Illustrations by Marine De Quénetain

The Sustainable Seafood Guide

Fish is a protein we can feel great about—unless we’re contributing to the extinction of a species or poisoning ourselves with mercury. But amazing resources make it possible to consume fish happily and ethically; we’ve rounded their wisdom up here, and combined it with one of our favorite things, the NRR, or No-Recipe Recipe, so preparation should be at least as easy as shopping.

LA chef Michael Cimarusti helped us with both pieces—sustainability and deliciousness. His West Hollywood seafood empire began with Providence, which earned two Michelin stars and several James Beard nominations, and now includes the more casual Connie and Ted’s, an homage to his grandparents, who fostered his love of seafood by taking him fishing as a kid. Most recently, Cimarusti introduced LA’s first dock-to-dish seafood program—a CSA-style arrangement where chefs create much-needed job security for local fisherman by guaranteeing a minimum annual purchase. His restaurants source exclusively from California waters (much of it fresh from the docks in Santa Barbara), as does his incredible fishmonger in West Hollywood, Cape Seafood. The key to finding seafood that meets the trifecta—fresh, high-quality, and sustainable—is a knowledgeable, trustworthy fishmonger, Cimarusti says. He’s also a big advocate of the NRR, so you can easily take advantage of whatever variety has come most recently from the docks. Below, Cimarusti, along with goop’s resident seafood experts, chefs Thea and Caitlin, give us their tips and NRR’s for easy and responsible shopping, cooking, and eating.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Perhaps the most important resource in the sustainable seafood world is the Monterey Bay Aquarium; their Seafood Watch Program has been the ultimate what’s-ok-to-buy resource for almost twenty years. Their app (or their site’s printable buyer’s guides that fit easily in a wallet) outline what to buy, where, and when, plus tips for avoiding mercury and other toxins. In fact, as soon as you’re done reading this article, head straight to their list of approved fishmongers to find a sustainability-focused one in your city.


Catch Method: Catch methods differ depending on the fish, and wild-caught and line-caught may or may not be sustainable depending on which species you’re talking about. In most cases, try to avoid anything that’s caught using a fish aggregating device (FAD), which uses a huge net to catch a wide swath of animals, many of which shouldn’t be harvested—many brands of canned tuna say right on the label that their fish were caught without using FADs.

Previously frozen: Previously frozen fish isn’t on its face a bad thing, particularly if you live somewhere where fresh-caught fish isn’t available; Cimarusti says octopus, squid, and shrimp, in particular, freeze and defrost well with proper technique.

USDA-certified organic: Not many fish have this designation, in part because it’s only relevant for farm-raised fish. Cimarusti says the important factor with farm-raised fish is the type of feed, and many of the best (including wild-caught fish) can’t earn organic designation. The Seafood Watch guide is brilliant for recommendations on farmed fish—they evaluate every level of the process, including water pollution, feed, and harvesting.

Local: Cimarusti argues that small-scale, artisanal fishermen are the solution to the overfishing problem—they know their waters intimately, and can better adjust and adapt to pressures on specific populations than large outfits. Buying local supports the local economy by keeping small-scale-operation boats on the water.

Seasonal: Many fish are migrational creatures, so seasonality has a big impact on what you can find where, and when. The Department of Fish and Game keeps close tabs on those seasons, and the fishing industry has to abide by their limitations.

Sushi-grade: When you’re talking about beef, there are strict legal guidelines for what’s prime, but there’s no universally agreed-upon standard for sushi and sashimi-grade fish. Cimarusti says that the safest way to eat raw fish is to freeze it for 24 hours the day before serving. Great chefs know when they see fish they’d be willing to serve raw, but for home chefs, he recommends consulting with a trustworthy fishmonger.


For any shellfish that’s sold in a shell (mussels, clams, oysters, or scallops in the shell), ask the fishmonger if you can see the tags, which verify where the animal was harvested and that the farmer collected water samples that were analyzed for safety.


The Seafood Buying Guide

How to buy: “Look for good shell fill,” says Cimarusti. “When mussels are at their best, there will be a big piece of meat inside when they pop open. They’re best in the winter months.”

NRR: Mussels have a beard on the side where they connect to whatever they grew on; pull those off and put the mussels in water for about 20 minutes to clean off any sand and grit. Like clams, they’re best boiled in a flavorful liquid, like alcohol, until they open.

Recipes: Steamed Mussels with Chinese Sausage and Green Curry, Seafood Boil


The Seafood Buying Guide

How to buy: “Go for live, if you can. Some species like snow crab and king crab can only be found frozen—in those cases, if it tastes too salty, switch to another brand. Some packers tend to oversalt.”

NRR: Just like lobster, crabs are fun to buy live and surprisingly easy to prepare—just boil them in a pot of salted water. On a weeknight, when shelling isn’t in the cards, lump crab is elegant and easy on top of salad.

