For seafood manufacturers to compete in the commodity and value-added markets, quality is key. Chefs and foodservice operators are becoming more educated and expect high-quality frozen seafood. Manufacturing companies have reacted to these demands by improving harvesting techniques. One solution to increasing the fresh flavor of frozen seafood is to handle the product as little as possible before it reaches the consumer. The day when it is difficult to taste the difference between fresh and frozen seafood is in sight.
The growing awareness that seafood is a healthy dietary option has resulted in greater consumer demand. And, as seafood offerings on menus increase, so does the need for cost savings. Value-added products must be high-quality, consistent, efficient, portion-controlled and, theoretically, stable in price. Packaging plays an important role in meeting these goals.
Products come in vacuum pouches to prevent the fish from oxidizing, and they extend shelflife and allow portions to be pre-seasoned, marinated, glazed, moisture-enhanced or sauced. Many quality commodity fish and shrimp products are packaged in bulk, and supplied with seasonings, marinades and sauces to be added at the store level. Raw or pre-cooked items with sauces or marinades also can be regenerated in a number of methods. Special roll stock film is necessary for boilable products and for microwave cooking or steaming. Extended hot holding also can be achieved with the right packaging, with moisture locked in right until service.
Foodservice distributors offer products and ingredients that have many vertical or complex flavor attributes. Such value-added products balance flavors through the use of marinades, base concentrates and seasoning blends. But flavor trends also reflect a desire for simple flavors with ethnic roots. The consumers' growing demand for bold and unique dishes has been fueled largely by exposure to new international ingredients and cooking styles, especially those of Latin America and Asia.
Within the fine dining sector, there is a return to classic, simply prepared seafood dishes. In fact, it seems as though many of the tried-and-true techniques are being re-invented, using more artistic license. In addition to grilling, many other traditional cooking methods lend themselves to seafood applications, such as sautéing, pan- or stir-frying, braising, stewing and (though more indulgent and just as trendy) deep-frying. Deep-frying itself is not perceived as healthy, but when served properly, fried breaded products can be considered healthful.
RecipesGrilling has had the largest impact on healthful trends and lends itself to complex savory flavors in low-fat cooking. Foodservice menus are riddled with grilled items. For consumers, barbecuing has become a rite of good weather that no longer ends with summer. The following is a grilled fish dish that works all year:
Halibut Pomodoro. Rub the fish with olive oil, kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, and then grill lightly. Serve with a light relish of diced, vine ripe tomatoes, lemon juice, fresh chopped basil, and fresh minced garlic, splash of sherry vinegar and some additional salt and pepper. Due to the limited fat and light muscle tissue usually found in seafood, it is important to remember that over cooking can cause textural challenges, bitterness and fragility.
Seafood flavor development is achieved by using the proper cooking techniques and fundamental ingredients, such as mirepoix (a sautéed mixture of carrot, onion, celery), and through the layering of additional flavors. By balancing salt, acid and sweetness (SAS[r]), flavors that touch all areas of the palate are achieved. As the flavor of the dish is developed, a top note or finish can be added, such as fresh basil.
Seasoning consists of more than just salt and pepper, and includes bright colorful blends of herbs and spices. Each can add color, texture and particulate. Combining these items creates a dry rub. Usually, a generous sprinkle of seasoning is applied just prior to cooking. Here is a great example of sauté:
Moroccan Seared Salmon Fillet. Combine kosher salt, whole cumin seed, cracked anise, black pepper, crushed chile pepper, ground cardamom, turmeric, garlic, ginger, oregano, crushed chile, allspice and chile powder. Coat fish. Sear in olive oil. Serve with sour cream blended with aromatic chopped mint, cilantro and lime juice over a bed of couscous with dried fruit and toasted cashews.
Next is an example of a wet rub. First, a paste is rubbed on the fish, which then should rest for up to three hours so the flavors penetrate the protein. Keep in mind that the acids can break down the protein and make the fish mushy if marinated too long. This method adds texture and color to a usually stark-looking piece of white fish. Baking also is a wonderful method of cooking fish.
Miso Sesame Black Cod. Blend red miso paste with sake, rice wine, fresh ginger, chopped cilantro, orange concentrate, soy sauce, a hint of sesame oil, green onion, sugar and sesame seeds. Bake in the oven on high heat to generate a savory caramelized flavor and serve with a crispy grilled, mango coconut rice cake, made with coconut milk and a hint of wasabi.
