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
Lionfish is a voracious, highly poisonous, invasive predator that has been compared to locust in its destructiveness. This fish is listed as one of the top 100 most destructive invasive species in the world and is believed to have been introduced to the U.S. when six escaped from a broken home aquarium in Florida during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Protected by highly toxic hypodermic spines and resembling drifting seaweed, lionfish have no natural enemies. But with their dangerous spines removed, their flesh is sweet and tender. This fish is served raw, thin sliced, with a squeeze of lime juice, a sprinkling of seven different types of crushed peppers, roasted seaweed flakes, toasted sesame seeds, and sea salt from Kiribati, an island nation that will be engulfed by the ocean, in the next fifty years, due to climate change. The spice combination was designed to create a cool sensation on the palate, followed by a warm one, as a metaphor for climate change. There are many links between climate change and the proliferation of invasive species.
LE SOUPE DU MEAN GREENIES
European green crabs made their way to the United States in the 1890’s. They voraciously consume the larvae of commercial shellfish species and is considered one of the top 100 most destructive invasive species in the world. I steam the crabs in a hoppy beer and hot Ethiopian spices and they are fun to pick from their shell and tasty as any crab you will ever have. Apple wood smoked, dehydrated with lemon grass and hot peppers, then pulverized into a powder, this crab becomes a spicy, sour and aromatic dashi for a savory crab based miso soup. The spiced steamed whole crabs are served atop the soup, as if they are struggling to climb out, symbolizing the durability of invasive species.
Feral hog is cut into 6 inch thick blocks then is frozen for 20 days at 5 degrees fahrenheit which destroys the trichinellosis parasite which is common in carnivorous and omnivorous wild animals. Feral hogs were introduced by European settlers in the 1500‘s. The pigs are responsible for the reduction of species diversity, soil erosion, and the consumption of native and endangered species. In this recipe, roasted invasive daylilly buds are wrapped in black pepper seared thin sliced feral hog meat that is sprinkled with chopped wild chives. Finally, the pig rolls are drizzled in a ginger, garlic, roasted sesame, sauvignon blanc soy sauce. Feral hog meat is pharmaceutical free, unlike most commercial pork which has been found to contain antibiotics and it’s resultant antibiotic resistant bacteria. And, antibiotics are not the only drugs found in commercial pork.
物の哀れ KNOT YOUR MOTHER’S LEMONADE
Japanese knotweed grows quickly in clusters and crowds out other herbaceous species. It is an ornamental species that was brought over from Japan. It has been named one of the world’s 100 worst invasive species by the World Conservation Union and is presently thriving in 39 states. The taste is crunchy, juicy and tart—not unlike a Granny Smith apple. This is a twist on a recipe of a verdant and herbacious lemonade that my mother makes. In a combination of ice and mineral water, Japanese knotweed shoots are blended with fresh stevia leaves, fresh kefir lime leaves, and a splash of lemon juice. This is the tastiest lemonade you will ever have. It is, also, the healthiest lemonade as it is full of cancer and heart disease preventing phytochemicals and nutrients. Wild plants are exponentially more nutritious then ones that have been bred for farming. Japanese knotweed, for example, contains far more of the powerful anti-aging antioxidant, resveratrol, than grapes; so, skip the wine and sip plenty of momma’s knotweed lemonade instead!
KUDZU TCHAIKOVSKY SUSHI
Native to Europe and Asia, the mute swan was introduced to the United States as an ornamental species. They 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 to the U.S. from Asia and Japan by gardeners in the 1930’s. It creates a canopy and suffocates native forests. Swans were, especially, prized by the aristocracy in medieval Europe yet in many parts of the U.S. it is a protected species because it is majestic looking. In this recipe, bow shot swan is rubbed in a puree of olive oil, freshly grated ginger and Jamaican jerk seasoning, then slow roasted. The tender dark meat is finely chopped and mixed with roasted shallots and rosemary, and served in a steamed kudzu leaf roll stuffed with a sherry scented sticky rice and wild morels. Swans, like many wild animals, are high in heart healthy Omega 3 fatty acids as compared to commercially raised livestock such as chickens and cows which are high in Omega 6 fatty acids-which are implicated for heart disease.
PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY
Feral rabbits are some of the most ecologically destructive animals. They procreate uncontrollably, destroy croplands, and contribute to soil erosion. Though jellyfish populations are expected to explode, due to the acidification of the oceans and overfishing, very few cultures appreciate them as a food source. The warty comb jelly, one of the most invasive species on earth, is linked to the collapse of a handful of fisheries. This recipe is my twist on the classic steakhouse surf and turf. Invasive cannonball jellyfish, trawled off the state of Georgia, is thin sliced and mixed with steamed invasive Australian rabbit and cucumber. The combination is seasoned with creamy roasted peanut butter. This recipe is inspired by my parents who taught me to like to eat jellyfish and to never turn my nose up at anything served to me by others.