The early settlers of Mississippi and other Gulf states have a long and proud history of turning to the sea for food and fortune. For generations, fishing, shrimping and enjoying wild-caught seafood have been a way of life for people along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Today, we not only carry on the tradition of harvesting the bounty the Gulf provides, but we lead the industry in our commitment to providing safe, well-regulated, and sustainably caught seafood with taste and quality that stand out from the rest. In fact, currently, the Gulf Coast produces 70 percent of the nation’s oysters, 69 percent of domestic shrimp, and is a leading producer of domestic hard and soft-shell blue crabs.
Fall, in particular is a time of year when the Gulf provides an abundance of delicious, wild-caught seafood that is great tasting, and rich in important nutrients so crucial to a healthy and balanced diet. As residents of the Gulf Coast region we are fortunate to live where we have easy access to such a wide variety of fresh, high quality seafood, and fall is a perfect time to enjoy it.
Seafood is an important part of a healthful diet, containing high-quality protein and a variety of essential nutrients, such as vitamins B6 and B12. Additionally, some varieties of seafood are among the few natural sources of vitamin D. While seafood is low in saturated fat, it offers healthy omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Well-Being talked to Chef Derek Emerson of Walker’s Drive-in (Jackson, MS) and Local 463 Urban Kitchen (Madison, MS) about the high quality of our Gulf seafood, some tips for preparing it, and what is in season and plentiful this time of year.
When it comes to seafood, as with produce, meats and other commodities, Emerson turns to suppliers who buy their fish from sources that use environmentally sound, sustainable practices in harvesting and handling of both wild-caught and farmed species.
“The Gulf Coast seafood industry has some of the most stringent regulations around to assure the safety and quality of seafood and to prevent over-fishing and other unsustainable practices,” notes Emerson. “Our suppliers share the same values and standards we have and are making an effort to do things the right way. Going the extra mile might be more expensive, but the end product is better-tasting, it is better for the people who eat it and better for the environment. Serving Gulf seafood is also a way to support our Gulf fishermen and help the local and regional economies.”
One seafood supplier Emerson uses is CleanFish, a company that brings together artisan producers – both fishermen and farmers – and champions them in the marketplace under traceable, transparent brands. Unlike some suppliers, their gill tags are traceable to a person, not just a tracking number.
“The fact that we can trace the fish we buy and serve back to original suppliers is huge for us,” adds Emerson. “Our seafood comes with a label that tells us what, when, where, how and even on which boat the seafood was caught. That gives us confidence that we are serving our customers the highest possible quality, and the proof is in the flavor and freshness. It’s also proof that we are serving the product we say we are. It’s all too common for some restaurants to serve fish that is ‘masquerading’ for something else.”
Gulf Seafood Trace aims to drive demand for U.S. Gulf seafood products from both seafood buyers and consumers by telling its unique story and sharing key information from vessel to plate or shelf. Incorporating a data quality and confirmation component confirms the validity and integrity of the information being shared by businesses.
“This time of year is great for shrimp, snapper, grouper, redfish and oysters,” Emerson continues. “Regulations prevent redfish from being caught commercially during the summer months when tourism is at its height and tourists are fishing the gulf. Once fall rolls around the regulations are lifted and redfish can be commercially fished again, but Mississippi is the only Gulf state at this time that has lifted the commercial ban.”
Chef Emerson shared some basics to remember when preparing and serving fish.
“The first rule of cooking fish is not to overdo it,” explains Emerson. “Watch your fish as it cooks and when a little white ‘sap’ appears on the surface, take it off the heat and out of the pan. If you let the fish come to room temperature before putting it in to cook, the cooking process will be faster. Once you have taken it out of the pan after cooking, let it rest for a few minutes, the way you would a steak. As far as seasoning goes, remember to season both sides, and a little salt and pepper goes a long way.”
When ordering seafood at a restaurant, don’t be afraid to ask the country of origin. Steer clear of fish that isn’t from U.S. waters. Even though we share the Gulf with Mexico, seafood caught in Mexican waters is not regulated the way it is in the U.S., so “look for the U.S. label.”
The Gulf coastline spans approximately 1,680 miles with access to many major ports and cities. Gulf seafood is harvested from waters that are close in proximity to major seafood processors, ensuring the freshest catch possible. It can “sleep in the Gulf one night” and then harvested, processed and on the table within hours.
“We want our customers to know the effort we take to make sure the seafood we serve is only from the most reputable sources, is fresh, safe and flavorful,” adds Emerson. “We believe the more people know about the food they eat, and the more informed they are about its origins, the more discriminating they will be and they will demand higher standards from all of those who provide it,” he concludes.
Seafood Nutritional Facts
Finfish (Refers to whole fish such as snapper, flounder, tuna, grouper mackerel, swordfish, mahi-mahi and trout). Fish oils from fatty fish, such as tuna, mackerel, and trout, may provide a protective effect against development of several chronic degenerative diseases. They may also have a therapeutic effect in certain conditions like arthritis, atherosclerosis and vasospasm.
Shrimp. Shrimp are low in saturated fat. They are also a good source of protein, selenium, and vitamin B12.
Scallops. Scallops are a good source of protein, vitamin B12, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium and potassium. Additionally, scallops contain a variety of other nutrients that have been shown to promote cardiovascular health and protect against colon cancer.
Oysters. Oysters are the most concentrated natural source of zinc, which is essential to maintaining a strong immune system and supports wound healing. Additionally, Oysters are one of the most nutritionally well-balanced foods, containing protein, carbohydrates and fats.
Crab. Crab meat is an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals such as phosphorus, zinc, copper, calcium and iron.
Lobster. Lobster has 10 to 20 percent of the USDA’s daily recommended value of potassium, selenium, zinc, phosphorus, copper and vitamin B12. Additionally, it is rich in choline and contains vitamins A, E, B6 and niacin.
Sources: USDC National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Seafood Inspection Program, Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, Blue Crab Information and Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation, Inc., Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010