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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 35.0° F  Overcast
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Mike and Kathy Hughes
Hughes Seafood Company at the Brennan's Farm Markets

Occupation: Fishmongers (yes, they own the company)

Where: Hughes Seafood Company at the Brennan's Farm Markets at 5533 University Ave. and 8210 Watts Rd.

Why you should go: Hughes Seafood shakes, rattles and rolls. I shop here all the time ' they're not kidding about quality. Try the salmon roe!

How long have you been purveyors of fresh fish?

Kathy: We opened in May '04, at the Watts Road location. Our sons Mike and Josh are the ones who always wanted to do this. They went to Brennan's and pitched the idea. It's a family affair, we're all involved. I used to be a stay-at-home grandmother.

Mike: Not anymore, baby! I'm a retired Madison police lieutenant. I like this better. I was on the force for 32 years. I got bored with retirement ' I was working for another retail seafood company when my sons came up with the idea to open our own business. Kathy said we were nuts, but in the end we all went for it.

What's your favorite fish recipe?

Kathy: Halibut, with a hint of lemon and Old Bay seasoning, which we sell ' it's the classic Eastern seaboard seasoning, the stuff in Baltimore crab cakes. I put it in everything ' Mike's always kidding me about my Old Bay habit.

I make homemade spreads ' smoked salmon, crab and crabby cheddar. We sell 'em in our deli case, along with my whitefish salad and crab-with-brie stuffed mushrooms. We usually feature a recipe on the counter ' food's always been my hobby, and Mike loves to eat. When he wakes up, the first thing he says is 'What's for dinner?'

Mike: That's 'cause my wife's a gourmet chef. My favorite is crab-stuffed sole or flounder with Monterey Jack cheese and baby portobello mushrooms. You can get everything you need to make that right here, and Kathy'll tell you how.

Are customer concerns about overfishing an issue for you?

Mike: Yes, people ask about that. We tell the truth. Certain fisheries are in trouble. But it's not as bleak as some research suggests. Alaska, for example, does an outstanding job of maintaining sustainable fisheries. We only buy from top distributors whose product comes from certified sustainable dealers.

And we're the fussiest customers. We don't hesitate to send back fish that's not the quality we want. It has to smell of ocean, not ammonia. It can't smell 'fishy.' We want firm flesh that bounces back when you touch it. The scales should be tight. We time-date our fish so we know exactly when it becomes what we call grocery-store quality. At that point we donate it to a guy from Argyle who races in the Iditarod, for his dog team.

Kathy: We order fresh every day. We carry just enough of several kinds of wild-caught and organic farm-raised salmon, for instance, but sometimes it sells out early. If you know you need something special it's good to call and order in advance.

What should I order for my New Year's party platter?

Kathy: I'd say cooked jumbo shrimp, smoked salmon, cocktail crab claws ' we have two kinds, Jonah and snow. Add some of my homemade spreads. Oysters on the half shell make a pretty tray.

Mike: We have sushi-grade scallops on the half-shell. They're incredible ' a little wasabi, pickled ginger and seaweed salad on the side, oohhhhh....

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