Simply put, seafood is our Achilles heel. Growing up in coastal Maine the seafood was always fresh, and easily accessed. It wasn’t unusual for everyone to know at least five lobstermen that at any given time you could call up and request several pounds of lobsters for the right-off-the-boat price. (Sometimes if you knew the right person, you’d even get your lobsters for free.) If one needed something other than lobster, a quick 10 minute walk to the local seafood market provided locally harvested/grown Pemaquid Oysters, Alluvian Farm Oysters, Rope-grown Maine Mussels, Rope-grown Prince Edward Island Mussels, along with several other fresh options that had been shipped in. It also wasn’t unusual to see people clam digging during low tide on both public and private properties. Us Mainers know what quality fresh seafood is. It’s in our blood.
With all that said, we’ll be the first to admit we know practically nothing about Norwegian seafood, sustainability, and farming. It’s a culinary mystery to us. Recently Chef Bart Vandaele, the chef/owner of two of our favorite places in DC – Belga Cafe and B Too – was invited to be part of the Norwegian Seafood Council Culinary Board. Part of his ambassadorship required that he travel across the seas to Norway in order to explore Norway’s practice in seafood sustainability, heritage, and traditions. The Norwegian Seafood Council touts Norways seafood as “the best seafood in the world” due to its physical origin, and cultural heritage of fishing once being a means of survival to now being Norway’s second largest export thanks to their high standards of excellence and strict safety guidelines.
We know that farmed fish sometimes gets a bad wrap. People are concerned about chemicals and toxins in their food, in addition to less overall nutritional value. So, we asked Egil Ove Sundheim – Director USA for the Norwegian Seafood Council – what exactly makes Norway’s seafood the best in the world. Why farmed instead of wild caught, the benefits, and the differences? We might not get an educational trip to Norway anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find out the answers.
Norway currently ranks among the world’s leading aquaculture programs, a status only achieved by having strict health regulations, close safety monitoring and continuous development of the industry. All fish farms in Norway have operational plans that are assessed by the Directorate of Fisheries and the Food Safety Authority, and all fish are handled ethically – both for the fish’s benefit and the consumer’s.
Instead of strictly relying on farmed fish, the NSC believes both farmed and wild fish should co-exist to ensure that there are sufficient fish stocks for future generations. What makes, especially their farmed salmon superior, is their slow growth in the cold, clear waters that produce delicate flavor and lean meat. Catching and harvesting is done by skilled workers who use a combination of vast experience paired with the latest technology. And due to being raised in a controlled environment, their salmon is considered sushi and sashimi grade fish.
So, what of the chemicals/antibiotics? Norway’s farm-raised salmon contains virtually no antibiotics thanks to effective vaccines and strict hygiene regulations. Outbreaks of diseases have been nearly eradicated. Additional substances including PCBs, dioxins, and heavy metals in salmon filets have been monitored for more than a decade and continuously test well below levels set by authoritative agencies.
Norway’s farmed salmon does contain astaxanthin – a carotenoid pigment that gives the salmon its reddish color. Wild salmon receive natural doses of astaxanthin through feeding on crustaceans, so of course the farmed salmon must feed on a synthetic version. In both farmed and wild astaxanthin has antioxidative effects that strengthen a salmon’s immune system. On average, farmed Norwegian salmon receive a feed composition of 69% vegetables, 15% fish meal, and 11% fish oil.
In this week’s Nordic 3-Course Prix Fixe Tasting Menu at B Too (from November 6 through November 14), Vandaele backed up those bold claims with what we are calling a “mic drop” of a menu. We had the honor of previewing Vandaele’s Nordic menu before its launch. Incorporating Norwegian seafood into every dish (except dessert) guests can expect to find King Crab, Salmon, Mackerel, and Cod on the menu. But, what’s even more impressive – even if only marginally – is that this special 3-course dinner is only $35.14. That means one can affordably take advantage of the Belgian beers Vandaele stocks. Or, if you’re more inclined, we suggest asking for an appropriate wine pairing. We adore the chef’s taste in beer and wine to the point that we’ve found it mirrors ours. We’ve never been disappointed with a suggested pairing. Not once.
With all of this fantastic seafood, we want to showcase what guests can expect to find on the menu. Although preparations may be a little different, the ingredients are essentially the same.
For the first course guests will have the choice of Grilled Norwegian Mackerel (with radish, finger lime, pickled tomatoes) or Grilled Norwegian Sea King Crab Legs (with thyme and lemon butter – $7 supplement). While we had the opportunity to try both options, and both were ridiculously good, we have to say we think the $7 supplement is worth it for the King Crab Legs. Sweet, and buttery soft, it’s hard to say no to the crustacean.
The second course (and ultimately our favorite) includes choices of Norwegian Cod (with smoked leeks, shellfish sauce, mashed potato, chives, and shallots) or Bone-In Sterling Halibut (with purslane, beech mushroom, and a hay infused sauce). It really doesn’t matter which choice you make, but definitely try to have your dinner partner get the option you passed on. We couldn’t get enough of either of these dishes and would happily eat both on a daily basis.
And finally, for the third course comes dessert. Sure there’s a Soft Cream Cake (with vanilla ice cream) that we’re positive is scrumptious, but by now you should know Chef Bart is notorious for his Belgian style dessert waffles. We suggest the option of his Cinnamon Waffle (with Skyr and blueberries). It’s the perfect way to end a seafood-only meal.
If you can’t make it to B Too before the Nordic Tasting Menu ends, Egil suggests finding Norwegian salmon at Whole Foods (you can check for country of origin on the labeling), or at other restaurants like B Too who take pride in the seafood they serve (of course you should always ask the origins to be sure). If you’re more of purist, head to your local fish market – your local fishmonger will know the origins.
1324 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20005
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