The thing with the bounty of the sea is that freshness isn't negotiable and a lack thereof is instantly noticeable to both the nose and the palate.
To get the best, small specialty seafood stores with solid understanding of what sells to ensure best possible freshness tend to do a better job than general grocery seafood departments.
But specialty stores are rare birds in small towns, which is why Squamish residents released a collective sigh of relief at last year's opening of the Diamond Head Fish Market in the Spectacle Building in the Garibaldi Highlands.
"We were vacationing up here in the summertime and we tried to get some seafood and having a chef background, I only ever wanted to get seafood from a fish market and we couldn't find anything so we decided to open one up," said market co-owner and professionally trained chef Jamie Monk. "I think the more people have gotten to know us they now know it's a good place to come to buy seafood because we monitor our temperatures all day and it's all about quality."
Monk and his partner, Geneveive Medrano, source their fish and shellfish from Albion Fisheries, a Vancouver-based seafood distributor that operates within Ocean Wise TM guidelines for sustainable catches. According to experience, running a seafood shop without catering to a food-savvy public would spell ruin these days.
"We went with Albion because they have lots of selection and deliver every day but most importantly because they have ocean wise products which is really important for the Squamish community because everyone is very aware of different kinds of seafood and what's farmed and not farmed so they really, really cater towards healthy, sustainable products," continued Medrano. "If customers don't see what they want in my cooler they can ask and we will bring it in for them."
While customers can order most things under the sun including lobster, King crab legs and oysters, Monk recommends choosing product that's in season for best possible taste and freshness. Like vegetables, marine life peaks and wanes at different times of the year in various parts of the ocean so fishermen have optimal access to certain varieties.
With halibut season just around the corner, Monk revealed his favourite way to prepare it.
"I prefer to bake it because it doesn't really like high temperature that much, grilling and searing makes the outside of it a bit tough," he said. "I usually bake it at 400 degrees sealed in some sort of dish layered with bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic and herbs finished with a little white wine and butter and lemon juice so it creates its own sauce and bakes in it to become nice and moist and flakey."
After a year of customer requests and to boost product access for customers, two weeks ago Monk and Medrano added a small butchery to the store. They hope to source most things locally and are in the process of nailing down suppliers that best meet their needs without duplicating products carried at The Cup Bistro & Deli nearby. They currently carry all natural pork and chicken products, bison and Angus beef. They've ordered sausage making equipment and Monk has added take-home dishes like Maui ribs and chicken cordon bleu to seafood specialties like salmon Wellington and crab cakes. To keep price points reasonable, they'll be providing family packs of meat for anyone interested in buying in bulk.
"People have been asking and we can put together something for say, a family of four with either some steak, some pork, or chicken," said Medrano. "It's convenient because there are so many young families here in Squamish, or even students who want to save money so they can buy a family pack and it'll last them a week and a half."
To expand their business presence and keep things interesting, Monk and Medrano have ventured into the wild world of catering, which they kicked off by shucking 800 oysters at a private party in Whistler last Christmas.
Diamond Head Fish Market carries a small but useful selection of fish and meat rubs, specialty panko, sushi ingredients, and olive oils.
For more information or to order, stop by the market at 7-40437 Tantalus Rd in Squamish or call 604-898-8880. www.diamondheadfishmarket.com .