Guest contributor Dr. Christopher Patrick recently enjoyed dinner at Alewife Baltimore where Chef Chad Wells is working to educate people to eat local and eat invasive. Here, Chris reviews the meal in 3 courses, interspersed with an interview with the Chef himself.
First Course: Wild Boar Meatballs
Chef Chad tells us that feral pigs have invaded the great state of Texas (among many other places). Invasive boar root up native vegetation and are a general nuisance species. He has a friend who professionally shoots the boars and ships up the meat. Chad hopes to visit Texas soon and maybe practice a little invasivore style management himself!
As our server brings out the first plate, I take in the presentation: four meatballs served adjacent to a bed of shaved fennel, daikon sprout, and pickled carrot salad in a ginger mustard sauce. The meatballs are light, both in texture and flavor. The meat is savory but not overly so. My lovely girlfriend Laura remarks that this pork tastes lean, and I have to agree. The spicy garnish, when paired with the meatballs is reminiscent of spring rolls. I have visions of trying some wild boar in a meatloaf when I get a chance. This is a great way to start the meal!
Second Course: Blue Catfish Tacos
Chef Chad buys his blue catfish from fishermen who get it in the Potomac River, so the next course is fresh, locally caught, and cheap! At $4.00 per pound, you can’t beat this fish for price. Blue catfish are voracious omnivores and do a lot of damage to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, so we’re anxious to do our part to eliminate this pest by diving into the next course.
Each of the emerging taco towers high with toppings. Laura and I try to guess all the flavors as we take our first bites. We detect shoe string crunchy sweet potatoes and a homemade spiracha on the side. There is also fresh crunchy cabbage coleslaw, chimichurri (we peeked on the menu for that one), blistered corn salsa, and of course, blue catfish. The catfish has a very mild flavor- not too fishy. The meat melts in your mouth. It’s not tough at all, providing the perfect tender fish for a taco dish.
Third Course: Snakehead
Chef Chad tells us that two years ago, this was a hard fish to buy. Commercial fishermen would only encounter it as by-catch and didn’t know what to do with it. You’d have to call special to request one, and it was really cheap. Now the fishermen are starting to target it, and snakehead sells for $12.50 a pound- more expensive than rockfish, a more traditional local delicacy! Media attention and several local chefs working to promote it have made it locally popular. Some people are still scared to eat it, but it’s becoming an environmentally conscious food choice, and every time you eat one of these you’re not eating a native fish, so it’s a win-win. Chef Chad informs us that another great thing about these fish is that they have a very thick slime coat on their skin which protects the meat when frozen.
Finally, the main event! The server brings out a massive mound, a tower of delight for our taste buds. The snakehead sits atop a pile of chorizo, black beans, cilantro, and grilled onions, all mashed together and charred to perfection. The fish has white meat and it is firm, like a salmon or a thin piece of tuna. The flavor of the fish is light, but it has been blackened with spices that offset the light flavor. The mixture of chorizo, beans, onions, and cilantro is so amazingly delicious that I have trouble focusing on the snakehead itself, which is a shame, because a fish this good deserves to be the center piece, not a side show. Nevertheless, snakehead proves to be a delicious fish.