One of Colorado’s most celebrated products is also one of its most unexpected: Colorado Hybrid Striped Bass. These sustainably farmed fish are favorites of chefs and fish mongers for their mild, versatile flavor, thick fillets and firm, flaky texture.
Tyler and Rochelle Faucette, proprietors of Colorado Catch, supply fresh whole hybrid striped bass to distributors in Colorado and California from their farm and aquaculture facility just outside of Sanford in the San Luis Valley.
“Mud and the other dirty elements of a pond make (farm-raised fish) soft. Our tanks continually get fresh water and are continually having waste removed. The clean environment keeps our fish from getting the flavors you get from a pond-raised fish,” explained Rochelle. “It’s like if you have an onion next to a piece of cheese in the refrigerator. What is the cheese going to taste like a day later?”
Colorado Catch bass are raised from tiny fingerlings to full-grown 1¼- to 3-pound fish in the warm water of a geothermal aquifer, which is continuously refreshed and filtered. Rochelle explained that this level of cleanliness in the tanks leads to a more delicious fish.
Colorado fish mongers and chefs buy these fish because their quality and freshness match or exceed the fish available from other regions and today’s customers appreciate a sustainably raised, local product.
Colorado Catch hybrid striped bass are a cross between striped bass, which are long and slender, and white bass, which are short and have wide girth. Using a cross of these two species is a common practice in striped bass farming, and it creates a large fish with thick fillets.
In 18 years, the Faucettes’ fish farm has grown from 14 tanks to 46 tanks of various sizes. The business has been a boon for their ranch, but the industry’s main pitfall is the press, they say.
“If the media says one negative thing about a farm-raised product, people take it as gospel. Our industry hasn’t taken the blow that the salmon industry has, but it affects all farm-raised products. And overcoming that has been difficult. The day-to-day stuff is workable, but when something inaccurate is produced that affects how our product is conceived, that really makes it tough,” Rochelle said.
The Faucettes produce around 350,000 pounds of fish annually. The fish are hand-harvested twice weekly, delivered to distributors that process the fish, and then they’re off to back doors of Colorado kitchens and markets in as few as 24 hours from farm to market.
Let big-city chefs scoff at the idea of using farm-raised fish on their menus. Nationally acclaimed Colorado chefs Troy Guard of TAG in Denver and Ryan Hardy of the Little Nell’s Montagna in Aspen don’t shy away from using Colorado hybrid striped bass on their menus. Neither do chefs at The Brown Palace Hotel, Colt & Gray and Oceanaire in Denver and Grouse Mountain Grill in Beaver Creek.
Paul Anders, executive chef of Sweet Basil in Vail, packed Colorado Catch’s hybrid striped bass all the way to New Orleans for the Great American Seafood Cook-off in 2008. The two-day cook-off featured one chef per participating state. Each chef brought a sustainable seafood item from their state and their best recipe for preparing it. Anders won top chef honors the first day for his Colorado striped bass with truffle and Olathe corn emulsion, and placed in the top five overall at the event.
Restaurants that make sustainable cuisine their specialties, like Mercury Cafe in Denver and The Kitchen in Boulder, regularly use Colorado hybrid striped bass.
Executive Chef Kyle Mendenhall of The Kitchen uses Colorado hybrid striped bass in different menu preparations, including this one: whole striped bass roasted in the wood-fired oven served alongside wood-fired oven roasted vegetables and salsa verde made with fresh herbs, olive oil and anchovies.
“(Colorado striped bass) is mild and flaky with slight minerality. It’s not too fishy or intense or overly sweet, it’s more of a savory fish,” Mendenhall said. “It grills really nicely and takes on the grill flavors really well. It pairs well with lots of different options, which is probably why we use it in so many preparations.”
Colorado Catch hybrid striped bass are available for home chefs at Marczyk Fine Foods in Denver, Cut in Edwards and at some King Soopers markets around the state. Colorado hybrid striped bass are delivered at sashimi-grade quality, just the way Tyler Faucette eats his back at the farm: fresh and raw with a splash of soy and a touch of wasabi.
If You Go
22874 County Road 24
Sanford, Colorado 81151
Amanda Hall is a freelance writer who lives in Denver, Colorado.