“Off the Hook Essentials fish is very fresh,” Becky Herbert said. “It is very easy to work with and extra flavorful, just melts in your mouth.”
And Herbert, owner of Farmhouse Cafe in Hollister, knows her fish. She has been using Off the Hook Essentials as a supplier for two years in her restaurant and Eating with the Seasons, a Community-Supported Agriculture program.
Corina Gitmed, co-owner of Off the Hook Essentials, is working with Herbert to provide coho salmon, halibut, and rock cod for prepared meals to serve to their clientele.
“Corina was a customer of mine and she shared her products with me,” Herbert said. “We partnered up a couple of years ago for a farmers market and have worked together since. Now we are expanding on what I am already doing with Eating with the Seasons. I’ll provide meals for my program using her fish. And I’ll be making the meals for Corina’s delivery customers as well.”
Gitmed founded Off the Hook Essentials five years ago, and prior to the shutdowns related to COVID-19 had been selling fish at the Hollister Farmer’s Market every week.
“I wanted to start a business that would bring something I knew we needed here in town,” Gitmed said. “I grew up in an avid fishing family and I knew farmers markets were becoming a real scene here. I began to notice there was no fresh fish available—what you got from the store was pretty much it. I knew there were commercial fishermen in this town who could probably provide the fish and everyone could get their hands on some really good stuff.”
After a few stumbling blocks in finding a source for the fish, Gitmed settled on Pacific Harvest, a local company that services the area from San Francisco to Monterey.
“We make sure what we get from them is sustainably caught and is sourced locally,” Gitmed said. “We are also going through the process of getting the permits that will allow us to buy the fish straight from the fishermen at the docks. We want to get to know who the fishermen are and where they caught the fish.”
Gitmed established herself at the farmers market and started building up customers.
“It took a couple of weeks for people to trust that what I had was good and fresh,” she said. “I would go and pick it up the day of the market already filleted and ready. Once people knew they could count on us, we would sell out. It had been working really well.”
The business became so successful that, two and a half years ago, she brought on Sara Spencer as a full partner and expanded her product line.
“It has become kind of a two-part business,” Gitmed said. “With Sara, we started making finishing salts as well. The two businesses combine and it somehow works.”
The salts are intensely scented and flavored mixtures of Mediterranean, Himalayan, and black and red Hawaiian sea salts with essential oils. There are five salts offered so far including citrus with lemon, lime and wild orange, Italian with basil, rosemary and oregano, and Thai with ginger, lemongrass and basil.
With the pandemic shutting down the Hollister Farmer’s Market, Gitmed needed to change her sales model to find a way to stay in business.
“We first thought, ‘Let’s put a pin in it and get back to this when things are open again,’” Gitmed said. “But because we did not see a light at the end of the tunnel, and there was still a demand from our customers, we needed to find a way to deliver locally.”
Flash freezing the fish allows Gitmed to home deliver her products throughout San Benito County, as well as Santa Cruz County and South Santa Clara County.
“We have access to a commercial freezer,” Gitmed said. “We pick the fish up and take it to the freezer. We cut it up into one pound fillets and package it. The flash freezing locks in the flavor and quality of the fish. It freezes so quickly that no ice crystals form to damage the tissue.”
One happy customer is Jeanne Alkire, a regular customer for three years.
“My son told me there were these really interesting people selling fish at the Farmer’s Market so I went to check them out,” Alkire said. “After trying it, I started going and getting some every week.”
Alkire likes the lingcod and the halibut but has tried most of the fish that Off the Hook offers.
“I always ask them what’s good this week,” she said. “Now that they are just doing deliveries I save up and put in a big order so we are eating fish for a couple of weeks. You do not realize how good fresh fish is until you eat fresh fish. There really is no comparison.”
Herbert provided a recipe for customers to try at home.
Becky Herbert’s Parmesan-Crusted Halibut
6 oz. halibut fillet
1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup of panko bread crumbs (mix with Parmesan cheese)
1 beaten egg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Place baby broccoli on a baking sheet
Drizzle a little olive oil on top
Add a dash of pepper and a dash of Off The Hook Essentials Italian Blend
Pop in the oven for 12 minutes
Heat olive oil in a skillet to about a medium temperature
Dip Halibut in egg then in Panko/Parmesan mixture
Put in skillet for about 3 minutes on each side, add salt and pepper to taste
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