Seafood Current Archive – Issue 4

Bell Farms
In this issue we were to feature Bell Farms Aquacultures’ fantastic products. Unfortunately on July 31st Bell experienced a power outage due to an electrical storm in their Indiana location. Bell Farms president Norman McCowan said in a letter to distributors that the power failure “led to the failure of the oxygen system for the building that houses our final grow-out tanks.The electrical malfunction did not allow our backup generator system to override this, and all power was lost to that building.” This caused them to have to harvest the entire stock of the next few months of their supply. Luckily the power failure did not affect their long term future stocks. McCowan said “The problem was isolated to one building and did not affect our hatchery, nursery, feed mill or processing operations. Our next generation of fish in the hatchery and fingerling stages are safe and will move through their normal growth.

”This process will take almost 3 months to realize market ready fish. This set back will not deter Bell Farms future goals. Nowman’s passion reminds all “We were founded to solve a growing global problem, to develop a cost-effective, sustainable source of protein for a crowded planet. Across America, Bell is growing rapidly by supplying our products to many of the top 100 award-winning restaurants and most of the premier grocery chains.” When Bell gets close to returning their Land Raised fish to market we will feature them again and detail their future plans and their all natural products. Check out their website to see the farm up close and get an overview of Bell Farms philosophic approach to aquaculture.

Clambake Time
As Labor Day approaches a couple of things comes to mind. The Labor Day holiday weekend is a signal that summer is coming to an end and in turn Clam Bake season is about to begin. Although the peak of the clam bake season isn’t until late September early October when the cooler autumn weather arrives, Labor Day weekend is the unofficial start. This year advance planning for your clam bake is a must. Due to 2 consecutive extremely long and hard winters both wild and farmed clams have been affected. Cherrystone Aquafarm, the largest farmed clam operation in North America, experienced nearly a 20% loss of clams in their beds. Wild clam diggers have similar reports. We do not by any means want to discourage anybody from planning a clam bake this year, we do want you to plan well in advance to guarantee you will put on a successful clam bake. Cost will be up slightly this year as low supply and high demand bumps up costs. Tim Parsons sales director at Cherrystone Aquafarms in Virginia says the experts predict this to be a 2 to 3 year issue. It takes 3 to 5 years to raise a clam to market size depending on size, and with the loss and slow growth of the last 2 winters it will take time to get back to “normal” clam supply. We will have plenty of clams for those who plan in advance, so plan your bake and have a great time enjoying a Cleveland fall tradition.

Why Cleveland Is A Fall Clambake Capital — History On A Half-Shell

Media Credit: Fox 8 News

clambakeOn a certain September day, you can stand on the grounds of St. Mary’s church in Olmsted Falls and smell the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s clambake day, and that briny whiff of the sea is coming from more than 100 dozen clams steaming in racks with sweet potatoes, corn and chicken.

Volunteers armed with tongs reach through the hot mist into a tub-sized stainless steel box and pluck out the bounty for each tray. A few folks carry jugs to the spigot to catch the mingled, ambrosial broth left behind.As patrons drop admission tickets into the basket in front of him, social chairman Bill Hoislbauer says clambakes are important.

“It means we’re sitting down to eat together and becoming more of a church family,” he says, “not just praying and going home.”Father Wally Hyclak agrees. After all, he’s the one who makes the sauce for the annual spaghetti dinner, St. Mary’s most productive fundraiser.

Clambakes, he says, don’t pay the bills, but as he dives into his own bowl of plump bivalves, he describes their special meaning: His own family staged one every year at his childhood home in Twinsburg.

“I still have my father’s copper kettle,” he said. “We don’t do clambakes anymore but once a year my sister uses the kettle to make my dad’s clam chowder for everyone.

“It’s just something we’ve always done.”

Clams, along with other shellfish such as oysters and mussels, have a worldwide audience. But because of peak clam sales here in September and October, Northeast Ohio is considered the fall clambake capital of the country. Churches, restaurants, fire departments, neighborhoods, veterans groups, cheerleaders and ethnic groups all get into the act. One humane society calls theirs a Clambark. A gay group hosts an event where you can “Come Out of Your Shell.”

