Iowa's First striped bass filet at Splash,
303 Locust St., 244-5686. Hours are Monday through
Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Monday through
Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
From Wal-Mart to the smallest cafés, food businesses
want more fresh and local products. One aspect
of farm to fork dining has been particularly
challenging in Iowa, though. State regulations
discourage fresh local fish. An Asian café in
Des Moines would face big fines if it tried
to serve striped bass freshly caught on the
Scott Street Bridge. As a result, Asians from
Minneapolis, Omaha and Chicago swarm to Iowa
fishing hot spots and take home vans filled
with Iowa fish.
Fish farming has been challenging here, too.
Startup costs are expensive, and early efforts
ran into price resistance. Iowa-raised tilapia
(the easiest fish to farm) didn’t attract many
customers at three times the price of Chinese
tilapia. Serious buyers such as Asian restaurants
in Chicago did not value the walleye and trout
that Iowa farmers were raising. Iowa fish farms
were regulated as “industrial waste” because
no one had authorized their being regulated
as agriculture. The last decade produced mostly
failed fish farms in Iowa.
In February this year, the Iowa House Agriculture
Committee approved adding fish to the state
law used to regulate feeding operations for
cattle, hogs, goats, sheep and poultry. That
encouraged Mark Nelson to plunge in where others
had floundered. Nelson’s family founded Iowa’s
First, a fish farm in Blairsburg.
“We’re fourth generation here, but we aren’t
big enough to compete with the giant hog operations
today. Fish make more environmental sense, too.
Dealing with our fish waste requires a small
percentage of acreage (for disposal lagoons)
compared to what is required to raise the same
amount of protein with hogs,” Nelson explained.
The Nelsons have already installed 12 large
tanks in a converted hog facility. They are
raising striped bass, the preferred fish of
Asian restaurants in Chicago, on a soy and bone
meal diet. Their first batch is large enough
now for market. In a year, they plan to have
18 tanks and produce 300,000 pounds annually.
Splash restaurant in Des Moines began serving
Iowa’s first stripers last week and will feature
them Aug. 17-25. I tried an herb encrusted whole
striped bass stuffed with rosemary, vegetables
and lemon. It was so fresh I could suck the
amber fluid out of the eye sockets. That’s considered
an extraordinary delicacy in Hong Kong and Singapore
but only with very fresh fish. I also tried
Splash’s pan roasted eight-ounce striped bass
filet served with a relish of local peppers,
corn and cucumber from Rinehart Farms. It was
beautifully plated on top of Small Potato Farms
potato cakes, with a sweet corn fondue made
with Rinehart Farms sweet corn.
Bless you Iowa House Agriculture Committee.
Never thought I’d say that.
Templeton Rye brought Deirdre Capone to Templeton
and Carroll for promotions earlier this month.
At the distillery, the great niece of Al Capone
explained that her family came to America from
the southern boot of Italy, like most of Des
“Hollywood initiated and perpetuated the myth
that we were Sicilian, but we’re all from Angri
in Campania,” she explained.
Capone professed a wistful longing for two lost
foods of Italian America — scarmoza (“It’s a
soft sheep’s milk cheese. We’d use it where
most people use mozzarella“) and nduja, a spicy,
spreadable salami. When told that Gateway Market
makes and sells nduja, Capone immediately arranged
a stop there on her way to Des Moines’ airport.
She offered these Italian food tips:
“I have a Chinese and a Japanese daughter-in-law.
They taught me that pine nuts from Asian markets
are the best and the least expensive.”
“Use super long (spaghetti) and slurp it into
your mouth — that brings out more flavor.”
“Lasagna should be more like quiche than what
you normally find in America. The gravy (marinara)
should only be on top.” CV