NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Rick Moonen's concern about over fishing nearly matches his reputation for innovative seafood dishes.
The native New Yorker moved to Las Vegas more than four years ago to open RM Seafood at the Mandalay Bay casino. The restaurant's menu and operations adhere to his eco-friendly approach aimed at supporting sustainable fishing.
The 53-year-old chef spoke to Reuters about his early introduction to cooking and what consumers can do to protect fish stocks.
Q: What were your childhood memories about cooking?
A: "I was one of seven children. I'm hyperactive. I was a pain to everybody. It was really unusual for me to have my attention focused. If not, I would probably be disassembling the phonograph machine or playing with the screwdriver."
Q: Why are you so passionate about sustainable fishing?
A: "We need to learn to have a keener sense of how to live in symbiosis with our environment. We have been living this linear mentality of life that we just take, take, take, and we dump what we don't want. Why do people think it's okay to (take) something out of the ecosystem? It's not okay."
Q: How can a consumer support sustainable seafood?
A: "It's really simple. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a seafood watch card you can put as an application on your iPhone. It's a free application and you can look up regionally where you are, what's going on and what you want on a menu and it will tell you immediately if it's sustainable or not."
Q: What kind of flavors are you experimenting with?
A: "When you come into my kitchen, I have 100 containers on the wall - all different flavors of the world. I play with them constantly. Lately I've been getting involved with a lot of curry flavors."
Q: What are your signature dishes?
A: "I've been known for my New England style clam chowder and crab cakes with a chipotle sauce."
"Chicken-fried" trout with green tartar sauce (Serves 4)
For the marinade
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/4 cup chopped scallions
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon chili paste (sambal oelek)
4 (7-ounce) trout fillets
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper
All-purpose flour for dredging
Corn or peanut oil for frying
Green tartar sauce (see below)
For the marinade
1. Combine the buttermilk, onion, scallions, dill, garlic, zest, and chili paste in a baking dish. Whisk or stir well.
2. Lay the fillets in the marinade, making sure you've got them completely coated. Cover with plastic and marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour and up to 8 hours.
3. When you're ready for dinner, remove the fish from the marinade and season it with salt and pepper. Coat the fillets well with flour.
4. Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a heavy skillet until very hot but not smoking. Fry the fish in batches for about 1½ minutes on the first side, then turn and fry for another 45 seconds. The crust should be golden.
5. Drain on paper towels, and serve with the tartar sauce.
Note: Cod fillets and tilapia and catfish go well with the marinade. Cut the fillets down the center before marinating and keep in mind that the thinner halves will cook more quickly. Mahi mahi also works when you chicken-fry it. Its dense fillets take longer to cook, though; count on 2 minutes per side.
GREEN TARTAR SAUCE (Makes about 2-1/2 cups)
1/4 chopped cornichons
1 tablespoon chopped capers
1 medium shallot, coarsely chopped
2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1-1/2 heaping tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 heaping tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 heaping tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1. Combine the cornichons, capers, and shallot in a food processor. Process for a few seconds. Add the mayonnaise, mustard, herbs, lemon juice, and white pepper and process for about 8 seconds to blend well. Scrape down the sides. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream.
2. Scrape the tartar sauce out into an airtight container, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours before using.
Note: This sauce is best made ahead. Let it refrigerate for about 24 hours gives the flavors time to develop.
Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney