AFTER SCANNING SOME of what’s for sale at Kuzma’s Fish Market in Edmonds — kasuzuke black cod and saba in the fish case; whole kinki on ice; tubs of miso and natto (fermented soybean) in the refrigerator; nori, hijiki and dashi kombu on the grocery shelves — you might speculate that owner Ken “Kuzma” Hewitt’s heritage is at least partly Japanese.
That’s true only for his history. Hewitt’s maternal forebears were fishermen in Croatia, and he learned how to cut fish early on from his grandmother, a rare female fishmonger, but for 15 years early in his career, Hewitt worked for the Yoshimura family at Mutual Fish, the company that pioneered some of the highest standards of seafood quality in Seattle. Later, he ran the seafood department at Uwajimaya for nearly two decades, before opening Kuzma’s Fish Market in 2018.
“I still carry Mutual Fish in my roots,” says Hewitt. “It was hard to leave there. They take really good care of their people.”
He remembers when, at age 19, he was asked to fillet out a salmon by Dick Yoshimura, the late, widely revered founder of Mutual Fish. “Very good,” was the verdict. “Working there was like getting a college degree,” Hewitt says.
It was at Mutual that he learned to make kasuzuke black cod. The rich, oily fish marinates for days in sake, sake kasu (a byproduct of the sake-making process), mirin and brown sugar. He introduced a version of that recipe at Uwajimaya, and “it boomed.” It’s one of Kuzma’s bestsellers, too. So is tuna poke, which he learned to make the Uwajimaya way.
Hewitt didn’t so much choose his career as the career chose him. His great-grandfather Nikola Andrich was a Croatian immigrant from Korčula, one of the Dalmatian islands. He fished the Adriatic before emigrating to the United States, where he ended up buying a farm in Anacortes and catching Dungeness crab.
Hewitt was 7 years old in 1972, when his grandmother, Margarita Andrijic (Nikola’s daughter, who reverted to the original spelling of the family name), opened West Hill Fish Market in West Seattle. Hewitt’s first job there was wrapping customers’ purchases in newspaper, but by the time he was in middle school, he was cutting fish. “Smelling like fish was a pain,” he says of those teenage years. “Working summers and vacations too, but the money was good.”
At age 16, Hewitt made his first visit to Croatia, when it was still called Yugoslavia. He’s returned often enough to pick up a little of the language and a lot of the curse words. In Vela Luka, the family’s hometown, they call him Kuzma, Croatian for Kenneth, as do a lot of people here.
Having his own fish market has been a long-held hope. He opened it in Edmonds because that’s where he lives. The space he found, just off 212th Street near Highway 99, once the home of Celtic Cowboy BBQ, has two garage-door bays that allow fresh air and daylight to flow in. Burbling tanks hold live shellfish — local oysters, clams and Dungeness crab, plus Maine lobsters, and sometimes live sea urchin. The fish display case teems with fillets, steaks, loins, collars, cheeks and tails. The seafood ranges in hue from deep-purple octopus to pink prawns to ivory calamari steaks. You’ll always find some type of salmon — by far the biggest-seller — as well as prepared foods, like a clam-packed chowder, stellar smoked salmon garlic dip and irresistible fried fish cakes.
Since the pandemic, Hewitt says it has been harder to get frequent deliveries from his suppliers, and many fishermen aren’t fishing, but the case remains full, the shop is busy and the phone rings constantly. (“I’m old-school. Not up with online ordering.”) If you ask, he’ll skin or fillet your fish, and even slice it for sashimi if the store’s not too busy. (“I’m old-school.”) He sees fewer seniors coming in now and finds that he’s giving out recipes and advice at the counter more and more. He doesn’t mind. He’s old-school.
“We get customers who’ve never steamed clams before,” he says. “Everybody’s cooking now. They used to go out seven nights a week.” For the record: His favorite way to cook a whole fish — in fact, most fish — is to rub it inside and out with olive oil, lots of chopped fresh garlic and parsley, and then grill it or roast it in the oven.
The fish you take home from Kuzma’s is wrapped in white paper (not newsprint), but otherwise, Hewitt has followed his grandmother’s business model. Margarita Andrijic closed her fish market in the mid-1980s after the building was condemned, intending to open another. Instead, she focused on her real estate business. She’s 99 now, drives a red pickup, and buys fish from her grandson Kuzma.
Riblja Juha Vela Luka (Fish Soup)
“My family is from the small village of Vela Luka, located on the Dalmatian Island of Korčula. This is a peasant dish passed down from my great-grandparents. All my relatives make this dish and have their own version. This is my way. You can use any white fish, but I like to use halibut cheeks. I prepare it in a large deep skillet with a lid. I like to dish it out with a slotted spoon over, or alongside, white rice and a loaf of crusty bread. The pan is usually set on the table family-style, and we dip our bread in the juha (soup). I think I will always be a peasant if I keep using expensive halibut cheeks.” — Ken “Kuzma” Hewitt
½ cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
6 garlic cloves, sliced in half lengthwise
½ cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley
1 small bay leaf
3 large Yukon potatoes (about 1.5 pounds), sliced 1/4-inch thick
½ cup white wine
1 lb. halibut cheeks or any firm white fish
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat olive oil in a large deep skillet with a lid. Add onions. Sauté until opaque.
2. Add garlic. Cook 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Add parsley, bay leaf, potatoes and enough water to barely cover potatoes. Cover and simmer 10-15 minutes, or until tender.
4. Add the wine and the halibut cheeks, submerging them in the liquid. (If using other white fish, cut into 4- or 5-inch pieces.) Salt and pepper to taste. Simmer covered, 10 more minutes. Serve with rice and crusty bread.