Our 10,000 lakes mean we know how to fish. At least our grandpas and our dads (and moms and grandmas) knew how to fish, and our connection to water and angling means that a desire to eat aquatic creatures can go deep into our DNA.
But unless you have one of those sweet little ice shanties, you can't eat what you catch every day. Get a good fishmonger, and once you do, you won't consider your relationship any less important than the ones with your hairdresser or mechanic. And unlike a bad hair day or a rusty muffler, eating (and eating well) should be a non-negotiable.
1. You'll eat more fish and fish is good.
Quick: Do you know the differences among a Branzini, a Sea Bass, a Sea Bream, and a Hybrid Striped Bass? Me either. But you know who does? Fishmongers.
Fishmongers can rattle this information off inside of ten seconds, informing you of the subtle differences of each one, how they'll perform in your pan and on your plate, and simple ways of making them submit to your culinary whims. Just because we are a landlocked lot does not mean that we have to be relegated to pan fish (great as it is) or salmon (because it's safe). About a million known species live in the sea. And yeah, your fishmonger can only wrangle a fraction of those, but it's a lot more than you can without him.
Unless they're running a special, most seafood restaurants will charge you between $3 and $4 apiece for oysters, and that's why you think of them as a special-occasion food reserved for special occasions. But what if you could pay less than half that? Then, suddenly, you're shucking oysters by the refrigerator light on a Wednesday.
A dozen oysters can easily feed two people as a substantial starter. Even if this luxury runs you around $15, suddenly it's much more of a possibility to indulge in this singular treat on the reg.
A perfect oyster is more than just a slippery bivalve. It's a briny blast of the ocean straight to your dome, and when you crave sea spray and coastal life, it can be just the thing. Your monger will even teach you how to shuck. (Just be sure not to ask for a lesson during the rush, unless you want an oyster knife to the dome.)
3. Mussels and clams are cheap, delicious, and easy.
You know those ubiquitous mussels that all the cool bistros list in their appetizer section? They cost little more than $5 a pound retail, and often less than that. Restaurants like to sell them because they get a huge profit margin on the little buggers. Considering that trained monkeys could cook them, I don't know why you're paying upwards of $10 retail for a little pot of them with a heel of grilled bread on the side.
Rinse them, tear off the beards (if there are any), and toss them in a rocking hot sauté pan with chopped shallot, garlic, parsley, and a glug of wine. Add a splash of coconut milk if you're feeling tropical. Or chile if you're feeling spicy. Wait the three minutes it takes for the shells to open and the sauce to reduce, and voila. You're Jacques Pepin. Don't forget great slices of grilled or toasted buttered baguette for sopping.
4. Grilling season is nigh.
Ask anyone who has ever done it and they'll tell you: wrapping a whole fish in a banana leaf and then throwing it on the grill is one of the most satisfying things you'll ever do for the least amount of effort. Whole fish, scaled, cleaned, practically ready to eat are available from your fishmonger.
If your fishmonger is Coastal Seafoods, United Noodles is right across the street and banana leafs await in the freezer section for a few dollars a pack. You can refreeze them at home and they will probably last the summer if you do this infrequently.
Salt and pepper the fish, wrap the fish, put it on the grill for a few minutes a side, remove, and eat. (Test doneness with a fork or skewer. If it goes through easily without force, it's ready).
The presentation is dramatic, it's perfect for a crowd or a hot date, and the leaf imparts an intoxicating, tropical aroma and flavor. Stuff the fish with lemon slices and fresh herbs for an even more pro experience. (Extra time expenditure: two minutes).
5. It's one-stop shopping.
Spoiler: my fishmonger is Coastal Seafood, with locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Set foot in these wee but mighty establishments, and an entire gourmand world will unfold before your eyes: high quality salami and cheeses, baguettes from Rustica Bakery, Kewpie mayonnaise, meat rub, steaks, fine chocolate, wasabi, satay skewers, tartar sauce, malt vinegar, foie gras, creme fraiche, mustard, pasta! I could go on. And on, and on. The point is, you can forgo the big box altogether and visit your fishmonger instead. She has everything you need, at least a coupla times a week, for not too much money. And that's fresh.
Fishmongers to consider:
Coastal Seafoods: Probably the biggest name in the game, Coastal provides fish to many of the finest restaurants in the area. Even so, their neighborhood locations are friendly, approachable, and knowledgeable for any and all comers, from fish newbs to seafood savants.
2330 Minnehaha Ave. S., Minneapolis
74 S. Snelling Ave., St. Paul
Whole Foods: The natural foods powerhouse has friendly and knowledgeable fish experts to set your mind at ease.
Seward Co-op: We like the sustainable approach that co-ops take when selecting fish for their counters, and bonus, Seward sources its product from Coastal. So, Seward is a convenient shopping experience if you gotta get shrimp and trout, but cereal and bananas, too.
2823 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
317 E. 38th St., Minneapolis