No spreadsheets document our prominence, since vendors consider sales proprietary information. But perceptions and experience among professionals who buy and sell clams runs strong. Sean Sullivan of Euro USA, who fills orders for top restaurants here, says it’s so. Ditto for John Catanese of Catanese Classic Seafood in the Flats, a retailer and the largest restaurant supplier in the area. And it’s true for John C. Young of Euclid Fish Co., a third generation fishmonger whose grandfather unloaded rail cars bearing iced-down barrels of clams from the shore.

Chesapeake Bay waterman Chad Ballard, now the largest clam producer on the East Coast, agrees with all of them. We’re the top market in the fall for his product – not Chicago, Boston or New York, which have their clambake peaks in late summer.

“From our perspective, the volume is incredible,” said Ballard. “The northeast part of the country buys all year round, going from 30 to 60 (miles per hour) during their season. Cleveland buys a few clams and then it goes 0 to 60 in the fall. You’re absolutely the fall capital.”

What gives, clam-heads?

Some attribute it to our origins as a kind of second Connecticut, since the “Western Reserve” lands in the northeast corner of Ohio were given to those veterans of the Revolutionary War. Their seaside taste for clams just moved inland.

There’s our mighty pre-election clambake ritual, when politicians use clams to lure constituents. One of them, former Cuyahoga County Sheriff Gerald McFaul, admitted in court that he illegally forced his employees to buy tickets to his bakes.

While our love for the double-shelled food has held steady, clams themselves have changed. A growing number of them – 80 percent by some estimates – are now farm-raised. In a world where farm-raised seafood has a checkered reputation, clams stand out as not just a good thing, but also a necessary one. Things have changed that much.

What has also changed is our appetite for oysters,’ which once rivaled our love for clams.

In the early 1900s, tens of thousands of gallons of oysters were consumed annually in Cleveland alone, including by families who cooked them at home.

The food section of The Plain Dealer in 1914 was filled with reader suggestions on how to prepare them: In fritters, baked, sauced, wrapped in bacon, stuffed in a loaf, deviled, panned, scalloped, in soup and chowder, a pie, a hot cocktail. (“Hot” then meaning temperature, not spice.)

“Inexhaustible seem the disguises of the festive oyster, to judge by the great variety of modes in which Women’s Exchange contributors serve the bivalve up,” read a story about a recipe contest.

The city had restaurants devoted to exclusively to shellfish menus. At a Cleveland shop called “The Ocean,” one story said, “oysters may be purchased by the barrel or hundred; bucket and count oysters by the hundred, quart or gallon.”

In an 1899 shucking contest downtown, the winners opened more than 50 oysters in about five minutes.

Clambakes had similar glory here.

In 1906, the golden-era mayor Tom Johnson showed up with 1,200 others to the Buckeye Club’s Clambake at “Giesen’s Gardens on Pearl Street,” which raised money for band uniforms for their Cedar Point appearances.

In 1900, the Fifth District Republican Club had its first clambake at its headquarters on Woodland Avenue.

Recounted The Plain Dealer: “The bake was very successful in every way and about 200, who evidently brought their appetites with them, sat down to devour the festive clam and all that is good that goes with it.”

Through the years, everyone seemed to have one, from carpenters to realtors to Kiwanis clubs.

In those days, most clams were harvested by hand rakes. Now, because of so many environmental changes, many of them are grown from egg. One-inch seedlings are sprinkled in the water and covered with netting to protect them from predators.

When full size, they are gathered by hydraulic rakes and sometimes stored to help clean out grit. Wet storage also keeps inventories high and prices regulated.

In the end, it makes clambakes seem a bit more like they always have been.

Which is fine by Father Wally.

“It’s a Cleveland thing,” he said, digging in. “They just don’t do this everywhere.”

Clambake Season: Northeast Ohio’s Favorite Fall Feast Has It’s Traditions and Twists

By Joe Crea, Northeast Ohio Media Group

Sure as the leaves turn colors and the stands fill with football fans, a certain briny smell scents the air this time of year. It’s the aroma of steaming clams wafting on the chill breeze. No doubt about it. Clambakes are one of Cleveland’s favorite feasts.

