john haas
John Haas Chef at M’tucci’s Kitchina. Photo by: Martin Saenz

Are you looking for a nice light dinner to cook at home on a warm summer day? Seafood is always a great bet and fits the hot New Mexican summer like a glove. Where do you go to find it? What do you buy? Who do you trust to have great, high-quality products?

Let me give you the bad news first, 85% of the seafood being sold in our local restaurants and grocery stores is frozen. We are a landlocked state and there is no changing that. However, before you get too worried, heed my advice and all you Duke City fish lovers and pescetarians will be able to find some salvation in the high desert we call home.

Finding high-quality fresh fish in this market isn’t easy. Let me rephrase that: finding high- quality, fresh fish in this market is nearly impossible. Luckily for us, Nancy Chavez-Berg has managed to swim against the tide for the last few decades at Nantucket Shoals Seafood Market (just East of Sprouts, on San Mateo and Academy). Nancy typically stocks 10-13 different fresh fish which are brought in daily, Tuesday through Saturday.

King Salmon and Yellowfin Tuna are among her staples. On my most recent visit, other fresh selections included Black Cod, Ruby and Rainbow Trout, Petrale Sole, Alaskan Cod, Diver Scallops, Shrimp, and Swordfish. Nancy also informed me that Monkfish, a chef’s favorite, is one you’ll find there on occasion. With its sweet and delectable flavor, Monkfish is commonly compared to lobster.

When it comes to fresh fish, there are certain qualities that you should look for when you shop. As they should be, all of Nancy’s fish glistened moist and fresh. I found the quality of her fish to be leaps and bounds above what I’ve seen elsewhere in Albuquerque. The Swordfish had a bright ruby red bloodline that showed off its freshness as well as the skill with which it had been handled. A Swordfish, that is less than fresh, will have a bloodline that starts to become a dark dull red color which is a signal to quickly move on to the next choice in the display case.

Nantucket Shoals also carries a few hard to find, frozen options like Conch, Frog Legs, Scallops on the Half Shell and Gator Meat. When I asked her why she thinks there are no other fish markets in town, Nancy answered “it’s hard work, it’s really hard work.” With all that hard work comes a price, and at Nantucket Shoals it’s definitely a little pricier than you’ll find at your Smiths or Albertsons. Nantucket Shoals rewards its customers with high-quality fish brought to Albuquerque by a true fishmonger.

It’s not just worth the price, it actually makes me happy to pay it.hidden-gems-mockup

If you’re looking for a restaurant to which you can go to enjoy the highest quality fish around, at least in this chef’s mind, you would be best suited to head over to Sakura Sushi & Grill in Riverside Plaza just north of Coors and Montano. My mind was blown when I stumbled across this place, having been sent there by several friends who are sushi purists.
Co-Owner Jae Park took over ownership a year ago after working there since 2013. Since then, he has brought in two amazing Chefs-Kenny Lee and recently hired Shinichi Misawa (formerly of Kokoro) to help bring his vision to life.

Around the beginning of this year, he developed a premium fish program to bring in Sashimi and Nigiri that includes some of the freshest and highest quality options ever in Albuquerque. The fish runs as a special on Wednesday and is typically sold out by that Saturday. On my last visit, the selection consisted of Big Eye Tuna, Korean Halibut, Royal Yellowtail, Uni, Sockeye Salmon, White Sea Bass, and Golden Tile Fish. The fish is shipped live from across the world to Los Angeles where it is held until it is bought. Then, it’s either shipped live to the restaurant (if the restaurant has a way of holding it live) or on ice. From there, the whole fish is broken down and delivered to you, on your plate literally hours out of the water.

If the freshness of the fish was not enough to physically bring a smile to my face each time I have eaten at Sakura, the presence of their fresh wasabi nearly brought me to tears. A rarity in Albuquerque, fresh wasabi has a much softer, more palatable, and inviting profile then its aggressive, powdered cousin usually found in sushi restaurants. Jae has also started serving infused soy sauces, including garlic, serrano, mustard, sweet, and caramelized onion. Sakura has a clear vision of a restaurant with simple, straightforward flavors, offered with humility and respect. Have I mentioned the premium fish is outrageously good? The Royal Yellowtail was one of the best pieces of raw fish I’ve ever eaten, sharing that honor with Oysters I ate straight out of the ocean in Tasmania.

Now you know where to buy the freshest fish and a restaurant where you can eat it, let’s get back to cooking it at home for your fine dinner. I’ve always preached less is more, and good fresh fish is no different. Why would you want to spend $15-$20/LB for great fish and cover it up with heavy flavors or muddled ingredients? Depending on the fish, you’ll have to decide if you want to grill it or give it a nice pan sear. The lighter and flakier it is, the harder it will be to grill. I think most chefs would agree that a good pan sear is hands down the best way to develop flavor and seal in moisture with fish. Much like the dishes I serve in my restaurant (M’Tucci’s), the recipe below features very clean flavors, a straightforward approach and a nice balance of sweetness. Keeping the Argentinian influence from the Chimichurri in mind, a nice bottle of Argentine Torrontes is a great wine to pair with this.


Farro & Arugula Salad

1 Cup of Dry Farro – Cooked
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
3 Ears of Sweet Corn, Kernals Cut Off
1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes
3 Green Onions, sliced
Zest of 1 Lime
Juice of 1 Lime
2 Ounces of Arugula
Salt & Pepper As Needed

In a sauté pan, heat up olive oil and sauté sweet corn until kernels start to slightly brown. Add cherry tomatoes and green onions and cook until all items are warm. Remove from heat. In a mixing bowl, combine your cooked farro, the contents of your saute pan, zest and juice of lime, and arugula and mix to combine evenly. Set aside for plating.

Chimichurri Sauce

½ Cup of Italian Parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp of Fresh Oregano, chopped
4 Cloves of Garlic, minced
½ Cup of Shallot, minced
2 Tsp of Crushed Pepper Flakes
2 Tbsp of Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
½ Cup of Olive Oil
Pinch of Salt & Pepper

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and set aside for 15-20 minute before serving your food to let the flavors incorporate and mellow.

Pan Seared Fish

4 – 6 to 8 ounce fillets of Fresh Fish
1 Tbsp of Olive Oil
Pinch of Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 400F. Season fish moderately with salt and pepper, depending on thickness of fish. In a hot saute pan, add seasoned fish and sear until golden brown on both sides. Drain oil from pan and transfer pan to oven until fish is cooked to proper temperature. Each fish varies, so be sure to check with your fishmonger on what the best temperature is for preparation.

Written by John Haas, Photography by Kori Kobayashi