I didn’t even know I liked mackerel, much less sardines. But Chef Daniel Asher, of Boulder, Colorado’s River and Woods restaurant made me a convert—and proved his prowess in the kitchen.
Chef Daniel Asher, of River and Woods restaurant in Boulder, started a summer luncheon with sustainable Bela sardines and a smorgasbord of other complementary flavors. ©Laurel Kallenbach
At a special event, Asher showed off the Bela Seafood line, a family-owned business that has fished off the Algarve coast of Portugal for generations. Bela’s tuna, mackerel, and sardines are certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.
“I’m always on the lookout for sustainably produced foods that are truly delicious,” says Asher. “We cook sustainably here at River and Woods, but flavor comes first, so we’re very picky.”
Chef Daniel Asher ©Laurel Kallenbach
Apparently, Bela’s fish—which comes packed in organic extra-virgin olive oil in cans or jars—passed the Asher test. And, as it turns out, mine. Chef Asher started us out with sardines, presented on a gorgeous smorgasbord table with smashed avocado, baby kale, fresh lemon, crisp-fried onions, and nori, with which we could make little sardine burritos.
Hesitantly, I chose a small sardine in olive oil with organic piri-piri (an African chili pepper used in Portugal) and drenched it with lemon and added avocado. To my surprise, the sardine was mild, and I went back for seconds!
Grilled sardines, flavorful chowders, mackerel, tuna are the local dishes in the Algarve, Portugal’s hottest tourist destination. (Someday, when I visit the Algarve, I’m told I must try the cataplana—a combination of sausage, clams, and ham stirred together with paprika, onions and coriander.) Of course, sardines are the staple of almost every dish in coastal Portugal.
And here’s the scoop on Bela’s sardines: they’re wild-caught by purse-seine netting, washed by hand, and then cooked prior to canning. They’re hand-packed within hours of the catch and never frozen. And these little fish are good for you: A serving of sardines delivers 11 grams of protein, omega-3s, vitamin D and calcium all in one, low-calorie meal!
A Tuna Waldorf Salad featuring Bela skipjack tuna: yet another of Chef Asher’s sustainable creations. ©Laurel Kallenbach
Bring on the Seafood
Next Chef Asher served bamboo cones filled with a Bela Skipjack Tuna Waldorf Salad with cinnamon-coated almonds, mizuna, Just Mayo vegan “mayonnaise,” rosemary-olive oil “caviar” and local carrot shavings. All of us “samplers” raved over this whimsical salad. And the tuna is pole-and-line caught.
Finally the pièce de résistance: Mackerel Paella that blended Mediterranean influences such as charred Valencia oranges with Colorado-grown quinoa and gourmet mushrooms from Mile-High Fungi. The mackerel was wonderful, and this oily fish is also earning kudos for its high omega-3 content.
Paella with Bela-brand mackerel at River and Woods ©Laurel Kallenbach
Come on Over to River and Woods
Aside from enjoying the wonderful, sustainable fish dishes, I loved spending some time at River and Woods. The creators behind the restaurant strive for sustainable and local ingredients, and this friendly eatery aspires to creating what they call “community-sourced cuisine,” featuring Colorado comfort foods with innovative twists. For instance, meatloaf gets a makeover, and voilà, you’ve got Lamb and Oat Meatloaf with pumpkin-seed salsa verde and crispy sweet-potato bites. And don’t miss the Seasonal Deviled Eggs with rosemary oil pearls, English peas, breakfast radish, pea shoots, and microgreens.
In summer, you can catch live music in River and Woods’ “backyard’ dining area on Wednesday nights. And chances are I’ll be there too!
—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor
More about restaurants that serve sustainable seafood:
Portugal’s Algarve Region: where Bela Seafood is caught and packaged. This is Marinha Beach, a popular tourist spot. Photo Turismo de Portugal