On today’s episode, I’m tackling G is for Geoduck and Grouper.
What is a gooey duck? And why is it pronounced gooey duck (GOO-ee duhk) when it’s spelled g-e-o-duck?
Geoduck is a bivalve, a burrowing clam. And according to Smithsonian, the name geoduck comes from the Nisqually Indian gweduc, which means “dig deep.” The geoduck clam uses its tiny foot to burrow into the seafloor and sand as it grows.
The first time I saw geoduck was in 2006. I was eating lunch in Sushi Tomi, a sushi bar with a very good reputation, but not so good location. In fact, I remember being dubious when my friend Belen told me about Sushi Tomi. I was familiar with the area and it didn’t strike me as the place for good sushi. Next to a Wal-Mart? Hmm.
But it was the chef that made the place, not the location, she insisted.
The joint was nothing special—a small space with a dozen or so bistro tables, a few booths along the walls, and half a dozen bar stools at the sushi bar. There was one seat at the sushi bar that day. I saddled up to a display of fish—blood red tuna, octopus, salmon, and wait, what is that?
A beige phallic-looking, almost grotesque creature was wedged in the corner of the sushi display. A large rubber band was wrapped around its shell.
It was a geoduck.
So of course I ordered some! Although I DO love clams in general. But this was something else. I might have been fascinated more than anything.
Chef nodded to me, a knowing approval. He sliced three slivers, and I mean slivers. Drizzled a little oil over the top, a kiss of salt and that was it.
The clam hit my tongue and I was transported to the Pacific Ocean. Big surf, briny water. Geoduck does have a slightly chewy texture, or course, it’s a clam, but it is also super tender and a little nutty in flavor.
This is not the clam to chop up and make clam chowder or fritters. You want to eat clam crudo or ceviche.
Where can you find geoduck?
You can find geoduck in the Pacific Northwest, think Washington State and British Columbia, but related species are also found from Argentina to New Zealand and Japan.
Geoduck is a burrowing clam. Its shell is soft and averages around six inches. Its neck or siphon can grow as long as three feet. The clam weighs about two to three pounds on average but can grow up to fourteen pounds. Undoubtedly the most unusual thing about this species is its appearance. Its neck looks like an elephant trunk growing out of its shell.
So what’s the sustainable status of a geoduck?
Well, good news friends.
Seafood Watch and Environmental Defense Find rate Geoduck best choice and a good alternative. No red labels on this species! Geoduck populations are healthy and the method of harvest doesn’t harm the habitat. Clam diggers use a handheld water jet called a stinger, to extract the clams from the sand. There’s a YouTube link in the show notes so you can see Geoduck harvesting in
There’s a YouTube link in the show notes so you can see Geoduck harvesting in action. I also included a YouTube video showing how a Geoduck is cleaned and served in Japan. Pretty cool stuff.
So where can you buy geoduck?
Taylor Shellfish Farms in Washington State ships live farmed geoduck for $35 per pound plus shipping. And remember the minimal weight of a geoduck clam is two pounds. And if you’re thinking $70 per clam, Who’d buy that?
Get this. Taylor Shellfish harvests and ships about 700,000 clams annually. Most of it goes to China. Clearly, Geoduck farming is a huge business.
You should know that even those the seafood recommendations guides give geoduck a good rating, there are some environmental concerns regarding commercial geoduck clamming. PVC pipes and nets float away, storms toss the netting ashore, the farming itself disrupts other marine creatures and birds who rely on that habitat.
But for now, your best bet is to find that awesome sushi bar and enjoy.
Let’s take a quick break and I’ll be right back with G if for Grouper.
Welcome to G is for Grouper part of the program.
If you’ve ever been to Florida, any of the Gulf coast states or any of the islands in the Caribbean, I’m betting you ate a grouper sandwich. Or twenty.
Pan seared or grilled with a kiss of salt, pepper and olive oil, topped with a dollop of garlic aioli and nestled between a warm, soft toasted bun takes me straight back to blue skies, soft sandy beaches, and palm trees. Just add Jimmy Buffet and an icy Margarita. Hello, grouper sandwich.
I’m sure I ate more grouper than any other species of fish when I lived in the Florida Keys for ten years. And I can assure you, I was not the only one.
