Sustainable Fish for the Kosher Consumer

By Hannah Lee

Earlier in the spring, my husband asked me to serve more fish.  As I am a vegetarian, it would mean shopping for items I do not eat (or taste, so recipe adjustments happen at the dining table).  However, I knew there was a fish purveyor at the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market and I started chatting with them.  An interesting bit of news was that the male head of household, Murat Aritan, had left for Alaska and he’d brought his young daughter along on their summer journey.   So, I asked to interview the couple when the family reunited again.

Earlier this month, I met the adults, Murat and his wife, Amanda Bossard, in their Fishtown office.  Amanda wanted to talk about sustainable fishing, Murat wanted to talk about their CSS (Community-Supported Seafood) and I wanted to know if it could be kosher.  It was a lively conversation.

More after the jump.
Fishermen are the sentinels for our oceans, said Amanda.  They’re the first ones to know about the changing conditions of our oceans– indicators of the health of our environment– even before the scientists who may sample only sporadically and periodically.  And Alaska can be the test model for sustainable fishing.

What is sustainable fishing?  Comparable to organic produce, it means harvesting sea life via means that do no harm to the environment or collateral damage to other species.   This means avoiding the most popular varieties served in restaurants, as over-fishing depletes the ability of the species to maintain its population.  Knowing which species are sustainable is difficult, but the Monterey Bay Aquarium provides an updated list on its Seafood Watch, downloadable to your printer or as an app for your mobile phone.

How did the couple become involved in fishing?  They were high school sweethearts, growing up in Fishtown, a Philadelphia neighborhood bordered by the Delaware River, Frankford Avenue, and York Street.  Amanda left town first, winning a partial scholarship to study in Anchorage, Alaska.  Murat went north independently and fell in love with the pristine clime of Alaska.  He learned fishing and crabbing from the professionals.  Amanda worked for the Alaskan Fish and Game Department until the birth of their second child, now 5.  Their first  child, a daughter now aged 7, was introduced to fishing on the family boat, the FV (for Fishing Vessel) Sunset, at the tender age of 1-1/2, when they made a 10-day ocean crossing to the Aleutian Islands in the Northern Pacific Ocean.  Their second child, a son, made his water debut at age 2-1/2.  This summer, Murat served as Chief Engineer, re-habbing a Fairbanks Morse (marine diesel) engine for a tugboat; he and his daughter slept on their own boat.  Murat and Amanda no longer fish together, because with two children, it’s no longer possible to monitor both of them on board while working.

They founded Otolith Sustainable Seafood in 2004 to: “encourage responsible harvest methods; reward harvesters who promote effective management of sustainable fisheries; provide transparent and unbiased evaluations of seafood resource management; and network the shared interests of responsible seafood consumers.”

Otolith’s CSS provides its patrons with the freshest product, without the middlemen.  Substantially different from the CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture)programs now increasingly popular for organic produce, this CSS offers tremendous flexibility.  The subscriber pays in advance, but can choose when and how much of which species to collect; each item is individually packed into small vacuum-sealed pouches about a pound in heft.  The fisherman is guaranteed a market before he embarks on his expedition.  The products are cleaned and processed at the dockside and immediately flash-frozen.  Otolith brings the items in by barge and truck to Philadelphia, where the items are held in a cold-storage facility until claimed.  The consumer is guaranteed a product, because the fisherman is paid only after he returns to dock, with the right species.  

Otolith, a name that refers to the earbone of fish (which can be used to assess the age and health of fish), works directly with hook-and-line fishermen, not the ones who haul fish by trawling (pulling a huge net through the waters), a process that results in large amounts of “by-catch,” untargeted species including dolphins, sea turtles, and sharks, and may also include sub-legal or immature members of the targeted species.  The by-catch die in the process.

As part of their five-year plan, Murat hopes to return to fishing, but permit rights are expensive, ranging from $20,000 to $60,000.  Quota rights are also costly, as quotas were set about by the Magnuson-Stevens Act of 1996 (popularly known as the “Sustainable Fisheries Act”) and newcomers have to buy the quota rights from those who were in business then or were grandfathered into the system.  And he would like to expand his markets into franchises, retail stores, and restaurants.  The latter is an especially hard nut to crack, as chefs usually prefer to work with large wholesalers.  There’s also the prejudice against “flash-frozen” products, but the “fresh” fish offered in some of the restaurants are simply defrosted fish, tagged as fresh.  They are looking for a business partner who shares their vision.