Recipes: Avocado Crab with Marie Rose Sauce, Dungeness Crab Rolls


The Seafood Buying Guide

How to buy: “Buy them live if you can! There’s seasonality to lobsters, too—in the summer months, they come closer to shore and their shells become soft, so you get a bit of a lower yield (meaning the meat per lobster is lower than in cold months).”

NRR: Boil them in the pot until they’re red, and eat them with melted butter! We recommend putting them in the freezer beforehand, which chills them out and makes them more manageable.

Recipes: Lobster Pot Pie, The Perfect Lobster Roll


The Seafood Buying Guide

How to buy it: “Live clams close when you touch them, so look for closed, unbroken shells.”

NRR: Using a big pot, create a shallow broth from a liquid (we like some kind of alcohol, like sak, or white wine). Boil the clams for five minutes or so; you’ll know they’re done when they open. Any clams that don’t open should be discarded.

Genius cleaning tip from My Father’s Daughter: Put clams in a bowl with a bunch of kosher salt and scrub them against each other. Cover them in cold water, rinse, drain, rinse again, and let them sit in cold water until you’re ready to use them. We guarantee it removes all the sand and, as Chef Thea says, “makes sure they remove any gross business.”

Recipes: Miso Clams, Steamed Clams with Spring Herbs and Lime, Linguine con le Vongole


The Seafood Buying Guide

How to buy it: “Seasonality matters,” says Cimarusti. “There’s an old saying that you should only eat oysters in months that contain an “r” (September through April), and it’s true to a point because as water temperatures grow higher, oysters spawn and become creamy and milky, which makes for an unpleasant mouthfeel. It’s not that you can’t eat oysters in the summer—you just have to be careful about the selection. At my restaurants, we source oysters from farms up in Canada and Maine or very far south in the summer.”

NRR: If you’re not going to eat them raw, put them on the grill whole. When they start to open, take off the top shell and they’re good to go.

Recipes: How to shuck an oyster, Fried Oysters with Curried Créme Fraiche, Grilled Butter Oysters


The Seafood Buying Guide

How to buy: “Look for shells that are clean and unblemished, and have consistent color,” says Cimarusti. “I recommend buying them whole or as near whole as possible. Buy domestic shrimp (harvested in the gulf or on the Atlantic seaboard) if you can.”

NRR: Peel the shrimp and toss them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and some kind of flavor (chile and lemon zest work well). Let them sit for a few minutes to marinate, then sautée or grill over high heat until they’re just pink and firm.

Recipes: Shrimp Scampi, Classic Shrimp Rolls, Mexican Shrimp Salad

All About Sturdy Fish


The Seafood Buying Guide

How to buy: “Choose pieces that look clear and translucent,” says Cimarusti. “What blood-line exists should be red, nice, and bright (true for all filet fish); they should shine.”

NRR: Dress with a little salt, pepper, and olive oil, and pan-sear each piece in a hot pan to get a nice crust, flip them, and pop them in the oven at 450 degrees. You’ll know it’s done when they’re opaque and firm.

Recipes: Steamed Halibut with Scallions and Bok Choy, Olive-Oil-Poached Halibut, Seared Halibut with Lentils and Kale Salsa Verde, Ceviche

Fresh Tuna

The Seafood Buying Guide

How to buy it: There are several different species of tuna, but in the US, you’ll most commonly find albacore and skipjack (common in canned tuna), or yellowfin and bigeye (both can also be classified as ahi, and are found as steaks, or in sushi). Bluefin, a highly endangered species, is found most often in expensive sushi restaurants. Cimarusti says, “It’s important to check fishing methods against Seafood Watch, as sustainability varies greatly (for example, albacore is responsibly fished longline in the US, but not in other places). I’m very passionate about conservation issues around bluefin tuna. Bloggers and foodies have fetishized this fish, which is often found in very expensive restaurants—but it’s not exaggeration to say that by eating it, they are contributing to the extinction of a species. The bluefin tuna is one of our most majestic animals, and it’s completely in our power to to determine its fate. You wouldn’t eat a black rhino or a Bengal tiger—more people should be taking a stand on this. (Jonathan Gold’s piece on shark’s fin captures my feelings about it very well—he has an especially powerful line describing ‘the bitter taste of extinction.’)”

NRR: If it’s sushi-grade, toss it with tamari, toasted sesame, sliced veggies, and have a poke bowl.

Recipes: Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice, Tuna Poke, Seared Tuna Lettuce Cups


The Seafood Buying Guide

How to buy: “It’s a shame, but the vast majority of farm-raised salmon is red-listed by Seafood Watch. The industry got so huge so quickly that many farmers did a lot of damage before science caught up with the consequences of their practices. Farming in the ocean is not unlike farming on land; when you have tons of animals in a small space, the effluent and waste isn’t good for the environment or the animals. Whether you’re buying wild or farm-raised salmon, verify where it was raised or harvested and cross-check it with Seafood Watch.”

NRR: There’s nothing easier than salmon on the grill. Season with salt, pepper, and some herbs and grill it until it’s firm.

