Teach a man to (cook) fish. . .

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way many shop for groceries; my family is no exception. At the start of the lockdown, my husband shopped for groceries at our neighborhood Safeway every two or three weeks. He went during the “senior hours” to reduce some of the risk. Our millennial daughter suggested Target’s shop online and deliver service, and we soon switched to that until we got a gallon of milk that was already past its due date. At this stage we are doing Target for non-perishables and Safeway for meat and dairy, but for the last two months, we have been shopping at a small farmers’ market every Saturday morning for produce.

I’ve always loved shopping at a farmers’ market. For the two years I lived in Belgium, it was a fun family outing on Saturday morning to pick up fresh produce, Italian deli items like pancetta, and of course, cheese. The cheese truck always had the longest line but it was well worth the wait. On the way out, we would stop at the poulet roti truck for a rotisserie chicken, roast potatoes, and sausages, for our lunch.

Surprisingly, while the pandemic had a drastic effect on farmers selling to restaurants, farmers’ markets sales remained static. An interesting look at the numbers can be found here.

The quality of the fruits and vegetables purchased at the Pike Central Farm Market is far superior to anything we can buy at Safeway. The first nectarine I sliced and passed around to my husband and daughter sold all three of us. With our newly earned status of “regulars,” we are in and out in no time as we, duly masked, make the small circuit to our favorite stalls: multi-grain seeded bread, nectarines, watermelon, tomatoes, burrata, corn, bell peppers, and fish.

Fish at a farmers’ market? Buying fish at Pike Central Farm Market is the closest experience I’ve had to my childhood of eating really fresh seafood every week. I grew up in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, nicknamed “fisherman’s paradise.” Weekly we feasted on freshly caught shrimp, crabs, crawfish, oysters, redfish, catfish, flounder, and more. I had no idea how good I had it until I moved away and had to {gasp} pay for seafood.

Each week at Central Farm Market I buy a pound of shrimp and a pound of whatever fish they have on offer. So far we’ve had flounder, halibut, red snapper, and bronzini. The shrimp is easy as I have a plethora of recipes from my Cajun upbringing to rely upon: shrimp creole, shrimp étouffée, seafood gumbo, shrimp and corn soup, and for tonight’s dinner, shrimp jambalaya.

Shrimp Creole

The fish preparation has sent me to my cookbooks, especially types of fish I didn’t grow up eating like halibut and bronzini. Trying to cook and eat in a more healthy manner, frying fish would negate adding more fish to our diet. In my research, I’ve found that baking fish at 375° for 12-15 minutes on a sheet pan, well-seasoned with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and a pinch of dried thyme, pretty much works for all types. If the filet is thicker, like salmon or halibut, it may take a few additional minutes. Add a steamed veggie fresh from the farmers’ market and you have a lovely and healthy meal.

Find a farmers’ market near you and see what is available. Buy what you can eat in the coming week and store it properly once you get it home. It’s healthier than processed foods or foods that have traveled many miles to your local supermarket, and you can help out a farmer along the way!

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