Miel restaurant in Nashville on how to buy and cook sustainable seafood

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen

You might spring for free-range chicken and make sure your eggs are labeled as cage-free. But sustainable seafood is far less buzzy. A number of chefs across the South are working to change that.

In Nashville, for example, chef Jason LaIacona and owner Seema Prasad of Miel Restaurant and Bar focus on the provenance of their fish as closely as they do the origins of other proteins. 

Miel, which will have been serving its French-influenced menu for 14 years in September, has followed sustainable practices from the beginning, Prasad said.

Kitchen tips:Waste not want not: Useful tips for curbing food waste and keeping your food fresher

Nashville restaurants:April 2022 openings and closings in the Nashville area

Loch Etive steelhead trout is "one of the most sustainable seafood choices you can make," said Miel owner Seema Prasad.

"From the farmers that we source from for our produce to our proteins to our herbs, there are so many choices we get to make," she said. "And that includes water conservation, composting, recycling and management of our energy onsite."

That Miel serves sustainable seafood is one choice that often flies under the radar. The menu does most of the talking with its hand-caught diver scallops and sustainable finfish  such as barramundi, which takes well to sustainable farming.

Meanwhile, some varieties of wild seafood are being overfished faster than their populations can reproduce. That's the case with the wild halibut that used to be abundant around Prasad's hometown of Seattle. It's since dwindled in both weight and numbers, she said.

More and more seafood purveyors and chefs are recognizing those issues, but how to pass that awareness along to consumers can be a sticking point when fish like halibut and Atlantic salmon are in high demand and sell well. Educating customers about the benefits of the unfamiliar fish on the menu is often the key.

"There are amazing examples of absolutely delicious and totally sustainable seafood," Prasad said. Verlasso salmon, farmed in Chile in open waters and rich in healthy fats, is one example. "That's a responsibly raised product we can stand behind," she said. 

Salmon in particular can be tricky to source responsibly. Sometimes sockeye salmon is a sustainable choice, while during spawning season it is not. "We can't just say salmon is something we should eat," Prasad said. "We need to dive a little deeper, no pun intended."

Chef Jason LaIacona of Miel Restaurant in Nashville.

Sustainably harvested Oishii Shrimp is another excellent choice, as are wreckfish, triggerfish and many of the other lesser-known varieties sometimes derisively called "trash fish." But one man's trash fish can be another's treasure, something the restaurant will highlight with a forthcoming August dinner featuring "undesirable" but delicious seafood choices.

Nashville diners can also sign up to take the restaurant's sustainable seafood class at www.mielrestaurant.com. The workshop will cover why sourcing sustainable seafood is important, with chef LaIacona teaching students how to select, butcher and prepare fish and how to make a seafood fumet, or stock, out of scraps for restaurant-quality depth of flavor.

Alternatively, Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch website (www.seafoodwatch.org) is arguably the best source for seafood purchasing information, including what to avoid and healthier alternatives.

That's a resource chef LaIacona often uses himself to stay informed about what seafood is sustainable, information that changes from season to season. 

"These decisions set an example for both our staff and our clientele," he said. "And truly the quantities we deal with have a much larger impact. I see it every day."

Recipe: Miel's seafood fumee

Use this seafood fumet, or seafood stock, as the basis for seafood soup. It's also good to use for seafood risotto. Excess stock keeps well in the freezer. 

Ingredients

4 cups of shrimp, crab or lobster shells

Or 1 midsized fish carcass or large fish head*

1 cup onion skins (the papery outside, cleaned), ends, tops and scraps

1/2 cup celery hearts, leaves and other scraps

1/2 cup carrot peelings, tops and bottoms

1 bulb’s worth of garlic shells/papery scrap

1 small bay leaf

Small pinch of fresh herbs such as thyme, parsley (including stems), and marjoram

1 tablespoon high heat oil, such as non-GMO canola, grapeseed or pomace

Instructions

Set a pot on the stove over medium-high heat and add the oil. Once hot, vigorously stir the shellfish peelings until aromatic and reddening in color. If you are using fin fish instead of shellfish, sub out the vegetables for this step. Careful not to scorch the ingredients at the bottom of the pan.

Once the vegetables are almost cooked through, add 1 gallon of water. Carefully add the remaining ingredients, being gentle not to muddy the water, resulting in a cloudy stock.

Bring this mixture to a simmer, never boil. Allow to simmer steadily for a minimum of 1 hour and no more than 3 hours.

To strain, ladle the liquid out of the pot through a fine-mesh strainer. When you have almost emptied the pot completely, you can carefully tip it and drain the last of the liquid through the sieve.

Once chilled, this will store in the fridge for 5 days or in the freezer for up to a month. Using an ice cube tray (that you never intend to use for beverage ice cubes) can make it easier for grabbing small quantities for future recipes.

Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.

Sign up for my newsletter here.

Reach me: mlunsford@southernkitchen.com