Fish are amazing creatures.  Do you know that adult salmon can find its way home (up to 5,000 miles away) by its sense of smell, some two to five years after spawning in the breeding grounds?  This skill means that salmon can detect minute concentrations of contaminants in the water.  Also, fish are not equivalent or interchangeable.  For instance, tilapia does not offer much nutritional value compared to King salmon (I compare it to anemic iceberg lettuce versus robust vitamin-rich kale).  The oceans were also amazing in its ability to rebound from a multitude of assaults– small catches by many fishermen–  but with  the advent of trawl fishing done by a few, large operators, they have floundered in their recovery.  

What about Paul Greenberg’s 2010 book, Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food
in which the author touted the future of farm fishing?  Amanda disputes his claim, saying “the ocean reigns supreme in its ability to efficiently and affordably produce the largest biomass of renewable and healthful fish.”  Farm fishing still relies on wild catch to feed its stock.  “Instead of fixing the existing situation, get us back to where we were,” she says, farm fishing is alluring because it offers the potential for a lot of short-term profit, but in the long-term, it will not be sustainable.  Farm fishing has environmental costs that affect even people who do not eat fish, because it impacts on watersheds and the availability of protein for other species.

So, is sustainable fishing kosher?  I asked my local kosher grocer and he said that the halachic (religious legal) rulings constantly change (because of changing conditions).  Currently, he is allowed to bring in fresh salmon and tilapia, but only with the skin on.  That means the fish are processed aboard ships that are dedicated for that species.  So, I reported back to Murat and Amanda, their CSS fish are no different!  Their canned salmon even has the OU kosher certification and all of it was responsibly harvested.  They’re now interested in finding delivery sites for kosher consumers.

Murat is a first-generation fisherman, so he has no cushion against the economic vicissitudes.  He bought a boat, but the permits and quotas are extra investments.  It is still possible for high school graduates to start work as deckhands and to retire with a comfortable living.  “We can show young, ambitious men not bound for college that there is another way.”  Is the industry sexist?  Not really, because women can work as captains and deckhands and they can serve in field-and-stream research and management roles.  However, if one wishes to raise a family, it’s not tenable to leave one’s family for three months at a time.  “We need to create a generation of fishermen who can maintain the front line of defense for our oceans,” proclaims Amanda.  The consumer can participate by making personal sacrifices, in choosing to not eat fish that are not sustainably harvested.

Celebratory Fall Harvest Soups for Sukkot

–by Ronit Treatman

Other than bread, we are not instructed to serve any specific dishes during Sukkot.  The point of this festival is to celebrate the fall harvest.  A wonderful way to connect to nature is to cook with what is in season locally.  In Pennsylvania we are blessed with a bountiful fall harvest.  Hearty homemade vegetable soups accompanied by an assortment of breads are a wonderful way for your family and guests to warm up during the chilly fall evenings in the sukkah.

You can source your local vegetables by gathering your own crops from your garden, picking vegetables yourself at a farm, being a member of a Community Supported Agriculture group, or shopping at your local farmer’s market, coop, or supermarket.  Fresh seasonal produce will result in the most flavorful soups.  

Soup and bread recipes after the jump.
Some fruits and vegetables that are harvested in Pennsylvania in the fall are broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, lima beans, peppers, pumpkins, and apples.  Here is a recipe for a pareve harvest soup that incorporates some of these fresh vegetables adapted from Casey’s Café.

Spicy Fall Harvest Soup

  • 2 or 3 of any kind of squash such as butternut squash, pumpkin, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, or hubbard.
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 2 rutabagas
  • green onions
  • cilantro
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 2 cups of vegetable broth
  • 3 cups of coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
  • 1 cup sweet chili sauce
  • 1 tablespoon red Thai curry
  • 2 tablespoons Garam Masala
  • 1 tablespoons Ground coriander
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cut the squash in half.  Remove the seeds and rub the inside with olive oil.  Place on a cookie sheet.
  2. Place the onion, sweet potatoes, rutabags, and turnips in a porcelain baking dish.  Add ½ cup of water, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cover with aluminum foil.
  3. Bake all of these vegetables for 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.  Peel the squash.
  4. Puree all the vegetables in a food processor.  
  5. Place the puree in a stockpot with 4 cups of water, the vegetable broth, and coconut milk.
  6. Add ginger, chili sauce, coriander, curry, and garam masala to taste.