Grilling marinades can be used to deeply penetrate muscle and impart a stronger flavor while also slightly tenderizing the heavier fish protein. Using a soup or sauce base as the primary flavor system helps to make the sauce. Again, marinade for up to three hours in a static marinade. Many value-added, manufactured products use marinade injection for whole portions and tumbling to impart flavor and moisture with smaller pieces like shrimp.
Mediterranean Corfu Swordfish. Make a slightly wet marinade with a combination of clam base and chicken base, and add tomato sauce, fresh garlic, crushed chile pepper, chopped parsley, oregano, thyme, olive oil, lemon juice, fresh black pepper, capers and minced onions. Heat a heavy, oven-safe pan and sear the marinated fish in olive oil on one side to generate a savory caramelized flavor. Turn the fish and add white wine, lemon juice, some fresh whole clam and sliced olives. Reduce heat and cover until tender. Remove ingredients and serve with pasta topped with chopped parsley and crumbled feta cheese.
Intensely flavored marinades often are used in conjunction with coating systems for menu flexibility. Deep-fried, battered and breaded products are readily procured through foodservice distributors, and some amazingly creative ingredients are available on the industrial side. Many innovative coating styles also exist. The term “encrusted” means a protein is lightly coated with breadcrumbs or particulates, and it can be a non-fried, baked item. Often, an encrusted item can be seasoned breadcrumbs packed lightly and thinly on the surface of the seafood protein. This product can be used as a main course, appetizer or served tapas style. The small plate/big flavor concept has swept menu development and become quite prevalent.
Coriander/Sesame-encrusted Alaskan Scallops. Mix Chinese hot oil, sesame oil, minced ginger, garlic, ground star anise, coriander seed, rice vinegar, Chinese wine and soy sauce. Reserve half of the mixture. Lightly coat scallops, and let rest for three hours. Mix panko breading, chopped cilantro and black sesame seeds, and lightly coat the scallops. Heat non-stick pan to medium high heat and sear golden on each side and then let rest. For a great salad, serve over seasonal greens with chickpeas, red onion, diced sweet bell peppers, spicy red bell pepper vinaigrette and cilantro oil.
Utilizing texture is the key to encrusted coating systems. The use of chopped nuts is a great way to add a toasted savory flavor that marries well with seafood. Use nuts with breadcrumbs, herbs, chopped fruits, various grains, cereals or even just grated hard cheese. Be aware that anything containing a lot of sugar will caramelize faster and cook best in a low-temperature oven.
Jamaican Jerk. A tropical mainstay paste made from minced onion, scallions, fresh thyme leaves, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, hot pepper sauce, habañero or scotch bonnet pepper, brown sugar, tamarind and white vinegar, blended with oil. Marinade the fish for up to three hours in a light amount of the mixture. Toss with chopped macadamia or other nuts, pan sear until golden and serve with a chopped mango relish with lime juice and fresh chopped cilantro.
Surprisingly, coatings that work well with seafood are noodle and pastry products. Traditional Greek phyllo pastry sheets also make great wraps. Phyllo is available in foodservice and industrial formats where all layers are pre-laminated. It can be rolled out like pasta then wrapped neatly around pre-cut items and baked. Another Mediterranean pastry that works magic is kataifi pastry where slivers of pasta-like dough are wrapped around seafood for a unique, crispy ribbon affect. The coating can be made by simply blending par-cooked ground pasta, ramen Asian noodles, chopped won ton skins with black or white sesame seeds and a seasoned breadcrumb mixture. These are bright, textural and colorful coatings that can be baked or fried, often at low temperatures.
Sofrito Shrimp Twisters. Shrimp marinade of vegetable mirepoix and fire roasted red bell pepper, soup base, blended with roasted garlic puree, fresh parsley and black pepper olive oil, tomato paste, lemon juice, sea salt and a hint of rosemary and thyme. Rest for three hours and wrap individual shrimp with kataifi or phyllo pastry strips, and bake until golden brown. Serve with tzatziki yogurt dip for a great appetizer or tapas.
A great seafood meal always begins with quality, followed by the proper cooking method to feature the natural savory flavors found in the ingredients. Apply some SAS to balance levels of salt, acid and sweetness, and then treat your palate with textures and colors, as well as hot, cold and aromatic ingredients to create layering in the recipes.