Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fishy tales

I've been on a fishing adventure, sailing the high seas of-- well-- Central Ave., mostly. Alas, the Capital Region doesn't have a single great independent fresh fish market. You'd think we'd be awash in fish, since we're so close to Boston and New York harbors. But overfishing has affected the market, and it seems harder to get fresh fish in general. Buying fish has also become an ethical puzzle: do I go for the fish with higher mercury content that's not endangered? Or the endangered but safe-for-me fish?
There are a few places you can find good fresh fish in the Capital Region. Above is a photo of some of the fare at the China Supermarket on Colvin Ave. Based on what I saw there the one day I looked at the fish, I would not rely on them. However, they did have fresh (live) crabs... and more.

Covered in this review:

Cousins Fish Market
581 Livingston Ave
Albany, NY 12206
(518) 449-8830

Price Chopper
716 Hoosick Rd
Troy, NY 12180
(518) 266-9947

China Supermarket
91 Colvin Avenue, Albany

I also heard about a place near the Home Depot plaza in East Greenbush that I have yet to check out.

First I went to Cousins, with great hopes of dockside barrel talk and Nor'easters. Alas, 'twas not so. I did buy some shrimp there, and I'm still alive after eating them, so that's the good news. Oddly, some of the shrimp tasted really good, but a few of them (I had maybe 5 or 6) tasted of iodine. I hear that's got something to do with what the shrimp eat, and it's not unhealthy. But it is irksome.
Cousins seems to serve a vital function as a neighborhood grocery/deli, with lots of takeout meats. You can even buy things like pasta and sauce there. But much of their fish and shellfish were frozen. In addition, the fish didn't look too appetizing: some of the fillets were lying in their own fish juice, not on well-drained ice, as they should be.

I'm not going to completely knock Cousins, because it's an independent store, and apparently they've been in Albany forever. And this Times Union writeup, from 2000, highly recommends their fish fry, which I did not get to try:
Cousins courtesy Times Union

Next on my menu was the China Supermarket on Colvin Ave., just off the busy Central Ave. across from Westgate Plaza.

Let me say right away that I really like the China Supermarket, and rely on them for some Chinese herbs that I use. They have absolutely wonderful, and incredibly low-priced spices, beans, rice, condiments, and an impressive produce aisle with fresh bok choy, long green beans, scallions, and the like. It's worth going to the China Supermarket for these things. However, the fish department seems touch and go.

This was a picturesque barrel of fresh crabs. I haven't the foggiest clue how to cook a crab, plus I'd have to kill it first, so I didn't jump for those.

I do feel I must point out that they also have fresh, live frogs. They do not look like happy frogs. They especially do not seem happy when a customer chooses them from their crowded tank to be placed in a suffocating plastic bag, from which they are summarily taken to have their heads chopped off.

Yes, I am a vegetarian partly because I don't believe it's right to eat animals. I draw my own personal line at fish. I don't eat fish often, but I do believe I need to eat some protein to stay healthy, and I like fish. Frogs have legs, so they just seem too close to 'animal' for my comfort.

At the same time, I must here point out that, in the China market's favor is that these are undeniably fresh. And I would vastly prefer supporting the China market, which is an independent business, and suffering whatever qualms I may as I pass by the frogs (and turtles), rather than patronize a big box style grocery store--where animal suffering may not be on immediate display, but you know it is lurking everywhere in the details. For surely it is a far worse crime that millions of chickens are raised in squalid conditions, debeaked, diseased, than that a small market play a small role in frog despair, when the market's benefit to the community is so great. In case you need to be convinced about the chickens, (click here for graphic depictions of the disgustingness that is the poultry industry in the US).

I can't help the way I feel about animals. But I can make educated choices.

Alas, for fresh fish, my choice is with the local supermarket chains, for reliability and freshness. I was really impressed by the knowledge of the fish department at the Price Chopper in Brunswick, where they had *fresh* : cod, Atlantic flounder and pollock, monkfish, swordfish, catfish (one of Ocean's Alive 'best' fish choices) and clams.

They also had pre-frozen fish, much of which, they explained, is "frozen at sea," which I guess seals in the freshness. They didn't say "flash" frozen, which is a new process used by fishermen now. I will have to enquire further.

In terms of frozen they had West Coast salmon steaks, wild USA shrimp, and many other things. They also had farmed tilapia (but farmed fish is not supposed to be good for the environment), and Wild Alaskan smoked salmon (which is okay for the environment but has lots of salt in it, which makes me retain water, which makes me seem to weigh more than I really do...).

Conclusion: you can do pretty well, either at Price Chopper in Brunswick or the Hannaford in Latham (I can't speak for the other locations-- anyone out there know?)