“There’s a guest of honor that’s inside,” Chef Rupert Blease says as he places a miniature pumpkin in front of me. I remove the top and inside, a bright orange squash soup steams, dotted with apple gastrique. He tells me to stir it. The soup hides pieces of wild Alaska pollock, gently poached in the repurposed gourd. These bits of white fish are the guest of honor, and the soup is one dish Blease has designed to integrate the ingredient into his kitchen.
Blease first started cooking with wild Alaska pollock at Lord Stanley, in San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood, this past April. Thanks to a new push from Trident Seafoods to get the fish on dining tables across America, Blease is not alone. From New York’s fast-casual spot Charley St to Eden in Chicago, chefs are incorporating it into menus across the country. Trident CEO Joe Bundrant sees in wild Alaska pollock an opportunity to bring sustainable eating off the farm and into the open ocean. The family-run fishing company operates 44 boats off the coast of Alaska, and in a given year, wild Alaska pollock accounts for some 40 percent of the fish they catch. But until now, pollock has flown under the radar.
It’s not like Trident discovered pollock in 2019: it’s actually quite the opposite. Pollock has been a fixture of Alaska’s Bering Sea fisheries for decades—it’s just that no one has paid it much attention. Most of the fish has gone to markets abroad in Asia and Europe, and until recently, Alaska pollock referred to the species, not necessarily to pollock caught in Alaska. That meant you could go to a grocery store and see a product called Alaska pollock, which very well might have been caught in Russia, processed in China, and shipped to the local supermarket right alongside pollock that was caught and processed in Alaska. Thanks to national legislation passed in 2016, that’s no longer the case: Alaska pollock has to actually be from Alaska.
Bundrant sees that as an opportunity to get more people eating the local, carefully-fished varietal. Granted, he’d like to see that as a business owner, but also as someone invested in the future of Alaska’s fisheries. The Marine Stewardship Council has certified Alaska’s pollock fishery the most abundant on the planet. And Alaska manages its fish stocks according to a sustainable yield principal, which means fishermen have to leave enough fish behind so that populations can replenish year after year. In a given year, commercial fleets catch only 15 percent of all the pollock out there.
That’s a big part of why Bundrant wants to see wild Alaska pollock on diners’ plates everywhere—whether at a Michelin restaurant like Lord Stanley, or breaded and fried into a McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish sandwich. A reliable supply of consistent quality is also much of the appeal for Chef Blease: In addition to fresh fish, Trident flash freezes fish at sea, which helps preserve freshness and guarantee steady availability. Blease buys both and says he can’t tell a difference between the two. Plus, “[Pollock] doesn’t need a whole lot of work to be done with it,” Blease says, though that hasn’t stopped him from doing a lot with it.
Besides wild Alaska pollock poached in butternut squash, Blease cures the fish and serves it on rye bread with yogurt, cucumber and dill—this is light and snackable; sophisticated and easy. He also blends the fish with Yukon gold potatoes, paprika oil, and smoked egg into a brandade that he calls “a dipping thing.” I’m tempted to ask for potato chips but tuck into warm bread instead. Finally, Blease brings wild Alaska pollock in its simplest form: the whole fish stuffed with slightly crunchy vegetables. The fish is firm and meaty, yet still light. I don’t, even for a second, wish it were salmon.
Originally Appeared on Vogue