I went to a lovely intimate farmers’ market the other day.
Located in Irvine on Tuesday mornings. This market is a California certified farmers’ market. Which means that the county agricultural commissioner makes sure the farmer actually grows the commodity being sold, and the commissioner inspects every farmer who sells at a certified market. So, the farmers sell their fruits, nuts and vegetables directly to the public. Many of the farmers had organic fruits and veggies as well. The market had a great selection and the vendors were all very friendly!
There were also many cooked or prepared foods at this market. There was a man selling seafood, the cake man, the bread lady, a woman with smoked salmon products, Olives Market with some tasty spreads, people with handmade tamales, empanadas (see the trend?), and a lady with fresh granola.
There were no crafters (yippie!). Don’t get me wrong, I love a craft fair too, but when I want to get fresh tasty fruits and veggies at a farmers market, I don’t want to pass by half as many booths with dresses, perfumes, hats, trinkets, and pictures. So, I love a good, traditional, old-fashioned, simple farmers market that just focuses on food.
So, what did I get at the market? I got some early tomatoes, two different kinds of honey, some beautiful organic eggs, some onions, zucchini, carrots, a fillet of John Dory fish, some smoked salmon spread, and a wonderful dip (spread?) made with Parmesan and Asiago cheeses in olive oil.
Pardon me for a moment while I wax (no pun intended) on about the honey. This woman from Ray’s Ranch had Bee Pollen, honey comb, Avocado Blossom, Local Wildflower Blossom, Mountain Sage Blossom, Buckwheat Blossom, Orange Blossom, and Cinnamon Clover Blossom honeys. She knew all kinds of really cool things about her honeys, like which ones were best for fighting allergies, and which ones were high in vitamins and minerals. I could have talked to her for hours about the honeys (and I did speak to her for a long time). It was clear that honey is her passion.
They let me sample each one of the different honeys. The honeys ranged from sweet on the tongue with lingering notes of floral and citrus, to warm, large creamy and bold with a full mouth-feel. I tasted each one and let it melt in my mouth. Waiting for each flavor to come forth. I tasted the honeys from mild to bold, they way a person does a wine tasting, so as not to overpower the mild ones with the bold ones. Each honey had it’s own flavor and personality. Oh, her honeys were just divine. Whew, sorry, I just had to get all that off my chest (did I mention that I love honey?).
But, back to the other foods … I used the tomatoes and onion for fresh homemade Roasted Tomato Salsa (and, boy howdy! was it oniony. I had bad breath for a couple of days! Whew!). I made sautéed John Dory and topped it with some of the Parmesan dip and served that over orzo with caramelized zucchini. Yummy!
John Dory is a deep-sea fish with long spines that isn’t a very friendly looking fellow. It’s also known as St Peter’s fish, St. Pierre, or Zeus Faber. It’s a finely textured white fish with moist, delicate flesh that can be grilled, baked, sautéed, steamed, or poached. The flavor is mildly sweet with low oiliness. This fish was wild-caught, and fished in Europe or New Zealand. Good substitutes are flounder or sole.
As for its sustainability*, I had trouble finding much information. John Dory wasn’t listed on my two go-to sites of the Monterey Bay or NOAA. After a bit of web searching, this is all I could find: It’s principally a bycatch species, and the status of the stocks is unknown. It’s likely to be sustainable. The troubling part is that it’s a bycatch, and the fact that they are mainly caught by trawling, which is, in essence, just dragging a big net behind the boat and getting whatever swims or lands in. It isn’t the best or most sustainable way to catch fish.
So, I don’t think I’ll eat it again, despite the fact that it was delicious. There are lots of other delicious fishies out there with better information and better sustainability facts.*
As for cooking this dish, I’ll definitely do something like this again. Next time* I’ll use cod, halibut, barramundi, tilapia, or maybe trout. It was quick, easy, healthy, and best of all, really tasty.
Here are the simple steps I took (I’m not going to give a full-fledged recipe on this because I doubt most people have the Parmesan dip at home, but the general guidelines will work for you on this). And you can make your own with my recipe here.
I cut the zucchini into long strips and browned them in a hot non-stick pan with a small amount of cooking spray. Then I cut them into small dice. I cooked about ½ cup of orzo in 2 cups of broth for about 9 minutes (check the package directions). Don’t bother to drain the extra broth, it just makes a nice sauce and the orzo soaks up most of it as you eat dinner. Then I threw the zucchini and some chiffonade of basil (cut into long thin strips) into the cooked orzo.
Pat the fish dry with a paper towel, and salt and pepper the fillet. Sauté the fish in hot grapeseed or other lightly flavored oil until it browns and develops a nice crust, a couple of minutes each side. Top the fish with the Parmesan dip or even some freshly grated Parmesan would work, and pop it into the oven to melt the cheese and finish cooking the fish.
Serve the fish over the orzo, and I topped the dish with a whole browned spring onion. Delicious!
The Parmesan dip would be really easy to make at home. I think I’ll try making up a batch when I run out of this container. And, of course, I’ll let you know how it goes. It’s olive oil, Parmesan, Asiago, herbs, and spices. Fresh basil would be nice in it, as would chives, thyme, or rosemary. The small crumbles were the key to its use. And, I’m sure that the key to its tastiness was good quality cheese.
The farmers’ market bug has totally bitten me. I went to one in West Seattle and thought it was wonderful. This one in Irvine was so quaint. I’ve done a little research as to the other markets in my area, and I plan to make a regular habit of going to them. Next time, I’ll take my camera with me as well.
If you live in the SoCal area and would like to visit the Irvine Certified Farmers’ Market, they are located at Irvine Historic Park 13042 Old Myford Road, Irvine, CA on Tuesday mornings from 9 – 1 year-round. Also, check out this list of OC Farmers’ markets or here’s another list. Or, Try Local Harvest’s website for listings all over the U.S.
And, please enjoy all that the market and life have to offer!
P.S. [Additional information added on May 9, courtesy of Melissa Carrasquillo, Outreach Manager for Seafood for the Future]
I really enjoyed your article on the Irvine Certified Farmers’ Market and the John Dory. I know John Dory is a difficult fish to find sustainability info on, primarily because it is caught outside of the US, so I wanted to share some with you since you really enjoyed it & just cannot find the info!
New Zealand has a fishery management system similar to the NOAA/NMFS system we have here in the US. Here is the NZ version of FishWatch. Exactly like NOAA/NMFS, New Zealand sets a Total Allowable Catch, or quota, to prevent overfishing. Check out their Great Fish Guide for more well-managed New Zealand seafoods. This site has been deemed trustworthy from Monterrey Bay Aquarium. MBA actually has a great page on the Seafood Watch site listing links for International Seafood Guides.
In addition, one of our “Branded” recommendations is a brand called Status Seafood. They supply John Dory from an artesian handline fishery in South Africa. The John Dory caught off of the coast of South Africa is deemed Orange (when caught via Offshore Hake Trawl) by the WWF. While the rating is Orange for Offshore Hake Trawlers, the small fishery Status Seafood works with experiences none of the issues that cause this fish to be rated Orange. Since it is a handline, targeted fishery, they do not experience any bycatch, nor do they impose any negative effects on the marine ecosystem, since they are not utilizing trawlers.
I hope this helps give you the justification you need to continue enjoying John Dory J. It’s one of my favorites as well! If you have trouble on another fish, please feel free to call on me anytime! Kudos to you for choosing responsibly managed seafood & seeking to keep yourself informed! Navigating sustainable seafood is tricky, especially with respect to internationally caught seafoods, that’s why we’re here!