At the farmers’ market, I usually beeline for the fresh produce — this summer, juicy peaches and heirloom tomatoes in all colors of the rainbow have captured my attention. But after a recent dinner, I am now seeking out the seafood vendors first. Not all neighborhood farmers’ markets sell fish, but if you’re lucky enough to frequent one that does, you can seafood-shop like a chef — just make sure to get there early like they do.
At New York’s A Voce Madison, Chef Missy Robbins is creating tasting menus that highlight the fresh, local and sometimes wacky seafood she discovers on her morning trips to the Union Square Greenmarket, just a short walk from her restaurant.
On the night I dined, the “Mare” menu included three fish I’d never heard of, let alone tasted. Some of them were new to Chef Missy and her kitchen team as well, but she explained that experimentation is the best part of creating these special menus. They often try out several techniques on a new fish before deciding on the best way to prepare it.
Tunny (pronounced TON-ee), which Missy described as a cross between mackerel and tuna, was prepared in the Italian “conserva” style — poached, then confited in olive oil — and served with eggplant, raisins and mint. Triggerfish, a mild, meaty white fish, was a hit at our table — and Missy told us it is becoming one of her own favorite fish. She cooked it lightly in olive oil and finished the plate with sweet end-of-summer tomatoes, basil, sesame and shaved bottarga.
The species I was most intrigued by, though, was the curiously named sea robin. “Fish or bird?” Missy (@missyarobbins) Tweeted to her followers with a picture of the crazy-looking winged sea creature that morning. On the plate, it was deep-fried in a batter spiked with squid ink. The fish has a delicate flavor with a texture that reminded Missy of frogs’ legs — a spot-on comparison.
When I stopped by the Blue Moon Fish stand at the Greenmarket on a recent afternoon, they were all out of sea robin — apparently another chef bought it all up. But as long as you arrive there early, you’ll find a variety of fish and seafood, exotic and less so, all caught locally off Long Island’s North Fork. Smoked shark, anyone?
If you’re tired of the same old salmon and sea bass, pick up a new fish next time you hit the market. Fishmongers are usually happy to share their wisdom on taste, texture and cooking methods.
“Mare” menus at A Voce Madison will continue through September. Call the restaurant 72 hours ahead to reserve.
Have you ever tried tunny, triggerfish or sea robin? What’s the most unusual fish you’ve ever seen or sampled?