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Fast fish 

A Lake Victorian Nile perch from eastern Africa, a majestic Florida swordfish, a bluenose bass from New Zealand, a yellowfin tuna from warm Hawaiian waters, and an odd-looking halibut from the frigid Icelandic sea — it would be impossible for these creatures to coexist in any one of the oceans and lakes where they were spawned.

But in the great bouillabaisse pot of the seafood afterlife, these species all come together: in this case, at a 16,000-square-foot facility on 11 Mile Road in Royal Oak, the Superior Fish Company.

The Dean brothers — David, Kevin and Michael — run Superior Fish. They learned the trade from their father, who founded the company with a partner in 1940. Superior Fish procures seafood from “all the waters of the world,” says Kevin, and delivers fresh fish to more than 200 metro Detroit restaurants, hotels, culinary schools and other institutions.

Detroit is geographically a great place for fish trading. As a hub for Northwest Airlines, there’s frequent international traffic, and half of Superior Fish’s supply arrives by air.

“Air travel has really broadened the consumer’s palate,” says Dean.

The city is also centrally located to three major supply areas within quick trucking distance — the East Coast, Florida and the surrounding Great Lakes.

Over the past 60 years, the Dean family has built relationships with some of the area’s finest kitchens, as well as an international network of independent fishers and their brokers. Chefs call in daily to tell Superior Fish what’s needed; the Dean brothers place the orders, tracking and double-checking the shipments throughout the day. Usually, a fish is shipped to Detroit, prepared and delivered to its destination within 24 hours of being caught.

Chef Kirk Freeman of Lily’s Seafood in Royal Oak does “a tremendous amount of business” with Superior Fish. He regularly orders customer favorites such as South American escolar, Hawaiian mahi mahi and fresh Maine lobsters. “We can get anything from them, from anywhere in the world,” says Freeman.

Superior Fish processes 15 tons of fresh seafood a week, mostly by hand. The processing areas are carefully chilled and humidified to avoid any loss of the fishes’ natural moisture. On a recent tour, I watched a man wearing a down vest and woolen cap deftly remove heads, fins and tails at a long stainless-steel table. Another fed the fish into a machine which skinned and split them into entrée-sized pieces. I took a deep breath; the cold air smelled of the sea, fresh and salty.

In other areas of the building, fish is wrapped and packaged. Some fish aren’t shipped the same day, but are stored in a 5,000-square-foot freezer at minus 30 degrees. The company’s trucks deliver the rest to their designated sauté pans.

A huge retail store up front sells the same quality goods directly to home chefs — whole fish, filets, lobster, shrimp, escargot, frogs’ legs, caviar and much more. The company also air-ships orders to private customers across the country — although Detroiters may retire to Arizona, they still crave a good Lake Michigan whitefish. With such a strong network to support them, I predict the Dean family will still be around when I retire.

Learn more about Superior Fish, and find a few of the Dean family’s favorite seafood recipes, at www.superiorfish.net.

TREATS

Support the Ypsilanti Food Co-Op at a community Contra Dance this Sunday, Feb. 18, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Freight House in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town. Live music, food and more. Tickets $5, call 734-483-1520 for more info. … Saturday, Feb. 17 is Wellness Day at the Rochester Hills Whole Foods Market (1404 Walton Blvd., 248-652-2100). Stop by for free spinal exams, yoga demonstrations and, of course, samples of nutritious goodies.

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