From Wave to Table: Mad about Moi
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“This is what I don’t want my fish to be like,” says Randy Cates as he gestures toward a picture of a beautiful plate of fish sitting on a white-tablecloth-covered restaurant table. “I want to see lots of fish,” he says, this time pointing at a picture of crates brimming with fresh fish. While Cates’ fish does appear on the menus at several fancy restaurants—Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas and Roy’s, for starters—as far as Cates is concerned, his farmed moi should be a fish of the people, affordable and easily accessible, the kind of fish you buy at your local supermarket, take home and grill up for dinner.
Cates is the CEO of Hukilau Foods, an open-ocean fish farm located one mile offshore of Ewa Beach. He’s a straight shooter, a man with definite opinions about the aquaculture business and his place in it, to which he’s entitled, since he’s been at this longer than anyone in Hawaii, or the nation, for that matter. He received his lease, the first offshore lease in the country, in 2001, though he had his first cage in the water in 1999, when he was still testing the fish-farm waters.
Cates chose to farm moi because, at the time, it was the only fish for which he could get fingerlings (small fish, usually up to one year old), and, he discovered, there was a market for moi, a fish that, in ancient times, had been reserved for alii. A near-shore fish that lives in the surf zone, moi congregate in the same place, which makes them easy targets, and nearly led to their depletion in the wild. Moi is known for its delicate flavor, tenderness and versatility—it works well for many styles of cooking, and can be poached, steamed, sautéed, baked or served as sashimi. “The main reason I started having Randy’s moi on the menu was … the consistency of the product,” says Hiroshi’s Eurasion Tapas chef Hiroshi Fukui. “The fattiness, sizing, freshness are always there.”
Hukilau Foods operates its own hatchery, where the fingerlings grow for two months until they’re moved to the offshore cages. Once offshore, the fish continue to grow for about seven months, until they reach market size, around three-quarters of a pound to a pound. Hukilau has between 200,000 and 250,000 moi in each of the farm’s four cages, and is producing roughly 6,000 to 8,000 pounds of fish per week. Cates is planning to add four cages, which would grow his annual production from 1 million to 5 million pounds.
The expansion would give Cates the opportunity to make his moi available to a larger local audience. “I’ve always felt the responsibility that if I could raise the fish and sell it here it makes the best business sense,” says Cates, who acknowledges that keeping the product in one marketplace is risky, but it’s a strategy that’s recently proven itself. “I think one of the reasons we are where we are today, and others are not is because we’ve developed a local market,” says Cates. “Last summer when fuel prices went up [and] air freight went crazy, it hurt companies [whose] business model was exporting. We didn’t get that sting.”
More moi also means that he can keep his product affordable for customers, something of prime importance to Cates, who believes that, in order to resolve our country’s obesity epidemic, we all need to eat more fish. “We should be raising fish … that are affordable to the average person and their kids,” he says. “My wife’s father is Hawaiian. The first time he ate a steak was his 18th birthday. He grew up on fish and vegetables, and looking at some of the old photos of him when he was in his 20s and 30s … his kids and his grandkids don’t look like that. In one generation, the diet has completely changed and it has health implications.” Cates adds, “We need to provide more seafood to get back to a more balanced diet.”
Chef Hiroshi Fukui, owner of Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas, provided this recipe for:
Crispy-skin moi with Mrs. Cheng’s tofu, Okinawan sweet potato with Hauula dried tomato and fennel broth.
1 block soft tofu, preferably Mrs. Cheng’s brand
4 sides of 3 ounces each moi fillet
Salt and white pepper to taste
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (optional) white truffle oil
For garnish (optional) Nalo micro greens
For the broth:
3 tablespoons shallots minced
1/4 cup, roughly chopped ginger
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup (fresh or bottled) clam juice
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
4 tablespoons sun-dried tomato
4 tablespoons shaved fennel
1/2 piece diced Okinawan sweet potato, cut
into 1/2-inch squares and boiled
Cut tofu into four portions and set aside.
For the broth, sauté shallots and ginger in a pot with vegetable oil until shallots turn translucent. Add remaining ingredients and bring to simmer. Remove ginger and discard. Keep broth warm.
Season the moi fillet with salt and white pepper and coat with flour.
Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a sauté pan over high heat. Add fillets and sauté until fish is cooked through and crisp, about 3 minutes per side.
Place broth over medium-low heat. Add tofu and heat until tofu is hot in the center.
To plate the dish: Divide tofu among four wide serving bowls. Add broth to bowls. Place crispy moi over tofu. Optional: Drizzle with truffle oil and greens.
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