The Reel Deal: Navigating the Fish Market With Michael Cigliano

Santa Monica Seafood opened in 1939 with two brothers and a shop at the end of the Santa Monica Pier.  Now, this family-based owned business is one of Southern California’s top seafood distributors.  Having no doubt seen many changes in the way people think about fish consumption, we were interested to find out their perspective on recent seafood trends.  With so much information out there today about fish, health and the environment, it can be overwhelming!  Here to help us set a few records straight is Michael Cigliano, third generation founding family member of Santa Monica Seafood.

Seafood has received a lot of attention of late from the health crowd. Some fish touted as health-boosting superstars, others as dangerous toxin-carriers.  What are your thoughts on all of this?

“We like to say that the health benefits of eating seafood far outweigh the potential risks. In fact, it’s more dangerous not to eat seafood!”

Like any industry, there are trends.  What do you see trending right now in the seafood market?

“Provenance – that is, people want to know where there seafood comes from.  We work to get them as many details as they need, down to the name of the fisherman, if possible!

Local foods – we work to bring in local options whenever possible, from locally caught yellowtail to farm raised oysters from Carlsbad, CA.

Whole Fish – just like what we’re seeing with the resurgence of butcher shops and sausage making, people want to experiment with filleting their own whole fish, using the trimmings to make ceviche and the bones and head to make stock – full utilization!  That’s a great trend…”

Sustainability is a big concern for many consumers.  What are some of the best measures consumers can take along those lines?

“We fully support using sustainability ranking systems like the one offered by Seafood Watch.  It’s a system of recommendations that are science-based, peer reviewed and use ecosystem-based criteria.   Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions – our seafood experts (both behind the fish counter and in the cafe) love to help customers understand what makes a choice sustainable and can help customers make an informed decision.   Understanding where seafood comes from and how it was farmed or harvested is all part of making a sustainable choice.  Don’t be afraid to ask!”

An unfortunate truth these days is that our oceans and lakes contain more pollutants than ever before.  What can consumers do to ensure their fish are from the cleanest, healthiest sources?

“Trust your fishmonger!  Rest assured that behind the scenes, our purchasing department is doing their legwork.  We work incredibly hard to source the safest seafood possible and our internal food safety systems are industry leading.”

Mercury content in seafood has been a hot topic for the past few years.  Tell us about that danger and how it can be avoided without avoiding seafood altogether.

“Like I mentioned earlier, the benefits of eating seafood far outweigh the potential risks, which are negligible.  We certainly pay close attention to risks from environmental contaminants, but the real risk lies in not eating seafood.  It’s so important for heart health, brain development in infants, fighting autoimmune and inflammatory disease and a wealth of other reasons.   We suggest 2 servings a week, for starters!  Keep it varied – farmed tilapia one day, wild caught Dungeness crab the next; farmed Canadian mussels for lunch, wild caught sockeye salmon for dinner.”

You have the best seafood at your fingertips!  What are your favorite 3 ways to enjoy it?

“I like to keep it simple, let the quality of the fish shine!  Fish like John Dory or sole are perfect sauteed in butter with a quick lemon caper sauce.  Fresh halibut, sea bass or whole fish (like Loup de Mer) pair wonderful with fresh herbs, a little white wine and a touch of salt and pepper!   When I don’t feel like cooking, I love to enjoy a bowl of our famous cioppino at either of our cafes; great seafood in a great setting… it’s a great combination!”

Do you have one easy go-to recipe you use with your family that you could pass on to our readers?

“Mussels are easy, delicious and sustainable – just saute a bit of chopped garlic in olive oil, add the mussels and a splash of wine, a little salt and pepper, cover, let them steam open and finish with some freshly chopped basil. Serve with a loaf of crusty bread and you’ve got dinner in less than 5 minutes!”

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