Talking about fresh fish at Fin

fin fishmonger trout

By Daniel B.

Fresh is a meaningless word, primarily because it can mean so many completely different things. Fresh is used for something that is brand new or has just arrived. In food it can differentiate a product from one that has been frozen. Or it can simply identify that something isn't spoiled quite yet.

Dora Swan and Pete Kenyon at Fin are not satisfied with just selling fresh fish. They are also committed to exclusively sourcing sustainable fish. Plus they are creating a community. And now, instead of just selling fish off the back of a truck, they have a brand new store in Guilderland.

So what does "fresh" mean to them? I asked them and was floored by the response.

Dora and Pete say nothing in the fresh fish case at Fin has ever been frozen -- and all of their fish is sushi quality. Dora says she's watched "people leave our stand at the farmer's market, open the packet, and eat the fish raw while walking."

I've heard the term "top of the catch" used to describe the fish at Fin. But I've always assumed it was marketing speak to indicate the best of the best. However it is nothing of the sort. In fact, it's a literal description of where the fish resides in the boat's cargo hold. Dora explains:

"If a boat is going out for eleven days, ours is top of the catch. Which means, ours is not caught on day one of the fishing trip it's caught on day eleven. There are piles of fish in the bottom of the boat, ours are on the top so they are not squished. Then when it comes to shore, it goes to the pier, into a box, and to us. So it's probably two days out of the water."

The amount of time the fish has been out of the water depends on the species and where it was fished. For example, the Arctic char -- which comes in from Iceland -- generally requires another day because of the distance it has to fly by air to the Boston Pier before it is trucked up to Guilderland every Tuesday and Friday. And to source the Copper River salmon -- which gets shipped directly to Albany from Alaska starting May 15 -- Dora and Pete work directly with two couples in Cordova who catch the salmon and ship it via Southwest Airlines. As a result it arrives just sixteen hours after being taken off the boat.

fin arctic char

Dora adds: "Our fish is so fresh, if there is a storm in Iceland, and the planes can't take off, we don't get our fish. So if we have fish on our list of fish we are going to be offering, and you walk in that morning that it's here and it's not there, it's because the boats couldn't go out or the planes couldn't take off, it's really that fresh."

Most of their fish come through the Boston Pier, where Pete and Dora have developed a relationship with a trusted sales person. They established the connection through Pete's son-in-law Andy, who at one point was the head fishmonger and fish buyer at The Cousins Fish Market. As a result of this introduction, and a few years working together, Dora beams, "We're now partnered beautifully with folks at the pier who really are quality assurance people for us. Because we don't bring in a ton of fish like a larger supermarket might, when we ask for specifications, we get what we ask for."

So Fin can be picky and source the kind of fish they can feel good about.

Sustainability

fin smelt

Sustainability is big in seafood these days. Both Hannaford and Price Chopper have partnerships with organizations aimed at sustainability. And even McDonald's is now carrying the Marine Stewardship Council Certified logo on all of its fish. Fin relies on several different sources when identifying which fish is sustainable including Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, NOAA, Blue Ocean, and the Marine Stewardship Council.

Dora explains, "Our philosophy is one where we don't want to overfish. We're not interested in bringing in fish that has a tremendous amount of bycatch or any bycatch with it -- so they're bringing up tortoises, killing them and just throwing them back in the ocean -- that just doesn't feel comfortable to me as a person, or to us as people who are living on the planet. So we are taking the sustainability message and really pushing for regeneration as well, so whatever we can do to help that happen so our grandchildren have the same sorts of flavor experience that we've had."

What does that mean in practice?

"Not all of our fish is wild. Some of it is farmed. But now we're looking for responsibly farmed fish. So our tilapia, for example, comes from Costa Rica. So they are not given antibiotics as a matter of course, the workers are paid a fair wage, schools were built for their children, they are bussed to their work, and they receive benefits. That feels comfortable to us."

The shop

fin guilderland exterior

This may be old news to those who have been buying from Fin over the past couple years while they were selling at the Delmar Farmers market and a few other locations around the Capital Region.

Now on the corner of 155 and Western Avenue in Star Plaza, adjacent to Sage Bistro, and occupying the former space of Last American Video, Fin has become more than just a fish seller. And it's really a work in progress. They have begun to stock locally produced products on their store, including Flour City Pasta, All Good Bakers bialys, Three Smiles Kitchen seitan, Franzen's Scenic Acres grassfed beef, Oscar's smoked meats, Puckers pickles, Mountain Winds Farms eggs, 3 Chicks and a Pea spreads, Our Daily Eats nuts, and more.

fin oscars products

They are also a pick up site for Field Goods for those who subscribe to this local produce delivery service. It is kind of like a short term CSA. But given that the food comes from a variety of farms, it's more like having a personal shopper picking out a bag of seasonal produce from the farmers market. There are also plans for other fresh produce as well.

fin pre-prepped fish

In the future, in addition to the take home meals that are pre-prepped and require just a minimum of cooking, Fin plans to be doing cooking on site once their stove and emergency sprinklers are installed. Regrettably they have made the decision not to offer fried fish because of concerns for their customers health. Seriously, their oysters and even their calamari would be even more heavenly after a bath in the deep fat fryer.

fin oysters

I'm just hoping that Dora and Pete limit the number of tables so that they can abide by BYOB regulations, and I can bring a nice chilled bottle of Chablis to accompany some of their amazing oysters.

