plated fish
More consumers are seafood-savvy. That means developing and flavoring new seafood dishes requires a new level of creativity with culinary techniques and ingredients. 
SOURCE: Australis Inc.

After cereals, seafood might be the world’s most important food, furnishing about 15% of global protein intake. The benefits of a diet rich in seafood have long been touted for cholesterol-lowering effects and heart-healthy benefits. In recent years, specific components of seafood, such as omega-3s and certain roes, have earned recognition for adding special health benefits.

Lean fish is equivalent to beef or poultry in its protein yield (18–25% by weight), but it is much lower in calories. Protein is considered by many food authorities to be the single most important nutrient when considering a healthy, well-balanced diet.
In Asia, food technicians are far more advanced and knowledgeable in the use of fish protein in the diet. They have been extracting protein and other healthful components from fish for centuries. 
All over Asia, one sees the evidence of this. Fish balls in broth; fish cakes; and, most notably, surimi. The cold-water extraction of fish protein from whitefish, mainly pollock, has created a very stable resource for dietary protein, not only in Asia but around the world.
From a culinary perspective, seafood is as versatile and flavor-friendly as any other protein. Most finfish and shellfish can accommodate a wide range of flavor enhancements in the area of seasonings, marinades or sauces. And, unlike poultry or meats which have a limited variety of sources, seafood offers thousands of varieties and species with which to work.

Delicate Balance

With the abundance of seafood varieties comes an infinite amount of flavorful dishes that can be created with them. Simple dishes, such as sautéed sole with lemon butter, can be as exciting as an extravagant and highly seasoned bouillabaisse. 
However, as with all products made for consumers, taste has to be the number one criterion when developing seafood dishes.
Creating a highly flavorful seafood product can be challenging, because the final product should to be delicious, but one does not want to overpower the fish itself. Most fresh, saltwater finfish typically have a very faint aroma of the ocean and a subtle flavor of the sea. Freshwater fish can be delicate, like trout; or meaty and strong, like catfish.
Strong seasonings can blow out the delicate flavor of a lighter fish, say a trout or a sole, yet also boost the strong meatiness of catfish or swordfish. Shellfish -- crab, lobster, shrimp and mollusks -- tend to hold up better with more intense spices and seasonings than do lighter fare, such as finfish. However, some shellfish, such as lobster, also might do better with a lighter hand in the seasoning.
Using ethnic culinary preparation methods when developing flavors is an increasingly popular way to enhance the flavor of seafood products. Western methods of protein preparation sometimes omit the use of opposite tastes concepts, such as sugars in savory dishes or salty in sweet. The Chinese philosophy of always having three or four of the five basic tastes perceptible to humans is a proven method for creating craveable flavor profiles. 

Crunch Time

Combining multiple textures, spice levels and temperatures within a dish allows for continually unique ways of creating memorable products consumers will repeatedly support. This concept, labeled “Dynamic Contrast,” was developed by Stephen Witherly and Steven Hyde years ago during their research into the physiology of taste. The researchers learned the human palate was capable of detecting multiple changes in the mouth as one was eating, and this dynamic experience was desirable, providing an exciting eating occasion.
Chocolate and ice cream are great examples of how a food changes texture, temperature and flavors when eating. With this in mind, the same effects can be brought to seafood preparation through blending spices, chili peppers, salt and sugar to release flavor or affect the tongue and palate at different times and places. This will achieve Dynamic Contrast.
Crunchy crusts and coatings can add a signature texture to a range of seafood dishes, too. For example, adding crispy onions or tortilla strips to a seasoning is a great way to enhance the flavor and texture of fish. Creative uses of ethnic ingredients -- such as shredded coconut for an island flavor or crispy nori and toasted sesame seeds for an Asian note -- are simple, yet evocative.
Whole, toasted spices, like fennel, cumin or caraway seeds, add both flavor and texture. The technology of manufacturing textural particulates has improved during the past decade. Many processed vegetable suppliers offer a wide assortment of fried, grilled or dry products that can be added to a topping or seasoning, or included in a coating, in order to add texture.