Grouper is meaty and tender. Mild and sweet.
And grouper makes for more than just an uh-mazing fish sandwich. It’s a versatile fish and because of its meaty texture and thick flakes, grouper is suited for the oven, the grill, or the stovetop.
Most of the grouper I ate back in the day was either black or red, the two most common grouper species in Florida at the time. There were other species like the gag, scamp, yellowmouth, yellowfin, and the great goliath grouper to mention a few.
In fact, there are over 400 species of grouper!
And when you’ve ever fished for grouper, you know how tough a fight these squat slow moving fish can be. They like to burrow under rocks and let me tell you, I’ve cut more lines because a stubborn grouper just wouldn’t budge. But when you do land a grouper, it is party time.
Now it’s worth noting that ecologists and fishermen agree, that many grouper populations are threatened by overfishing.
So how do you know which grouper to buy?
First, it’s important to know which grouper species not to buy.
According to both Seafood Watch and Environmental Defense Fund, Warsaw, snowy, yellow edge and longline-caught gag grouper are poor choices because of overfishing and declines populations.
Fortunately, trusted grocery stores like Whole Foods Market, The Fresh Market and Trader Joe’s label the fish.
So here’s another thing to be aware of at the market.
Since domestic grouper is in short supply, the price of grouper will be high. And I know that’s a relative term, so don’t be shocked at $20-25 per pound prices. If you see grouper on the market for a considerably lower price, it isn’t domestic grouper. It may be imported grouper or it may not be grouper at all.
For years, the food service industry has been dealing with a copycat fish, called basa, an Asian catfish that resembles grouper in appearance. You might see it label swai in the market in the frozen aisle. And the way the restaurants get around that is to call it a “fish sandwich” not a “grouper sandwich”. Of course, any time you see fish sandwich on a menu, the fish could be any white-fleshed species. But restaurateurs who value transparency and ethics will let you know what you’re eating.
You know with the demand for fresh fish sandwiches, basa appeared to be a winner because not only is it a white fish, basa costs much less. And if you didn’t know, restaurants operate on super slim profit margins.
There’s hope though. While seafood fraud, in general, has been going on for decades, and for those illegal and unscrupulous fishermen and brokers trying to dupe customers and the industry, chefs, scientists, innovation, and technology are working to change the tides.
For instance, the University of South Florida scientists developed a hand-held device called Grouper Chek which identifies the type of fish you’re eating. And while this system is not available for the consumer, it’s the perfect tool for the supply chain distribution and chefs where much of the challenges lie.
So here’s another way to tell what type of grouper you’re buying other than what’s on the label.
There is a distinct difference between the color of the flesh of a black grouper compared to a red grouper. Black grouper has bright white flesh and the flesh of a red grouper while still a white fish imparts a delicate pinkish hue to its flesh. And the reason you want to learn to notice this difference is because black grouper is more generally more expensive than red grouper.
Now if you don’t want to eat grouper or never see it at the market, but still want a meaty thick white fish sandwich, try red snapper or mahi-mahi as a sustainable substitute.
So much of what defines sustainable seafood has to do with where your fish comes from and the method of catch. Sustainable seafood is one that is good for you and the oceans.
Now if you find grouper at the end of your rod or at the market and need a recipe, I added two links in the show notes. One offers 54 grouper recipes from some of the best Florida restaurants. And the other is a Pinterest grouper recipe roundup for your inspiration.
Remember to store your fish in the coldest part of the refrigerator and cook it within a day or two. Otherwise, pop it in the freezer and thaw it in the refrigerator 24 hours prior to cooking.
Got a question? Hit me up on FB, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.
That’s a wrap for this episode.
Next up, H is for Halibut and Habitat.
And don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes or Google Play so you don’t miss an episode.
Thanks for listening to Green Fish Blue Oceans. And have a great two weeks.
- Bloomberg: From Hatchery to Sushi Bar
- Geoduck Harvesting with Stingers (water jets)
- Geoduck: Street Food in Japan
- Seafood Watch
- Taylor Shellfish Farms
- FishChoice Supplier Directory
- Environmental Defense Fund
- 54 Grouper Recipes
- Grouper Recipe Roundup Pinterest
- USF Grouper Chek
- Goliath Grouper