seafood raises some questions. I had seen king crab specials on at various restaurants around town, usually in the late winter. I assumed this was because that was when the king crab harvest was coming in from the Bering Sea. I mean, I watch Deadliest Catch. I know all about this stuff, right? 😉

What really got me wondering whether perhaps my television-based knowledge was lacking was a short trip to Seattle this past May. A restaurant there was advertising a live king crab special. I was intrigued, as I didn’t remember seeing live king crab on a menu before (I figured out later this wasn’t really true) – most of what I had ever had before was frozen (still delicious). The timing had me asking questions though. May? Wasn’t the Bering Sea season over by Christmastime? A quick check to Wikipedia added to my suspicion: the season generally lasts between October and January.

So where the heck were these crabs coming from? I took to Twitter … and got an answer: Russia.

Makes sense. Russia borders the Bering Sea, and certainly has crab fleets. However, my aforementioned Wiki entry also had a reference to the Monterey Bay Aquarium ‘Seafood Watch’ list, which notes Russian king crab as a species to avoid based on the fact that the Russian fishing fleet does not follow sustainable fishing practices. As I generally try to follow the guidelines of the list, I didn’t take advantage of the special while I was in Seattle. But on my return home I started thinking …

I realized I was mistaken, and had seen plenty of king crab at times outside of the magic window of the Alaskan Bering Sea crab season. King crab legs appeared at the seafood counter at my local Kroger nearly every major holiday (especially Fathers Day – in June!), and I was reminded one dark night on the Southwest Freeway that we have a local restaurant advertising live king crab nearly all the time – Fung’s Kitchen.

Were all of these places serving crab that wasn’t sustainable? Was this some secret rent-taking on crab that I had been missing all this time? I took back to the ‘Net.

It turns out that the Soviet Union introduced the red king crab into the Barents Sea back in the 1960’s as a way to increase the economic impact of crab fishing for the country. The Barents Sea is a LONG way from the Bering Sea – but still in Russian territory. Seems at the time the experiment was considered a failure – but 50 years later the fishery has exploded – and crabs are showing up as far west as the North Sea – and this report was from 8 years ago.

Add on top of this crab explosion the rumor I had always heard that the Bering Sea crab harvest was being sent nearly exclusively to Japan – kani is popular, after all – and I started to suspect that all this ‘out of season’ crab I was seeing at Kroger in a Houston suburb was coming from the Barents Sea, from a fishery that was based on an invasive species that some think, well, needs eating. This opinion formed in contrast to what the pre-printed boxes of Kroger-branded frozen king crab say – ‘from the Alaskan Arctic Waters of the Bering Sea’

This nearly year-old post on the general hounding board at asked the same question that was beginning to crop up in my own mind. Was the Monterey Bay ‘avoid’ rating really based more on the premise that sustaining the Alaskan Bering Sea crab fishery required prices to stay high – and that introducing copious amounts of Barents Sea crab to the market could collapse the US industry altogether?

Was the ‘avoid’ rating based more on the economics of the Alaskan crab fishing market and not necessarily just fishing practices?

That’s a binary conclusion to a situation full of shades of gray – it’s entirely possible/probable that the Russian fleet uses unsustainable practices in their Bering Sea fishing. Making sure that a truly sustainable crab fishery stays alive is an objective to try and achieve. But who really cares if they use unsustainable practices on an invasive in the Barents Sea? Especially if it means more crab for me – AND since most Bering Sea crab seems to be going to Japan, isn’t that what I’m getting at least most of the time? Of course that assumes the Russians are selling their Bering Sea catch in Japan as well – probably not much of a stretch. Bottom line – I’m not sure I’m going to stop eating Russian king crab – and I for darn sure am going to eat it live if I can find it again.


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Food Town – a love story

Posted by beer_chris on 24-July-2012

I love budget grocery stores.

There. I said it.

I own a home in the Clear Lake City area. I’m proud of my house and my neighborhood (as proud as one can be in the ‘burbs, I guess), but this area was missing something, food-wise. We had a Kroger Signature, and another giant Kroger, and an HEB with ‘Market’ in the name, and a fancy Randall’s that was one of the first that Safeway remodeled into the new ‘lifestyle’ layout.

That’s all fine and good – but I really didn’t feel like I had ‘my’ store until our new Food Town opened.

Food Town is a downmarket grocery. I think it’s part of the Gerland’s chain. It’s the kind of place that has a cell phone accessories vendor next to a ‘We Buy Gold’ counter in the front of the store. It isn’t fancy. It’s not a ‘lifestyle’ store … at least for the majority of suburban Clear Lake City.

Food Town in Clear Lake is in the space the original Randall’s out here vacated when they made the big transformation at the other store. It’s in the midst of probably the largest concentration of multifamily housing in the area. It’s, in a few words, kind of ghetto.

And I love it.

Why? Because they have some of the freshest food around, and no one knows (well, no one in the suburban housing just miles away – at least it seems like it)

The produce at Food Town is among the freshest in CLC. Prices are low, and selection is great. There is a dedicated south and east Asian section. Bitter melon is always on hand, and I’ve seen jackfruit as well (when in season). There’s an entire cold case of Latin-American style cheese, many made here in Houston, and 5 types of crema (at least); my favorite is Honduran, ’cause it’s so darned salty!. There is a  nice selection of meats from the big packers in the golden triangle area of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange, TX. Want to make your own boudin? No issues – the meat department sells all those cheap cuts you’ll pay extra for at the big stores or find only in the frozen case. Dairy has products from Houston’s own Oak Farms, and there’s a wall of Mexican sodas.

Unlike the ‘tortilleria’ at Kroger and the HEB down the road they don’t make their own … but unlike those stores you’ll easily find great corn tortillas. Food Town is the only outlet in Clear Lake I’ve found that carries multiple brands made in Houston

The beer selection isn’t the best – but they have the cheapest Saint Arnold Endeavour in the Bay Area – $4.99 for a bomber. I expect to see Karbach any day now.

You cannot always find everything – sometimes I have to make a stop over at Kroger for decent coffee or for a personal care product – but I shop at Food Town consistently … when I’m not shopping at the Fiesta on Edgebrook and I-45 (THEY HAVE A LIVE BLUE CRAB TANK Y’ALL!)

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