While seafood is a hit with customers year-round, summertime is synonymous with lighter eating, grilled specialties and creative seafood presentations. So whether it’s fish, lobster or oysters, every club and resort books extra seats on the seafood train for the season.
“Seafood is a must for all restaurants, but determining what’s right for yours, and when, is crucial, so you can then focus on presenting the best quality at the right price,” says Billy Della Ventura, Executive Chef at the Boston College Club, a business club located on the 36th floor of the Bank of America building in Boston’s financial district.
Della Ventura, who sources his seafood from Rhode Island, Cape Cod and Canada, feels it’s better to have fewer choices and sell everything, than to have too much fish and risk waste. So he tries to make his seafood menu as local and seasonal as possible.
SUMMING IT UP
Chef Norman Van Aken of Norman’s Orlando, a fine dining restaurant inside The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, takes a similar approach. “When visitors [come to] Florida, it is quite natural for them to think of seafood first,” says Van Aken, who has the built-in advantage of cooking on a peninsula, with fresh seafood all around. “Couple that with vast lakes and rivers,” he says, “and we have a miraculous eco-system that we want to take full advantage of.”
At Norman’s, the most popular seafood dishes include grilled swordfish with mango barbeque, rhum and pepper-painted, pan-cooked black grouper, and sauteed Key West pink shrimp “Veracruz.” For a more casual menu, Van Aken recommends ceviches and even sushi. “It takes minimal ingredients, and the preparations are best kept simple,” he says.
At the Boston College Club, Della Ventura always has several salmon dishes on his menu, in varying textures and flavors. For example, he’ll add Dijon mustard and Panko breadcrumbs to a nice cut of salmon. “The Panko browns up nice and adds a crunch with every bite,” he explains. Or, he’ll roll the salmon in herbs, like thyme and lemon, and olive oil for “beautiful flavor,” served with a lentil or bean stew “for a nice clean, healthy accompaniment.”
With all seafood dishes, Della Ventura skips the butter and only cooks with olive oil or canola oil, including reductions for sauces. Without cream, butter or starch, he relies on fresh fruit and vegetable juices to flavor his sauces, before reducing them with shallots and wine.
During summer, Tony Breeze, Executive Chef at the four-diamond Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina in Cambridge, Md., relies on blue crab, a staple in the Chesapeake region. While crab cakes are the club’s most popular dish, Breeze does a wide variety of dishes geared towards summer ingredients, like crab cocktails with sweet tomatoes from the Eastern Shore. He also does a crab vegetable soup, finished with a sizzling hot crab ball, a crab Caesar salad, and a Blue Crab Banger, a crab version of the renowned British Banger.
But it’s not all crab. Breeze also has a section on his menu called “Really Fresh Fish,” which includes a choice of three types of fish, freshly caught and offered grilled, pan-fried, broiled or, when appropriate, blackened. “This is the biggest-selling section of our menu,” says Breeze. Other popular items include fish tacos, seafood chowders and seafood sausages.
Tales of the Sea
“I always think of my dishes as telling a story,” says Van Aken, who uses the “explosive” primary colors of the Caribbean to help make his seafood presentations pop. “Working with the palate of tropical foods we have in South Florida, that means plantains, black beans, coconut, yucca [and] a riot of tropical fruits [and] spices.” But everything is deliberate, as Van Aken is always “mindful of the story line, [ensuring] the correct contributions without overstating things.”
If you try to make seafood dishes to complicated on the plate, you risk ruining the dish, the chefs counsel. “With super-fresh product, the preparation should remain simple, in order to taste the pure flavors of the seafood,” says Della Ventura. Using the delicateness or strength of the fish as his metric, he suggests first highlighting the fish, and then worrying about the accompanying flavors.
Breeze agrees: Anything from his “Really Fresh Fish” menu is prepared simply “to allow the true freshness of the fish to be the prominent part of the plate,” he says. For example, he serves freshly steamed vegetables and risotto or a potato dish alongside seafood entrees, plus a garnish of lemon and wakame seaweed salad.
But sometimes, it pays to get creative. Breeze’s menu includes a shrimp-cocktail dish called the “007 Shrimp Martini—Shaken not Stirred.” The shrimp is presented in a cocktail shaker with a shot of lemon vodka, shaken tableside and then poured into a martini glass, to provide members with a fun twist on a classic dish.
Other popular presentations on Breeze’s menu include miniature sauté pans for seafood appetizers, and a bamboo steamer basket for an Asian salmon with stir-fried soba noodles.
Getting Kids Into the Water
When it comes to kids and seafood, it’s not always a match made in heaven. But often, the milder a fish, the more kid-friendly it will be. Van Aken’s pan-cooked filet of yellowtail with mashed potatoes and citrus butter is a big seller with kids. Renaming dishes can also make them more kid-friendly.
“Years ago, back in Key West, we learned of a dish called Snapper Tropicale,” says Van Aken, who prefers not to offer fried fish and French fries, but wanted to serve something youngsters could enjoy. “I changed it up some and renamed it ‘Fish and Fruit.’ Almost all kids love our tropical fruits, and we make a sauce of about four of them that goes over a mild filet of snapper. They mop it up. And they get a nice portion of fruit along with the protein beneficial fish.”
Another way to appeal to youth is by offering small-plate versions of entrees. “As much as we encourage kids to eat healthier, we have noticed that the kids who do order fish have parents who eat in a similarly healthy style,” says Breeze. Della Ventura finds the fried stuff still works best with kids, like salmon and potato cakes, crab fritters or clam cakes.
It’s no secret that the world’s waters are overfished, and where fish comes from is a growing concern with diners that every chef and F&B manager must be prepared to address and explain. The increased demand from seafood’s growing popularity, at the same time that supplies are shrinking, has also prompted price increases that must be factored into sourcing decisions.
Here are some tips for effectively dealing with all aspects of the sustainability issue:
Buy local: “Increasingly, we learn that we are responsible for not only enjoying this bounty, but preserving it,” says Norman Van Aken of Norman’s Orlando, a fine dining restaurant inside The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes.
So take advantage of your location, following the leads of Billy Della Ventura, Executive Chef at the Boston College Club, who sources scallops from Nantucket, and Tony Breeze, Executive Chef at the four-diamond Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina in Cambridge, Md., who reduces his carbon footprint by purchasing crab and rockfish from local producers.
Promote lesser-known fish: Van Aken does a Tasting Menu to introduce guests to under-the-radar fish, which are usually more sustainable. Make sure the wait staff sees and tastes everything first, so they can vouch for the fish when asked about it by diners.
Use everything: “Incorporate every part of the seafood you are buying,” says Della Ventura. “If you are trimming the belly meat of salmon, you need to come up with a dish to utilize the product—perhaps fish tacos or a chilled salad.”
View Recipes for:
Greek Crab Crostini with Onion Relish
Broiled Local Rockfish with Summer Salsa and Micro Greens with Lemon Mosto Oil
Grilled Tuna with Papaya Chutney
Cod with Potatoes, Peppers and Chorizo
Swordfish Brochette Tabbouleh