1 fish, 2 fish, white fish...white fish
When my friends at the department of agriculture told me I needed to visit a tilapia farm in Valdosta, I did one of those sitcom double takes. In Georgia? Tilapia are tropical fish that are native to Egypt and while it can brutally hot in south Georgia, the mercury can drop to below freezing in the winter, which would certainly wipe out most tropical fish. The answer: keep 'em inside! The fish farmers can raise 250,000 pounds of live tilapia in 12 tanks about the size of a small swimming pool over the course of a year. The tanks are on a closed water system that cycles and recycles the water, using biological filtration to keep the nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia in check and huge oxygen reactors to keep the water fully oxygenated. Being the aquarium nerd that I am, I was impressed to see that all of their gadgets were just over sized versions of the equipment I use in my home tanks. And the fish I keep in my tanks are actually closely related to the tilapia (in the cichlid family), but we tend not to eat ours.
I was really impressed with the cleanliness of the operation. Plus the fact that it only takes 1.5 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of fish. Compare that to beef at 8 to 1 or chicken at 3 to 1 and you see that tilapia is an extremely efficient source of protein This particular farm only sells live fish to markets that typically cater to Hispanic or Asian clientele. I've seen their live tilapia at my favorite Asian market (Super H Mart!) and the fish always look bright and healthy. As an ingredient, tilapia is an excellent, firm and mild fish that holds up to all kinds of cooking methods.
I have to say, it was all I could do not to smuggle (rescue) a couple of the baby fish back home to my aquarium. But tilapia get huge and, like all cichlids, aggressive which would've caused an all-out war in my aquariums. It was a rare moment of refrain.
The season is winding down and we only have a few more shows to shoot. I have my eye on season 2, but we're going to have to get the first one finished before we can look too far ahead. Huitt has done an amazing job with both the camera work and the editing and I can't wait to share the episodes with everyone. Fun stuff...