Maybe you’ve noticed a new fish in town. Wisconsin ivory char popped up in specials in August at Harbor House in Milwaukee and at Sebastian’s in Caledonia.
Actually, it’s a new name, but the fish raised by Aqua Terra Farms of Bristol is arctic char; it’s being marketed as ivory char because the flesh is paler than the typical ruddy flesh of arctic char. Aqua Terra’s fish also is sold locally as arctic char at Empire Fish, the Wauwatosa wholesaler and retail shop.
While Aqua Terra finishes construction for its tanks — and greenhouses, for its aquaponic system — in Kenosha County, the fish are being raised at a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point research facility in Bayfield.
The fish’s flesh is paler than typical farmed arctic char because the company doesn’t add dye to its food, said Quinn Pigott, vice president of sales and marketing.
The fish are raised indoors in tanks, avoiding issues of mercury or polluted runoff in the water, Pigott said. They’re not treated with pesticides, fungicides or antibiotics. The nutrient-rich water that the fish are raised in will be used to feed the produce that will be grown at Aqua Terra; the cleaned water will be recirculated into the tanks.
Zachary Espinosa, executive chef at Harbor House, 550 N. Harbor Drive, said he sold out of 50 pounds of the char on a weekend in mid-August.
It appealed to him that the fish was raised in Wisconsin. The char itself struck him as clean-tasting, not fishy or oily, despite its higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. “It’s really quite delicate,” he said.
Like trout, the fish breaks apart in small flakes, he said; it has a more pronounced flavor but is softer on the palate than arctic char.
He presented it in a dish smacking of autumn, with the thought of possibly adding it to the menu in fall: the fish with potato puree and parsnip mash; nutty, meaty king trumpet mushrooms; and brown butter and sherry vinegar aged in bourbon barrels for sweet, smoky and oaky notes. It was $29.95.
In Caledonia, chef-owner Scott Sebastian of Sebastian’s, 6025 Douglas Ave., seared and roasted the char, and served it with a summery lemon-yogurt sauce with three kinds of basil from the restaurant garden, alongside organic vegetables and “summer” wild rice, a wild rice from Wisconsin lighter in texture and flavor than the typical, he said.
The dish was one of the restaurant’s Casual Friday specials, $19.95 including salad and dessert.
Sebastian happened to notice the fish on his vendor’s weekly price sheet and decided to try it. It arrived extremely fresh, he said, with flavor like a cross between trout and salmon. He — and his guests — liked it well enough that he’d offer it again as a special.