Susan Olcott, director of operations at the nonprofit Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, wants everyone to cook a little more adventurously. “Think of it as ‘seafood beyond lobster,’” she says. “It’s time to start exploring how delicious our less obvious local seafoods can be.” Groundfish — so called because they dwell on or near the seafloor — are plentiful in the Gulf of Maine, but many perfectly tasty species have, historically, been left off dinner plates. Now, as cod, halibut, and haddock populations have declined from a mix of environmental factors and overfishing, the long-neglected likes of pollock, monkfish, and hake can help buoy Maine’s beleaguered groundfishing fleet.
“If we’re eating a diversity of types of fish, then we’re not just hammering down on a few local species,” says Kyle Foley, who oversees the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s seafood sustainability program. “It isn’t about ignoring the traditional favorites — they’re part of the ecosystem too. But it helps fishermen a lot when they can bring in multiple species at the same time.”
Retailers like Mike Alfiero, co-owner of Harbor Fish Market, with locations in Portland and Scarborough, have gotten on board. He tries to point his customers toward cusk, redfish, plaice, grey sole, and other groundfish that used to be off the menu at restaurants and in homes. “People are starting to seek out more underutilized species from the Gulf of Maine,” Alfiero says.
We tracked down four such people — chefs at high-profile restaurants up and down the coast — and they were stuffed to the gills with ideas for preparing Maine groundfish. Here, they share recipes that will have your holiday guests clamoring for more.