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The Gulf of Mexico produces some of the world's most delicious seafood, but we're not processing it for sushi. What gives?
Last year, PJ Stoops, a fishmonger with Louisiana Foods, persuaded a Gulf fisherman to process a few flounder for sushi, then brought the sashimi-grade fish to a handful of lucky restaurants in town. One recipient was Jason Hauck, executive chef at Soma Sushi. Hauck served the flounder as a simple preparation, topping soft bundles of vinegared rice with the tender cuts of buttery, pearl-colored fish. "These unbelievable flounder that had been caught out of either Louisiana or Texas waters," says Hauck. "It was the most amazing flounder you've ever seen come out of the Gulf. You've never seen anything like it." The sushi made with local flounder was featured on the daily-specials side of Hauck's menu of authentic Japanese dishes made with local products, and it sold out quickly. But, says Hauck, "There wasn't very many fish." In fact, those few pounds of flounder were probably the only sushi-grade fish to come out of the Gulf last year. Not that there isn't a market for sushi in Houston. Soma Sushi is just one of more than 200 sushi restaurants here, a number that grows every year. According to The NPD Group, American diners ordered more than 230 million servings of sushi in the year ending in November 2010, a 5 percent increase just from the year before.
In our backyard — the Gulf of Mexico — nearly 1,500 varieties of finfish flourish in the salty waters, waters that produce some of the world's most delicious seafood. But no one in the Gulf is processing the fish they catch for sushi. No one is performing ike jime, as the Japanese call it, on their fish. At a time when locavorism is emphasized at every available turn, when the exhortative slogan "Stay Local, Grow Together!" posts up in every coffee shop and cocktail bar, the odds that the little pieces of snapper-topped nigirizushi you're eating came from the Gulf of Mexico are slim to none. Instead, it's imported from all over the world — Alaska, Hawaii, Spain and Japan. Jason Hauck doesn't think the situation makes sense. "We would love to be able to get more fish out of the Gulf. Pristine fish do come out, but it's still not the same," he says. "Since I got to Houston ten years ago, I wondered, 'There's these great fish that come out of the Gulf, but how come nothing is sushi-grade?'"