You can chop up green onion and cilantro to garnish.

Serve with whole grain corn bread for a gluten-free feast.  Here is a recipe adapted from The Fresh Loaf.

Whole Grain Corn Bread

  • 2 cups ground corn meal
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¾ cups of soymilk
  • 1 ¾ tablespoons of vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons raw honey
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  
  2. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl.  
  3. Oil an 8X8 inch porcelain baking dish.  
  4. Pour the batter into the dish.  
  5. Bake for 30 minutes.

Pennsylvania is one of the largest growers of mushrooms in the world.  The rich variety of mushrooms we can get in Kennet Square is not to be overlooked.  Phillips Mushroom Farms grow White, Portobello, Baby Bella, Crimini, Shiitake, Oyster, Maitake, Beech, Enoki, Royal Trumpet, and Pom Pom mushrooms.  Below is an adaptation of Ina Garten’s mushroom soup recipe.

Mushroom Medley Soup

  • 2 cups thinly sliced assorted fresh mushrooms
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 leeks, diced
  • 1 cup minced cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon minced thyme
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup white wine
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup half and half
  1. In a large stockpot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Sautee the onion, one cup of mushrooms, and carrot.  Season with salt, pepper, and thyme.  When the vegetables have softened, after about 15 minutes, add 6 cups of water.  Bring the mixture to a boil, and then allow to simmer for 30 minutes.
  2. Take another stockpot, and heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the leeks.  Let them soften slowly over low heat.  After 20 minutes, add the remaining mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes.  Stir in the flour, and then add the wine.  Pour in the mushroom stock from the other pot and stir.  
  3. Simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the heavy cream and half and half.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve hot, with a crusty baguette.  Here is a recipe adapted from

Fresh Baguette

  • 4 1/2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  1. Mix water, sugar, and yeast together.  Allow to foam, and then add flour and salt.  Knead well.  Place in an oiled bowl and cover with a kitchen towel.  Allow to rise for 1 1/2 hours.  
  2. Preheat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  
  3. Form loaf on a cookie sheet.
  4. Prepare an ovenproof bowl with water.
  5. Place cookie sheet with loaf and bowl of water in the oven.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes.

A warming, sweet, cinnamony fall fruit soup is the perfect end to the Sukkah feast.  

You may use freshly harvested Pennsylvania heirloom apples that are good for cooking such as:

  • Red Gravenstein:  An apple variety that was brought to Pennsylvania from Germany in the 1600s.
  • Grimes Golden:  This apple variety is believed to have been planted in West Virginia by Johnny Appleseed in 1795.  
  • Cox Orange Pippin:  This apple was brought from England in the 1830s.  It matures to a beautiful red color, and is excellent for cooking.
  • Calville Blanc:  A French apple grown for King Louis XIII, it has a tart flavor.
  • Newtown Pippin:  This variety was grown for export by Benjamin Franklin in the 1700s.

You can order these apples from #1 Farm, at [email protected].  

Fall Fruit Harvest Soup

  • 1 apple, diced
  • 1 pear, diced
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries, diced
  • 3 plums, diced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Raw honey to taste (optional)
  1. Place the apple, pear, plums, and cranberries in a pan.  
  2. Cover with water and bring to a boil.  
  3. Add the cinnamon stick.  
  4. Lower the heat and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes.

Stir in honey if desired.  Enjoy hot.

This soup goes well with fresh, hot pumpkin bread.  It is a pareve recipe adapted from Simply Recipes.

Pumpkin Bread

  • 1 cup pureed pumpkin
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup roasted pumpkin seeds
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix all the ingredients except the roasted pumpkin seeds in a bowl.
  3. Pour into a 9X5X3 inch loaf pan which has been coated with olive oil.  
  4. Decorate the top with roasted pumpkin seeds.
  5. Bake for 60 minutes.

As the fall days grow shorter and cooler, the yearly ritual is upon us.  We celebrate the fall harvest together in our sukkot.  Whether you are hosting or visiting, offering a delicious, homemade warming soup and a fresh loaf of fragrant bread is the perfect way to bond with friends and family.