New Seafood Ingredient: Sustainability

There is the potential need for a 23-32 million metric ton increase in seafood supply by 2020 to fulfill the increasing consumer demand for seafood. Yet, aquatic life throughout the world already is seriously threatened and, in many areas, collapsing entirely. Where all the needed seafood will come from -- and how it will be raised and harvested -- brings some serious concerns. 
The fishing industry has, for years, come under scrutiny for the effects it has on the levels of seafood and the ecosystems surrounding the waterways from which fish are caught or farmed and harvested. Through the efforts of multiple ecological organizations, consumers are more aware than ever of the sources, method of harvesting and types of fish that are sustainable. 
It suddenly is incumbent on product developers of seafood dishes to be acutely cognizant of consumers’ questions: “Is my seafood harvested in the U.S.?”; “How was it caught, and were any other marine animals in danger?”; “Was the oceanic ecosystem damaged?” 
All of these questions and more need to be addressed before beginning a project. Fish and shellfish product developers and their companies will need to make the decisions internally as to how to address the sources of the seafood being used for that new Pretzel-crusted Chipotle and Lime Baked Fish Filet or Thai Lemongrass Shrimp Skewers in the concept stage. If contract developing, then an extra layer is added, as the R&D team must alert the client to these issues prior to beginning any project to minimize misdirection. Merely shifting from, say, crab to surimi or an over-fished cod to swai or barramundi necessitates compensation for textures and flavors that might be subtle -- but can mean the difference between a successful product or a mediocre one.

Speaking of Barramundi

Shore-farmed aquaculture gained negative notice due to concerns about spreading disease (through escaped farmed fish); thus weakening the wild fish population. Inland fish farms also were susceptible to rampant disease with enclosed and often packed populations, plus leachate from chemicals and waste sometimes threatened water tables in the ground under the fish ponds.
A few years ago, seizing on a nascent idea, a few companies began the practice of tank-raising fish. Use of tanks -- some up to 8,000 or more gallons -- addressed a number of issues inherent in both fishing and aquaculturing.
However, closed-system, tank-raising of fish provides for clean, traceable seafood that’s free of mercury, PCBs and other contaminants. Also, controlled feed and feedings avoid exogenous strains and contaminants. 
One of the most popular tank-raised fish to be marketed is barramundi. Similar to sea bass, the barramundi fish also spawns in the ocean and matures in fresh water. They produce high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, even when fed a largely vegetarian diet. This is quite rare for a whitefish.
In controlling feed and feed conversion ratios and the type of feed used, tank-raised fish also are highly consistent, with uniform flavor and size perfectly suited to batch processing of formulations. Farmed barramundi typically are fed mostly vegetarian diets, with perhaps some additional protein from fish meal and inclusion of fish oil. By raising them in clean, circulating salt waters, the environment sees minimal pollution or habitat-generated effects, without worries of industrial or agricultural activity impact.
Pollution-free water is only part of the equation. Aquaculture typically uses a great deal of water. But, tank-raised systems employ water recirculation that not only cleans and filters the recycled water but can capture the effluvial mass for conversion into fertilizer. (Controlled fish population density and diet also adds a measure of control to the quality of this byproduct.)

Hooked on Process

There are a number of important factors to consider when developing seafood recipes for production on a commercial basis. Depending on the operation and what types of fish or shellfish are being proposed in the portfolio, building and filing a Seafood HACCP plan is recommended. Similar to the original HACCP programs, the seafood version governs how an organization purchases, stores and processes fish and shellfish for human consumption.
For information on processed seafood specifications and a list of approved seafood processors, production facilities may subscribe to the USDC Participants List for Firm, Facilities, and Products. This list is compiled and printed biannually by the U.S. Department of Commerce in conjunction with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
NOAA is a government agency that oversees all seafood, whether for import, export or sold domestically. NOAA’s consumer-safety inspectors and officers travel to fishing vessels, processors and cold-storage facilities around the world to evaluate seafood processors and retailers. NOAA has quality officers that regularly investigate reports of fraud.
Still, it’s up to the processor to test products against their specifications. For example, only a point-of-purchase inspection will show if excess water glaze on a delivery of IQF seafood has been included in the price, or if IQF 41-50 count shrimp declared as having no more than 4% broken pieces is, in fact, at 4% or less.
One test for the latter: Rinse the shrimp for approximately two minutes under cold water to remove the water glaze that protects the shrimp through the freeze/thaw process. After rinsing, weigh and count the whole shrimp and broken pieces. If you have more than the 4% allotted for broken pieces, discuss the specs with the supplier. Broken shrimp pieces are fine for processing soups or stews, but paying for the higher percentage and not the lower is not acceptable. Variations of this test can be used to confirm that other IQF seafood purchases match their specifications.
As with any project in the food product-development process, familiarity with raw materials and ingredients can be pivotal. Suppliers should have many avenues open to address any challenges or functional needs in the development stream using the ingredients and systems in their portfolio. 
For the seafood itself in fish and shellfish formulations, it is impossible to overestimate the importance of traceability and knowing where and how the product is raised or harvested. Sustainability not only means the longevity of the source and the associated ecological impacts, but also the availability of the current inventory of a certain product to ensure long-term production