Monday, February 6, 2012

Meatless Monday: The Wonderful Arctic Char

Fish? On Meatless Monday? I know some of you at least may consider meat without feet not meat. And many others of you are flexitarians. All I promise on Monday is a post on food or a food issue. This post covers both, so here goes.

In October I wrote about attending a talk by Paul Greenberg, author of Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food. Greenberg proposes that there are better, more sustainable choices to fill the need for each of the fish he follows in his book — salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna. His choice for salmon is the arctic char. He writes, “The arctic char is from the same taxonomic family as salmon, has pretty good feed conversion ratios, rich flesh, and most interestingly of all, because it frequently finds itself crammed into close quarters when its natural arctic lakes freeze, it has high disease resistance and takes extremely well to high stocking densities—densities that are necessary to make out-of-ocean aquaculture operations profitable. And this is exactly what’s happening with char. Most are grown in re-circulating, above ground tanks in Iceland and Canada.”

A couple of weekends ago I spotted a small package of Arctic Char, “farmed in Iceland” in my store’s frozen food section. The footprint seemed a little large, but I knew Monterey Bay Aquarium had listed Arctic Char as a Best Choice in its newest Seafood Watch© guides, and any fish I choose to eat has to travel from somewhere. I brought some home. I wasn’t quite sure how to cook it, but I knew I’d be able to find out more online. Icelandic USA did not disappoint. Here is a link to an entire page of Arctic Char recipes. And here is a page with species and nutrition information. 

While many Super Bowl viewers were chowing down on wings, we were dining on Roasted Provencal Arctic Char served over orzo [instead of polenta]. The ingredients were not difficult to assemble, the recipe called for the fish to be cooked from frozen with skin on making things incredibly easy, and the directions were totally accurate. Seventeen minutes after I put this dish into my oven in a cast iron skillet, we had a delicious feast. The char flaked like salmon. The flesh was slightly milder in taste and peeled away easily from the skin. It took so little effort for such a wonderful meal that I’ll be keeping a package or two of Arctic Char in my freezer from now on.

Roasted Provencal Arctic Char

Now that I've had such great success with Arctic Char,  I’m keeping my eye out for Barramundi, Greenberg’s sustainable sea bass alternative and also a Seafood Watch© Best Choice when farmed in the US in fully recirculating systems. It’s being raised not far from here in Turner’s Falls, Massachusetts. Stay tuned…

Have a great week. “See” you next Monday.

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet.”


  1. Thanks for an informative article Elaine - I will try Artic Char if I see in in the store sometime! Very nice food presentation and photo too, it looks delicious! I fall into the flexitarian category now but was a vegetarian for about 10 years at one point. As a vegetarian my difficulty was not so much a craving for meat but rather a tendency to overindulge on dairy/cheese.

    1. Thanks! I think you will enjoy it. Be sure to check out the recipes at Icelandic USA.

  2. Arctic char is one of my favorites and I always look for it at Whole Foods or #1 Fish Market. It is seasonal and not available at Whole Foods right now--I looked yesterday, in fact! I have never seen barramundi at a fish monger's but it is available at Zinc restaurant right now! Thanks for your article, Elaine.