The Best Seafood in Rhode Island
From restaurants to markets to chefs' recipes, here are our favorite ways to get our seafood fix in the Ocean State.
Third-generation fishmonger Anthony Pirri gives us the lowdown on buying local seafood. By Jamie Coelho
What types of local fish and shellfish do you have available for retail?
We buy whole fish and we’ll fillet and skin it at our processing facility in Warren, Rhode Island, then we’ll put it out in the retail case in Seekonk. We have local, wild species of fish from Rhode Island and Massachusetts. We have three different species of sole, also known as flounder, skate wing, halibut, codfish, haddock and pollock. Around June, we’ll have striped bass, and once summer comes, we see a lot of small dayboats going out, catching black bass, tautog and other in-shore, in-bay species. Swordfish is in peak season for us at the end of August until the beginning of October. We also have live lobsters, Rhode Island quahogs and oysters from both Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Rhode Island has the best shellfish, period. You can’t beat Rhode Island clams.
How can you trust that fish is fresh at a seafood market?
The first thing is to know your fishmonger. But if you smell the fish department when you walk in, don’t buy it. You are looking for a clean smell. If you are smelling ammonia, that means the fish is starting to go bad. For whole fish, look at the eyes; the eyes should be bulging and translucent. You can see right through them. They’re not murky. You want to look for texture and touch. If the fish is fresh, it’s nice and solid and you’re going to have a big bounceback when you touch it.
What does dayboat mean?
Dayboat refers to a boat that goes out in the early morning and comes back in the afternoon. They are not out at sea for weeks at a time. You are going to see dayboats going out in the summer and fall, but not in the colder weather months. It’s hazardous and dangerous, and the fish are out further. Boats that go out for a week or two weeks, they catch their limit, and they come back. Everything is kept on a hold and heavily iced.
Why do prices for fish fluctuate with the season?
All these species are not available all year-round. All fish have quota or catch limits; there’s a lot of federal and local regulations that guide how much fishermen can catch so we keep the product sustainable. Weather can have an effect on where it comes from. Any good fishmonger is going to have location information displayed on their signs. That’s what you want to look for right off the bat: where it comes from. When we buy fish, all fish is graded. There’s the name of the boat, where the boat docked, the type of fish, how much, and there will be a grade, everything from A-plus, a B or B-plus. We can trace it right back to the boat.
What types of fish should you avoid?
Tilapia. Eat chicken or cardboard. It’s a brackish water fish; it’s heavily farmed. It’s not a good fish. We live in New England. We live in Rhode Island. We have an amazing seafood supply. When you are passing up fresh codfish or fresh halibut for tilapia, you’re not taking advantage of what’s available to you.
What about farmed fish. Is that okay to buy?
Farmed fish is a sustainable food source, much like poultry and beef farms. Farmed salmon is a fantastic product. There are no wild Atlantic salmon. They’re endangered; there’s no recreational season for them
because we almost fished them out. That’s why farmed salmon is so popular. Wild caught salmon also falls into the category of seasons, so we don’t see them all the time. If it’s wild, it’s coming out of the West Coast or elsewhere. Our farmed Atlantic salmon are from a Canadian company in the Gulf of Maine. It’s open ocean farmed and it’s fed organically. Our focus is to make sure the product we’re carrying comes from a good source, and that the quality is there. Salmon out of Chile is probably on the bottom when it comes to quality.
What should we know about buying scallops?
You want to buy dry scallops. For frozen product, sometimes companies use a product called sodium polyphosphate. The salt goes in the fish and it allows the cells to absorb water, so that you have a bay scallop-sized scallop and they’ll soak it and it will balloon out and it will look big. You know you’ve got them if you cook them and they shrink down to nothing. Fish will shrink a little when you cook it, but these have a chemical smell to them. These are measures companies use to reduce cost and increase shelf life. Most wet scallops are shipped to the Midwest. Everything has a pretty even market price; there might be a dollar or two difference, but if you see something drastically cheaper, then that’s something you want to question.
What’s your favorite way to cook fish?
I put them in the oven whole, stuff the bodies with fresh herbs and lemon wedges, then I’ll coat the outside in olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic, and put them in the oven at 400 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes. The herbs steam in the body and the flavor infuses the fish, and because the skin is on and the bones are in, it maintains the moisture.
1365 Fall River Ave., Seekonk, Mass., 508-336-6800, tonysfreshseafood.com/retail