The Trash Fish You Should Be Trying Now

By Ruth Tobias  |  July 29, 2014

The sold-out trash fish dinner hosted by The Squeaky Bean last night wasn’t merely an extraordinary seven-course feast (eight if you count the caviar-and-oyster kick-off reception at The Kitchen). As a fundraiser for national nonprofit Chefs Collaborative, it also served up plenty of food for thought.

The term “trash fish” refers to seafood species that have historically had little commercial value. Through its ongoing, multi-city dinner tour, Chefs Collaborative aims to increase the visibility of these species among diners and ultimately their viability in a market plagued by overfishing and other ecological troubles. For the Denver installment, event organizer Kelly Whitaker of Basta and Cart-Driver called on three local chefs — The Nickel's Chris Thompson as well as The Bean’s Theo Adley and The Kitchen’s Kyle Mendenhall — to join him and three acclaimed visitors in the kitchen, namely Mike Lata of The Ordinary and FIG in Charleston, S.C.; Michael Leviton of Lumière and Area Four in Boston and Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon and Pêche in New Orleans. Together, they cooked up a menu designed to get guests “thinking beyond farmed salmon and Southeast Asian shrimp," in Leviton’s words. We’re doing our part by introducing you to a few of the treats we tasted.


Forget the salty mush that comes from tins. The flavor of firm, fresh sardines is wonderfully complex, with a touch of sourness that, here, stood out against Lata’s meaty butter-bean spread on toast.


Frankly, we’d never even heard of this fish before last night, but Adley convinced us to gobble down every last bite of his miso-cured version. Reminding us of a cross between octopus and cod in both taste and texture, snakehead is actually an invasive species — which means the more you eat, the more you may help combat its spread. 


Whitaker highlighted the light, creamy sweetness of dogfish by using the belly for mousse and the rest in smoked rillettes, reserving the skin for chicharrón. His work with Chefs Collaborative has, he says, “really changed how I do things in my restaurants,” so rest assured you’ll find trash species popping up at Basta and Cart-Driver from time to time.


Also known as porgy. Its white flesh is delicately flavored, and Mendenhall treated it accordingly, steaming it en papillote with wild mushrooms and thyme. Of course, The Kitchen has long stood a pioneer of sustainability in these parts, so you can count on both the Boulder flagship and its LoDo sibling to feature underused species occasionally.  

The list goes on, from blood clams and white grunt to wolf eel and rainbow smelt. Learn more here, then look for trash fish on menus and at your local seafood counter, ask for it when all you see is tilapia and tuna, and above all make a point of trying it.