Lyf Gildersleeve’s seafood empire starts at home.
Growing your own fruits and vegetables is one thing, but how about growing your own fish — on land? What at first sounds crazy is just common sense to Portland fishmonger Lyf Gildersleeve.
“I’m a big believer in knowing where your food comes from,” he says. “In a big city, we depend on big trucks supplying our food, but you can do some really cool stuff in your backyard.”
Case in point: his homespun aquaponics setup, which isn’t that much bigger than a typical garden bed. With a tank for raising trout on the bottom and a greenhouse on top to raise vegetables, it’s like a mini ecosystem — one that happens to produce dinner.
“In aquaculture, you’re feeding the fish and then scrubbing the water of the ammonia they produce. But with aquaponics, it’s a symbiotic system,” he explains. “It’s a sustainable way to farm fish. Bacteria convert the fish waste into fertilizer for the plants.”
For those of us without our own micro farm, there’s Flying Fish Co., Gildersleeve’s beloved micro fish market that specializes in sourcing sustainable fish and shellfish, most of which comes from the Oregon Coast. Flying Fish started as a cart in 2009, morphed into a market/oyster bar in Providore Market in 2016, anwd went full-on brick-and-mortar this past February, adding on a fast-casual restaurant serving up fish and chips, fresh-shucked oysters, and a classic Louie salad bursting with Dungeness crab and Oregon bay shrimp. At least that’s the timeline most Portlanders know. The seeds for the company were actually planted in Sandpoint, Idaho, in 1979, a year before Gildersleeve was even born.
“My dad used to live in Seattle, but when he moved to Northern Idaho, there weren't any good fish. He was a flight instructor and he flew to Seattle a lot, so he’d pick up a box of fish and bring it back. That’s why it’s called Flying Fish.”
Now Gildersleeve is carrying on the tradition his own way at home, and in the process, he and his wife, Natalie, are teaching their own kids — Juniper, 9, and Miles, 7 — the value of sustainable, seasonal, local food, which more often than not comes just a few steps from their kitchen door. In addition to farming trout, he keeps chickens and bees and grows a dozen fruit trees, tons of herbs, and a rotating assortment of vegetables all year long.
“The kids help out in the backyard, and they love going out and picking stuff,” he says. “They see there are seasons for things, and they can taste the difference.”
And they love turning that just-harvested haul into cooking projects like gingery dumplings made with leftover bits of fish, fresh spring rolls with herbs, and crepes topped with raspberries.
“They like the tactile stuff, the projects,” he says. “We’ll take banana leaves off our tree, toast them over the fire in the firepit, fill them with sticky rice and wrap them up.”
For Gildersleeve, though, few things are better than grilling up a backyard bounty of home-farmed trout with a tumble of fresh herbs and just-dug potatoes.
“Farm-raised fish gets a bad rap, but it can be done right,” he says. “The world population is going to double, and we’re at maximum capacity of what we can harvest from the ocean. What’s going to fill the gap? It’s going to come from farmed fish, but we have to farm in a way that’s healthy for us.”
From Lyf's Kitchen: Whole Trout on the BBQ With Grilled Veggies & Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
- Selection of zucchini, fennel, asparagus, tomato, kale, broccoli
Lightly season veggies with extra virgin olive oil and salt prior to grilling. Grill alongside trout (recipe below). Hardier veggies like fennel will take a little longer than the trout, so start them first on the grill. Veggies are done when they are still partially firm. They will keep cooking for a few minutes after you remove them from the grill. Finish with Jacobsen finishing salt.
Whole Trout on the BBQ
- 1 whole trout, 1 to 1.5 lb.
- Selected vegetables
1. Prepare whole trout, head on, gutted and gills taken out. Scale the fish by gently scraping the skin with a butter knife. This makes the skin edible when you cook whole fish.
2. Slice into the flesh of the fish to “score” the meat, this allows the seasoning to get under the skin. Cut two to three times on each side.
3. Rub entire fish with salt — inside of belly cavity, all over skin, and inside score marks along the sides.
4. Let fish sit on a plate, uncovered, in fridge for 1-6 hours.
5. To prepare veggies: Mince fresh thyme, garlic and chives. Mix together dry seasonings including a pinch of black pepper, Old Bay, ground dill seed and ground fennel seed. Toss the veggies in seasonings.
6. Remove fish from refrigerator. Rub fish with dry seasonings, and place fresh veggies inside fishʼ́s belly and all over exterior of fish. Let fish come to room temperature before cooking, approximately 1 hour outside of refrigerator.
7. Grill: Spray grill or wipe grill with a paper towel soaked in olive oil. Place trout directly on oiled grill over medium heat. Depending on the thickness of fish, let cook for 5 minutes, then flip over with fish spatula/tongs — be careful not to break fish apart. Let cook another 5 minutes, until fish flakes off the bone with a fork. Do not overcook. Fish will continue to cook for several minutes after removing from heat. Gently remove fish onto a cutting board and let sit for 3-5 minutes before serving. Serve whole fish as is: Gently peel back the fillet off the bones, eat the skin, and offer blessings to the creature that gave you the nutrition for this meal.
Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
- Uniform size to cook at the same rate, about 1 to 1.5” pieces
- 3 T grapeseed oil
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 t fresh rosemary
- 1 t fresh thyme
- Pinch of sea salt
Mix all together in a bowl. Place on stone baking sheet, Pyrex or cookie sheet; leave space in between so they roast more evenly. Bake at 400-425 degrees for 30-45 minutes, depending on size of potatoes. Poke with a fork to check doneness. Finish with Jacobsen finishing salt and organic butter.