A Fresh Look at Fall Seafood Fares
By Michelle Ponto
Seafood is always a popular choice for both appetizers and main courses, but with new exotics such as Alaska king crab legs and Ahi tuna making their way upstream, this fall may be the time to shake things up with new menu items.
Successfully Introducing New Seafood
Introducing menu changes can be intimidating. One way to safely integrate new items is to test them out as an appetizer on your main menu or as part of your bar/lounge menu.
“Bar food is very big. Lots of diners come to the bar to eat rather than drink,” says John van Amerongen, Marketing Communications Specialist for Trident Seafoods Corporation. “The atmosphere is less formal and they’re comfortable experimenting with a wide range of flavours and preparations rather than committing to a full I-hope-I-like-it entrée.”
Another way to introduce seafood is to pair it up with something the customers are already familiar with such as a Caesar salad. Some popular additions include sliced grilled salmon, shrimp, crabmeat, or crumbled hot-smoked salmon. You can also introduce a little ethnic flavour by adding blackened shrimp, cod or rockfish.
Using seafood in salad is only the beginning. Fish, shrimp and other morsels from the sea can be substituted in place of traditional meats in many menu items including popular lunchtime and bistro-style dishes.
“One doesn’t always think of using seafood in a grilled sandwich or panini, but it works remarkably well and offers a low-fat alternative to traditional options. Grilled salmon, cod and halibut in a toasted sandwich on sliced Como bread is delicious,” says van Amerongen.
Another new trend that’s growing in popularity is fish tacos. These can be made from most fish including tuna, mahi mahi and shrimp. Just because the fish is stuffed into a taco, doesn’t mean it has to be Mexican. Spice it up Caribbean style with blackened rockfish or halibut with mango salsa.
Getting the Most Profit from your Seafood
When it comes to seafood and your bottom line, it’s important to look at the total cost of preparing a meal. Even though the item may work well with your customer, convenience, simplicity and labour are important factors to consider.
“Any good chef can properly address a whole fish like a salmon, but filleting, skinning and portioning a wetlock of fresh fish can be a daunting task for the untrained hand,” says van Amerongen.
One way to reduce the time it takes to clean seafood and to ensure it’s easy to prepare, regardless of your staff’s expertise, is to order product that’s already prepped such as fish with skin and bones removed, deveined shrimp and cleaned squid.
Fresh Versus Frozen Seafood
The debate between fresh and frozen seafood is always ongoing and there is no definitive answer. While some fish do taste better fresh, there are other things to consider such as shelf life, the way it’s prepared, and price.
“Certainly there are fish that perform better fresh, particularly as high-end entrées. If I were featuring a seasonal special like Copper River king salmon, I’d certainly want a fresh fish. Then again, I might be paying $18/lb for that fish and I would worry about grading, handling, transportation, trim loss, shelf life, and how ‘fresh’ that fish really was by the time it showed up in
my kitchen,” says van Amerongen.
Regardless of whether you decide to purchase fresh fish for a few key dishes or for your entire seafood menu, make sure you have a good relationship with your supplier. The better your relationship is the more chance you’ll have in getting the freshest fish and seafood possible.
With that being said, you may find that often frozen fish tastes the same as their fresh counterparts and in some cases, it may even taste fresher. This is because many fish species are gutted, skinned & boned, portioned and flash frozen within hours of being harvested. This seals in the freshness instantly, whereas an unfrozen fish may take a few days to reach your refrigerator.
Other advantages of frozen seafood are that it has a longer shelf-life, you can thaw portions when needed and you can purchase pre-packed units.
Insider Tips for Mouthwatering Seafood
Once you’ve enhanced your menu with tasty seafood offerings, there are ways to bring out the flavour of the items while reducing waste. The first tip is to plan ahead when using frozen fish portions. According to van Amerongen, some fish can be prepared successfully when cooked from frozen, but to get the best from a frozen portion like salmon, halibut or cod, remove the packaging a day before, place it on a sheet pan, cover with film, and thaw slowly under refrigeration.
“It’s also a good idea to sear the outside of a fish portion with high heat prior to finishing in the oven or moving to a medium area of the grill. This will not only add flavour, but it will seal in the moisture and prevent the fish from becoming dry,” says van Amerongen.
A couple of other tips include ordering consistent portions, watching the thickness of your fish, and timing your preparation so you can serve it immediately. Seafood tastes best when served fresh –regardless of whether it’s grilled calamari, battered shrimp or seared tuna.
Keep these helpful tips in mind and your fall seafood additions will soon become year-round favourites.