An important goal of ours is to have our cuisine return to the roots of sushi, meaning simply to use what we have available where we live.
When sushi first developed, it was inconceivable that people could get fresh fish from anywhere beyond their backyard. There are great ecological benefits to using sustainably produced fish, but if they are produced far away, some of those benefits are negated by the ecological cost of their transportation to our restaurant. Our challenge is not to import an exotic cuisine from afar but to use seafood that is locally available and to transform it into a regional cuisine that we can all be proud of, like Clam Chowder in New England, or Crab Cakes in the Chesapeake Bay.
There are many environmental problems that challenge the entire globe and others that are specific to our community; a massive international issue is by-catch. While by-catch is not particularly a problem for us on Long Island Sound, there are specific challenges to the local marine ecosystem that we can try to address. We know that there are invasive species (which are often by-catch) that prey upon the local shellfish population that the local fishing industry depends upon. These invasive species are a vast untapped resource for eating. Just because there isn’t an existing market for these species doesn’t mean they aren’t edible or can’t be delicious; therefore, we have focused on creating a part of our menu that will involve the gathering and eating of invasive species now found in local Connecticut waters.
By collecting invasive seafood on shell-fishing beds, we are basically providing a free weeding service. We strive to be like the Musahar, the rat-catching people of India, who serve as an ecologically healthy, pesticide-free way of ridding farms of crop-destroying rodents.
We hope that this will do a few things. First of all, it could potentially curb the dominance of invasive species in the ecosystem. Secondly, it would provide the seafood industry a greater supply of native seafood and reduce the stresses on those populations already fished. Finally, we hope that it would encourage greater balance in the inter-regenerative relationship between man and the oceans. If we were to have thirty Miya’s in thirty different places, each one would have a slightly different menu, each reflecting the problems of its local universe.
Here is my recontextualized paraphrasing of something Jesus once said: It’s easier for a camel to appreciate good food than an educated man with a sophisticated palate. There’s something about “culture” that tends to blind us. There’s a part 41
of me that knows that I have to approach food in the way that a creature much less cultured and more innocent than I would; that is to say, oftentimes it is essential to approach food with naiveté and without expectations or judgment. I find that this approach is especially important when I am working with or even eating foods that I am not accustomed to.
Asian Stalked Tunicate, also known by the delicious sounding name of Sea Squirt, has taken over what used to be Blue Mussel habitat from Maine to New Jersey. The alien Sea Squirt, which is indigenous to the Philippines, is considered a fouling organism and a pest by the shellfishing industry. In Korea, however, it is considered a delicacy and an aphrodisiac. The first time I ate Sea Squirt, it was prepared for me at a Korean sushi bar in the city. The scrotum-like squirts were arranged like a sunflower in the middle of a bright orange plate. As I bit into a sack, it burst with salty, viscous, warm liquid. Though I couldn’t see the liquid, I could taste that its color was yellow like phlegm, and it took all of my will power to keep it in my mouth and a bit more effort to swallow it. I was not turned on.
Yancy said to me once that Buckminster Fuller recommended that one should dare to be naive. I think it takes a bit of his approach to truly accept new ways of doing things, and this includes eating, of course. The next time I tried Sea Squirt, I scraped one off of a pier. I sliced open its tough outer membrane, which revealed a soft orange flesh, like mango. With barely a pause, I slurped it into my mouth off of the palm of my hand. Again, I was not turned on, but this time it was good.
In order to create the following menu (available only for our special dinners), I asked myself “what if we were to eat the invasive, highly successful predators of our local ecosystem?” Over the years, I have foraged, fished and hunted lots of different plants and animals; the following are recipes I have created from the invasive ones.
Special thanks to all of the biologists at the DEP and NOAA, in particular, Kristin DeRosia Banick. 42
LONG ISLAND SOUND INVASIVE SPECIES MENU
NEW ENGLAND STALKED TUNICATE MISO
The Asian stalked tunicate has taken over much of the native blue mussel habitat. An interesting fact: a drug derived from sea squirts shows potent anti-cancer effects. This recipe uses Asian stalked tunicate in a coconut cream, oak barrel aged miso whiskey miso chowder.