Recipes: Coconut-Poached Salmon, Crispy Coconut Kale with Roasted Salmon, Broiled Balsamic Salmon, Lentils with Salmon and Grilled Radicchio


The Seafood Buying Guide

How to buy: “Almost all trout, with the exception of one commercial steelhead fishery, is raised inland in recirculating systems where there is no effluent, so it’s very environmentally responsible. There are some really smart trout farmers now who are raising them on flies (their natural diet). Passmore Ranch in California has a great product for that, and there are others.”

NRR: Keep the fish from falling apart by cooking it with the skin in a pan—finish it with brown butter basting, capers, and lemon. Or buy it smoked, which is zero work.

Recipes: Yakitori-Grilled Rainbow Trout, Smoked Trout on Rye

Small,Oily Fish

How to buy: “These are great fish to be eating for both health and sustainability. They’re low on the food chain, so the mercury content is very low (great for pregnant women and anyone avoiding heavy metals). Plus, they’re big breeders and they propagate quickly, so they’re very sustainable.”


The Seafood Buying Guide

NRR: Dick Page’s Miso Mackerel is so easy that you can actually call it an NRR.

Recipes: Pepe’s Ikan


The Seafood Buying Guide

NRR: This one’s actually Michael Cimarusti’s recommendation, and as he says, “Nothing could be easier. You can rub the scales off with a butter knife (or a carrot, not even kidding). Then, rinse it under water, quickly gut them, add salt, and put them on the grill. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon and eat them with your fingers.”

Recipes: Grilled Sardines with Crunchy Herb Dressing



The Seafood Buying Guide

How to buy: “Check Seafood Watch with Chilean seabass, since it’s sustainably harvested in some locations and not others. That said, I never understood the hype around that fish, since there are so many other bass that are great. I love striped bass from the east coast (a sustainable stock), and black sea bass is one of my favorite fishes (but check Seafood Watch with that, also). White seabass is actually not a seabass but a croaker—but it’s still a delicious fish.”

NRR: All it needs is a quick pan-sear and it’s perfect for fish tacos.

Recipes: Whole Roasted Fish with Salsa Verde, Salt-Baked Seabass


The Seafood Buying Guide

How to buy: “Dover sole is the benchmark that really all flatfish are compared to; it’s harvested in England, France, and other areas in Europe. We harvest a Dover sole here in California that has the same market name, but bears very little resemblance. We often have it in the shop and it’s relatively inexpensive, so you get a great value.”

NRR: Do the Julia Childs! Season it with salt and pepper on both sides, quickly dredge in flour, and throw it in a oiled pan with a little butter. Flip it once and finish with a squeeze of lemon.

Recipes: Gluten-free Fish Fingers, Two Ways


The Seafood Buying Guide

NRR: Miso black cod! Mix white miso, mirin, ginger and slather it on the fish—then you just broil until it’s firm.

Recipes: Clean Black Cod with Miso, Smoked Sablefish on an English Muffin, Grilled Fish with Pesto Sauce

True Cod

How to buy: “They source it really sustainably in Alaska and the Nordic countries (Finland, Norway, and Iceland). There’s lots of evidence that the cod fishery on the US East Coast has collapsed, but it’s really about the catching method—for example, there’s an age-old technique for cod where you hand-line the fish. There’s not a lot of people doing it, but it’s a very sustainable way to bring in that fish.”


“Sustainably sourced from California up to Alaska.” When we visited Cape Seafood, there were lingcod being brought in right from the docks. About 20 percent of them come in a crazy electric blue color—it’s worth googling.

Black Cod

How to buy: “It’s harvested in California really sustainably. Delicious roasted or on the grill.”

*A note from Cimarusti: Mark Kurlansky’s book COD: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World is an incredible story about the way cod (which could be salted and preserved) influenced American food culture—absolutely worth reading for anyone who’s interested in fish. His book on oysters is equally compelling.


How to buy: “Read the label—for tuna, you want to see that it’s dolphin safe, and fished without fish-aggregating devices; for tinned fish, try to go domestic when you can—there are plenty of great brands sourcing from Hawaii, the East Coast, and the Gulf. The canned tuna we sell (which is from San Diego and Washington State) use jack-poling, an old-school practice that uses long rods that have a feather and a hook at the end, and when the fish bite, they are flung into the boat. It’s crazy to watch, and it’s still considered the most sustainable way to catch tuna.”


The Seafood Buying Guide

NRR: tuna + vegetables + white beans + capers = Nicoise salad

Recipe: Detox Nicoise Salad


The Seafood Buying Guide

NRR: garlic + chili + sardines + bread crumbs + pasta = fastest weeknight dinner

Recipe: Sardines and Avocado on Gluten-Free Toast


The Seafood Buying Guide

NRR: anchovies + dijon + red wine vinegar + olive oil = easy salad dressing

Recipes: Anchovy Vinaigrette, Chicken Paillard with Zucchini Noodles