Talking trash … fish: Area chefs champion former cast-offs


Photo by Emily Ryan. Registered dietitian-nutritionist Emma Fogt prepares fish for a class at the Wayne Art Center.

By Emily Ryan, The Mercury

Dogfish, drum, sea robin — embrace the idea that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and sample some so-called “trash fish.”

“I like the term underloved fish,” said Patrick Byrne, proprietor of General Warren in Malvern. “Another great term to use for trash fish is fisherman’s dinner or fisherman’s lunch.”

And what better time to try these often overlooked fish than National Seafood Month?

“Sometimes we say rough fish because it’s not appealing or appetizing. No one wants to eat trash,” explained executive chef Chiwishi Joy Abney, an instructor at the Wayne Art Center in Wayne. “A lot of them are scavengers, so they’re really looked down upon.”

Growing up, her grandmother made delicious fried porgy.

“We’re kind of pressured by what is popular,” Abney said. “I think it’s our job as cooks to really offer some insight and variety to the plate.”

“Chefs today are so much more creative and thinking outside the box,” agreed Byrne. “Drum fish used to be a bait.”

As a young chef, he remembers restaurants discovering fluke, “a thick flounder” that was “as cheap as can be.”

“Everything cycles,” Byrne noted. “History repeats itself on every level, and that includes food.”

One way to translate the trend at home: Use lesser-known fish in an autumn seafood stew, featuring spiced carrot puree.

“With that base, any of the lower-end fish would go well with it because there’s a lot going on,” said Josh Smith, General Warren’s executive chef, who mentioned skate wing, which is “basically a baby stingray,” and catfish.

“Catfish is another big one that’s underutilized and pigeon-holed into one way you can make it,” he described. “You could add it to a bouillabaisse or a fish stew.”

Abney’s also a catfish fan.

“There’s a sweetness to it and a crispiness, depending on how you cook it. Catfish is often fried down South,” she said. “Grits or polenta would be nice, lots of fresh herbs.”

There truly are plenty of fish in the sea. So don’t be afraid to look beyond shrimp or salmon and talk some trash … fish that is.

“To offer something beautifully presented and fresh from the water, you can’t beat that.”

Autumn Seafood Stew


Photo by Emily Ryan. Experiment with different fish in a simple, colorful autumn seafood stew. “You can get this from the refrigerator to the table in about an hour,” says Josh Smith, executive chef at General Warren in Malvern.


Fresh fish

Seasonal vegetables

Spiced carrot puree:

6 cups carrots, small dice

3 tablespoons shallots, small dice

1 tablespoon garlic

5 star anise

4 bay leaves

1 bottle (750ml) sparkling cider

4 cups water

2 cups blood orange juice (may substitute orange juice)

2 teaspoons salt


Place star anise and bay leaves in a cheesecloth sachet. Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan and simmer on a medium heat until tender. Transfer mixture to a blender and puree.

Once the puree has been prepared, it is time for the fish. You may use any affordable fresh fish that you find at the market. Cod or pollock are both great affordable fish that the average home chef can prepare. Simply pat the fish dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a large sauté pan up over a medium heat and add 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Gingerly add the fish to the hot pan. Sear the fish for approximately 4 minutes per side or until cooked through. Remove from the heat and add a tablespoon of butter. Swirl the fish around gently in the butter. Heat the carrot broth and add your favorite seasonal vegetables. Roasted potatoes, parsnips, cipollini onions and kale work very well, but let your tastes and creativity be your guide.

To serve, simply scoop 4 ounces of the puree into a shallow bowl, arrange your vegetables to your liking and place your buttered fish on top.


Spiced Catfish & Poblano-Cheddar Grits with Stewed Collard Greens


2 catfish fillets

1 cup yellow grits

½ bunch collard greens

1 poblano pepper

1½ ounces cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons spiced catfish spice blend (rice flour, ancho chile powder, ground cumin, smoked paprika)


Prepare the ingredients: Wash and dry the fresh produce. Remove and discard the collard green stems; roughly chop the leaves. Grate the cheese. Cut out and discard the stem, ribs and seeds of the poblano pepper; small dice. Immediately wash your hands, knife and cutting board after handling the poblano pepper.

Cook the poblano pepper: In a medium pan (nonstick, if you have one), heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the poblano pepper; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes, or until softened. Transfer to a bowl. Wipe out the pan.

Stew the collard greens: In the pan used to cook the poblano pepper, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium until hot. Add the collard greens and ¼ cup of water; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes, or until the collard greens have wilted and the water has evaporated; season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a bowl and set aside in a warm place. Rinse and wipe out the pan.

Cook the grits: While the collard greens stew, in a large pot, heat 4 cups of water and a big pinch of salt to boiling on high. Once boiling, slowly whisk in the grits; reduce the heat to low. Simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes, or until thickened. (If the grits seem dry, gradually add up to ¼ cup of water to achieve your desired consistency.) Remove from heat. Whisk in the butter, cheese and cooked poblano pepper until thoroughly combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside in a warm place.

Coat the catfish: While the grits cook, place the spice blend on a plate. Pat the catfish fillets dry with paper towels; season with salt and pepper on both sides. Coat 1 side of each seasoned fillet in the spice blend (tapping off any excess).

Cook the catfish and serve your dish: In the pan used to cook the collard greens, heat a thin layer of oil on medium-high until hot. Add the catfish fillets, coated sides down. Cook 3 to 5 minutes on the first side, or until golden brown and crispy. Flip and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove from heat. Divide the cooked grits between 2 bowls. Top with the stewed collard greens and cooked catfish fillets. Enjoy!



To raise awareness, the nonprofit Chefs Collaborative holds trash fish dinners around the country. The goal: “to show that there’s no such thing as so-called ‘trash fish.’”

“I think it’s so important that we focus on being sustainable,” said member Chiwishi Joy Abney, an instructor at the Wayne Art Center. “We need to reduce our consumption of the overconsumed and offer different options that folks haven’t tried before.”

Trash fish dinners began in 2013. Proceeds benefit scholarship and educational programs.

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