Bishop’s Orchard apple wine is the canvas for our pureed white bean bouillaibase that features fresh local seafood which is the bycatch (starfish, snails, crabs, periwinkles) of commercial fishing. This hearty soup is made from invasive predatory species.
WA FU CRAB SOUP
European green crabs are an invasive species that were introduced to the United States in the 1890’s. They are voracious eaters that eat the larvae of commercial shellfish species. Beer boiled in Ethiopian berbere spice and shallots then served as a soup with homemade crab picks made from homegrown bamboo. These crabs are fun to pick at and tasty as any crab you will ever have – like periwinkles, green crabs are a delicacy and do not contain a lot of meat.
European flat oyster and algae covered rock simmered in a clear sake chicken broth flavored with queen anne’s lace root, wild onions and native morels. Served in a large iron pot and designed to be shared by a small village.
EUROPEAN FLAT OYSTER ON THE HALF SHELL
The European flat oyster was deliberately introduced to maine in the 1940’s and competes with native shellfish. served on the half shell with a spicy citrus daikon relish.
POLLO FRITO SHORE CRABS
An invasive species of crab that came over on the ballasts of ships in the 1980’s and competes with other shellfish. In a fried chicken flavored batter.
Red algae came over on the ballast of ships, competes with native species, and crowds out sunlight. Seasoned with olive oil, spicy native honey, lemon salt and sesame seeds then perfectly baked into crispy chips.
Moon snails are considered pests by local fisherman and are a bycatch of lobstering. They are carnivores that feed on other shellfish by boring holes into their shells. They are considered a delicacy and a natural viagra in Norway. Grilled with lime juice and a splash of Chinese Firecracker sake soy. 43
NINE SPICE LION
Lionfish is a voracious, highly poisonous, invasive predator that has been compared to locust in its destructiveness. This fish is believed to have been introduced when six escaped from a broken home aquarium in Florida in 1992 during Hurricane Andrew. Protected by highly toxic hypodermic spines and resembling seaweed, lionfish have no natural enemies. Served raw and thin sliced with crushed sechuan peppers, roasted seaweed flakes, toasted sesame seeds and fresh chives in our citrusy Chinese Firecracker sake soy. Years ago there was an article in the New York Times about how fugu (deadly pufferfish) consumption in Japan had dropped dramatically. People are bored with fugu, and want a new poisonous sushi fish. The destructive lionfish is an invasive predator and should be part of every sushi menu.
JAPANESE KNOTWEED ROLL
Japanese knotweed is originally from eastern asia and presently thriving in 39 states. Listed as one of the world’s 100 worst invasive species by the world conservation union. Grows quickly in clusters and crowds out other herbaceous species. crunchy, juicy and tart not unlike a granny smith apple; one of the best natural sources of resveratrol which has been shown to have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and blood-sugar-lowering benefits; served, freshly blanched, in a whole grain roll.
*contains oxalic acid; people with kidney problems should not eat it
RIP VAN PERIWINKLE
The common periwinkle is one of the most dominant inter-tidal omnivores. It came from Europe in the 1870’s. Simmered with lots of garlic, ginger and salted chinese black bean.
WILD SWAN AND KUDZU ROLL
Native to Europe and Asia; this bird was introduced to the United States as an ornamental species; first appeared on Long Island sound in the 1920’s. Mute swans damage marshes and shallow water habitats by tearing up vegetation. Kudzu, known as the mile a minute plant for how quickly it grows, is in the pea family and was introduced by gardeners to the United States in the 1930’s; it is native to China and Japan. It creates a canopy and suffocates native forests. Pulled barbeque swan in a steamed kudzu leaf roll stuffed with sticky rice and chopped wild mushrooms.
*because kudzu contains oxalic acid, people with kidney problems should not eat it