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This Holiday Classic Has a Sustainable Twist

C+C Communications

December 07, 2017

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The holiday season is upon us, and that means a lot more time spent around the dinner table. Whether you’re planning on setting the table yourself, or dining out with the whole family, JBF and our Smart Catch partner, C+C, are serving up some inside scoops from chefs cooking on the front lines of sustainable seafood. Below, the team at C+C catches up with the executive chef of the State of Alabama and chairman of the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission, Jim Smith, on why he loves lionfish—don’t let their poisonous spines scare you—and how a sustainable seafood superstar is the secret ingredient to his holiday dressing recipe. 

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Chef Jim Smith associates seafood with his fondest, earliest memories of family meals. From the oyster restaurant in his hometown to becoming a huge force in the Alabama gulf community, seafood, and its sustainability, have become central to his identity as a chef. Joining the Smart Catch program has only deepened his relationships within the industry, revealing the network of individuals who are working to protect Alabama coast’s bounty.

Smith’s longtime affection for oysters is still a strong creative force in his cooking, as seen in this recipe for dressing (that’s stuffing, to Yanks). Like their bivalve brethren, oysters are sustainable superstars, and make up a critical part of the Gulf coast’s seafood ecosystem. Smith starts with a base of homemade buttery cornbread, and adds smoked sausage (try for Alabama’s Conecuh if you can find it), herbs, and whole oysters for a surf-and-turf side that deserves a spot at your holiday table this season.

Get the recipe, and read on for our chat with Smith on tuna, lionfish, and sustainability in the Gulf.

C+C: What is your earliest food-related memory?

Jim Smith: One of my earliest food memories is still very much an inspiration to me today. I remember an oyster restaurant in the town I grew up in. There was nothing that I enjoyed more as a child than eating fried crab claws and raw oysters, with lots of Tabasco. Today those are still on my favorite foods list.  

C+C: Why is sustainability important to you?

JS: Sustainability should be a concern for everyone and those of us in the food industry are in the unique position of making sure that we are purchasing and serving foods that promote sustainability. I love distinctive and great-tasting foods; but making sure that those foods are available in the future requires restraint and an understanding of environmental pressures that face our foods’ futures.  

C+C: What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned as part of the Smart Catch program?

JS: I have always had a respect for the ocean and the people who make a living fishing it. Working with Alabama gulf seafood has taught me a huge amount about the seafood industry and the people it takes to bring Alabama’s sustainable seafood to our tables. There is an amazing system of support and individuals who are so proud of the bounty that comes from the Alabama coast. As a chef I know that it is the best and most consistent seafood that I can serve and that I can depend that it is caught with real regard for sustainability.

C+C: What is your favorite sustainable seafood dish right now?

JS: One of my favorite sustainable fish that I am serving right now is gulf blackfin tuna. It is a great alternative to blue or yellow fin, has amazing flavor, and is easy to work with. Lately I have been cold-smoking it and serving it with toasted pecan–sorghum cream and tarragon.    

C+C: What's the fish you wish everyone knew more about and served?

JS: I really wish people knew more about, served, and ate more lionfish. The lionfish population has exploded in the gulf over the past five to ten years; they have no natural predators; and they damage reefs and the natural habitats of many native gulf species. There is some good news: they are absolutely delicious and more people are fishing them. Even though their spines are poisonous, they are very easy to clean and prepare, and are well worth the effort.      

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Get a taste of Jim's cooking with his recipe for oyster dressing.

Smart Catch launched in June and is designed to help both chefs and diners access a greater variety of sustainable seafood options. Chefs who sign up commit to ensuring that more than 80-percent of the seafood on their menu is sustainably sourced. Learn more about Smart Catch.

C+C is a communications firm that specializes in mission driven campaigns. Find out more at cplusc.com.