We Test the Seafood CSA and Learn to Beard
When it comes to innovation, sometimes it's better to let the kinks get worked out before hopping on board. Let someone else test the food for poison, right? But when we heard about Siren SeaSA, the new fish-share concept modeled after now-ubiquitous produce CSAs, we were willing to be early adopters.
Photos by Jesse Hirsch Mussels before bearding, storage, and cooking
For its beta run, Siren SeaSA rolled out a six-week test program. For your buy-in, you get 3-4 pounds of seafood each week, presumably enough for a family of four. The tentative lineup includes Mediterranean mussels, wild king salmon fillet, whole squid, wild caught Pacific sardines, miyagi oysters, and hook-and-line caught black cod.
Everything is sourced locally, natch, and if unforeseen circumstances (weather, overfishing, etc.) arise on a given week, you either receive a substitute sea product or your money back.
We find this last part especially appealing, as farm CSAs can be a gamble at times, with a poor harvest being a viable risk. For the fiscally conservative, Siren SeaSA's safety net is a major plus.
Not that this venture is designed for the budget-minded: the 6-week package runs $255, or $42.50 per week. This breaks down to $10 or more per pound, which is less than what you'd pay at Whole Foods for some items (line-caught cod) and more than what you'd pay for others (mussels).
Anna Larsen, Siren's founder, says the seafood is "comparable to something you went out and caught with a fishing pole that morning. It is minimally handled and won't have been trucked all over the place and re-packaged several times."
Point taken. Just like your pasture-raised chickens and your biodynamic tomatoes, you're going to pay more. And here in San Francisco, there is no shortage of people willing to pony up for top-of-the-line foodstuffs.
Last Saturday was the first pick-up. It was initially scheduled to be salmon, but Siren switched to mussels due to some windy salmon-catching weather. While this may sound like no great hardship, for the seafood novice, prepping mussels is diving straight into the deep end. Anthony Bourdain's cautionary words about the crippling sickness bad mussels can cause weighed heavy on our heads as we attempted to keep the little guys alive for three days before cooking.
If they don't open after cooking, they are dead and you should throw them out. If they do open before cooking, they are also dead, and you should also throw them out. Unless of course you tap them and they start moving, which means they were just sleeping. (We never have these problems with Brussels sprouts.)
We also read conflicting things about how to keep them alive, with the Siren website telling us to put them on ice, and other sites saying to avoid direct ice contact at all costs. Learning and growing!
At the end of the day, we only lost a few mussels and the end product, adapted from a Smitten Kitchen recipe, was gangbusters. We ate long past the point of fullness and passed out satiated and content (yes, there was white wine involved).
This upcoming week's catch appears to be right on schedule, with a Saturday salmon drop-off at one of two locations in the city. Salmon is less daunting, but later weeks still promise a steep learning curve (will we keep the squids' ink sacs? Time will tell.) You can still sign on for the next five weeks for a pro-rated amount, or wait until the test program is done and buy in on a week-by-week basis.