Despite finally having an actual storefront, Fin hasn't forgotten where they came from. They will continue to be a part of the Delmar Farmers Market. Says Dora, "The people there are just so super. And without them and that experience we wouldn't be here now. We see those folks here -- we've developed a new clientele as well -- but the people in Delmar are very interested in seeing us succeed. They are just really our champions and we really appreciate that."

At the beginning of their odyssey, Dora says they were "very interested in creating a feeling when people shopped with us that we were not finding when we shopped for our fish. We wanted to know what we were talking about. We wanted to develop relationships with the people we were serving. We wanted them to feel comfortable that they could trust us. We would tell them where the product was sourced and how."

After spending over an hour in their new shop, talking with the proprietors, and watching their interactions with returning and first time customers, it's clear they are doing all of those things and more.

Daniel B. is the proprietor of the FUSSYlittleBLOG.

Earlier on AOA: Fin opening a shop in Guilderland

Find It

Fin at Star Plaza
2050 Western Avenue
Guilderland, NY

Comments

Regarding sushi grade, what are the actual standards that determine if a piece of fish is sushi grade?

As I understand it fish should be frozen to maintain the parasite destruction guarantee. This is accomplished by freezing and storing seafood at a temperature cold enough and a length long enough sufficient to kill parasites. The FDA’s Food Code recommends these freezing conditions to retailers who provide fish intended for raw consumption (for further information, please visit the FDA website).

??

Thanks.

Such a wondeful write up about Fin! I'm so happy that you were able to discuss their sustainabilty and the "top of the catch" thing. Dora told me all about it when I was talking to her for my post with From Scratch Club, but I didn't have room to fit it in.

Dora and Pete are definately committed to their cause and are super knowledgeable. Such a great asset to the community

Won't you be MY Valentine! Can't wait to shop here.

I'm very excited to have this fish market in Guilderland. I wish them great success and it seems like they are off to a great start! I have tried their haddock and it was excellent. I will be back.

I think this is great, but I'm with Kurt on the frozen issue. Also, curious about the cost/benefit/sustainability impact of trans- and inter-continental air transportation of fresh fish vs lower impact shipping of frozen. Which leads to the whole, local vs. sustainable and how linked are they?

Also, tortoises live on land.

Lovely write-up, Daniel. Thank you. To address Kurt's concerns: We do not sell sushi - we are not a sushi retailer. We sell sushi grade seafood (an often-used marketing term that people know reflects a very high quality product). Our customers are welcome to freeze their seafood before they make sushi from it. However, we do not sell previously frozen seafood (by us or anyone else) and call it fresh. It is truly fresh, never frozen. We make this clear. We don't monitor what our customers do with our seafood once they are home. We do hear that folks eat their tuna pretty rare, that they make ceviche from our seafood and that sushi is made from our products. We know that some folks eat our oysters and clams raw. If we are asked about preparation, we provide guidance. We only purchase our seafood from approved sources - licensed seafood vendors and processors.

Marketing term or not I believe that most people assume that if a fish seller calls their fish sushi grade, it is safe to make sushi out of, which would mean eating the fish raw. Especially when the article includes the quote, "people leave our stand at the farmer's market, open the packet, and eat the fish raw while walking."

I'm not trying to be a jerk, I just want the public to understand what they are getting no matter where they purchase their fish.

That being said, Is "sushi grade" fish, the same type of fish that one makes sushi (the Japanese food) out of?

Please note that most consumers do not have freezers that are cold enough to freeze fish to the point where it would destroy any possible parasites. (-4°F (-20°C) or below for 7 days (total time), or freezing at -31°F (-35°C) or below until solid and storing at -31°F (-35°C) or below for 15 hours, or freezing at -31°F (-35°C) or below until solid and storing at -4°F (-20°C) or below for 24 hours.)

We do have a freezer that is at that temp. If you'd like to purchase seafood and have us freeze it for you to make sushi from, we'd be happy to do so. You know, the best part of this? Conversations like this didn't happen a few months ago! Awesome, Kurt, for bringing issues to folks' attention. We're thrilled to be able to address and resolve them. We've got some super tuna and wild, dry scallops now and would be happy to set some aside for you!

Daniel, I wondered how long it would take for you to write about Fin! I am so excited, all the cool places are always a bit out of the way for me and this is so close to my house, which is especially perfect since is for something I pick up on the way home for dinner.
I have been here about weekly since it opened, I have tried a number of fish that I haven't had before, and some of their semi-prepared dishes, and have been impressed with everything. I am so glad they are also expending into a kind of neighborhood center for great food.
Not mentioned is that you can check their facebook page for what they have in stock and their special prepared food of the day. And you can always call to make sure they haven't run out or to have them set something aside for you.

You know what I love even more than seeing the fish on containers on top of ice (as opposed to directly on ice)? Seeing Fin/Dora's absolutely fantastic responses to consumer inquiry! Fantastic PR and customer service!

Okay, now I really need to get over to Fin. That squid!

So happy Fin has found a home in my neck of the woods! The fish is amazing and everyone I have spoken with has been so helpful and knowledgeable. I especially appreciate their ready meals for busy nights. The all have been delicious. All the best to those at Fin!

I have made sushi out of fin's product in the past. They gave recommendations on which products that week would be best raw, and everything was excellent.

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