You needn’t look far to find them, in newspaper ads, in church bulletins, on the airwaves. And on neighbors’ decks and patios. Despite the fact that we’re several hundred miles from the nearest ocean, Northeast Ohio ranks among the nation’s largest consumers of clams and clambakes.

“Without question, this area pulls more clams, collectively, than any other city in America,” says Jim Catanese of Classic Seafood in Cleveland.

“I worked in New York City, at Fulton Fish Market, and they were constantly amazed by the demand here,” Catanese says.

Ohio’s historical links to New England may be a key to that appetite, he says, but generations of strong marketing play a role as well.

“Years and years ago, the old-timers developed a seafood business that — in a traditionally slow time of year here — found a niche,” Catanese says. “They developed a business with the corn that was being harvested, the sweet potatoes being dug, and clams coming into season.

“It hasn’t really lost any steam or momentum at all,” he adds.

The ingredients rarely vary. Anyone who’s dug into a couple of local bakes can rattle off the key elements. Typically they include a dozen clams (usually tied in a mesh bag), half a chicken, a sweet potato, ear of corn and a roll and butter. Coleslaw and clam broth are usually part of the deal. Variations abound, of course — steak instead of chicken, redskin potatoes to replace the yams, skip the broth and spoon up some creamy chowder.

Local chefs gussy up their versions or include extras. Chris Hodgson of Hodge’s in downtown Cleveland offers “smashed” yams and sherry coleslaw. Blue Canyon Kitchen & Tavern in Twinsburg includes all-you-can-eat Black Garlic Clam Chowder, corn spoon bread and roasted chicken. Regan Reik, executive chef of Pier W in Lakewood, uses a South Asian-style tandoor oven. The seafood and other ingredients, along with confit chicken (slowly poached in olive oil), are cooked in a hauntingly fragrant broth of coconut milk, lemongrass and lime.

Along the Atlantic coast where “shore dinners” are common weekend gatherings in season, chicken isn’t always part of the equation.

“The East Coast clambake tends to include fish of some kind, usually cod,” says Catanese. Soft-shell or “steamer” clams are favored (“they think the steamers are sweeter,” he says) though when that variety is special-ordered here, it’s usually for deep-frying in clam rolls.

Elliott Lewis, fishmonger for Whole Foods Market in University Heights, thinks it’s a mistake to omit chicken from the steamer.

“Here people sometimes grill the chicken on the side — but that steals flavor from the broth,” says Lewis, who started out as a crabber on the coast of North Carolina and has spent the past 27 years cutting fish.

“Adding chicken and live seaweed to the steamer keeps the moisture and flavor in the fish and other ingredients,” he says.

One big change over the years has been the gradual shift away from serving steamed cherrystone clams, in favor of middleneck or topneck varieties.

“Once they open up, they’re chewy — real chewy,” Lewis says.

“Years ago, everyone bought cherrystones,” Catanese agrees. “Now if someone wants to buy cherrystones, I try to talk them out of it.”

That’s because their extra-large size and lower price led shoppers to believe cherrystones were the best value — except cherrystones, essentially more mature clams, grow tough as they age.

“The longer they’re in the water, the bigger they’ll grow,” Catanese says.

Cherrystones are best suited for stewing in chowders, or added to the clam steamer to intensify the aroma and taste of the broth. (After the bake is served, the meat from cherrystones can be pulled, diced and added to soups, pasta or grain dishes.) Do-it-yourself clambakers should choose middleneck clams, which constitute almost 90 percent of sales for clambakes, Catanese says.

“They’re just the right size, they’re not too tough, and people are still getting good value.”

Reserve the littleneck clams for pasta dishes, bouillabaisse and similar dishes where cooking times are more easily controlled. Lewis says the smaller clams dry out easily. While assembling ingredients, look for ways to add or enhance flavors naturally, rather than just dousing your bake with salt or sodium-laden seasonings.

“There are still plenty of fresh herbs in the gardens or in the stores,” Lewis says. “Old Bay is OK, but it’s like 40 percent sodium. If you use it, go easy. Great broth is broth you can just sip and enjoy good, full flavor — you want to taste the sweet seafood and other flavors, not a mouthful of salt.”

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