Shareable Seafood: In The Bag
The New Orleans-style seafood boil has taken Chicago by storm over the past year, as new restaurants with names such as The Angry Crab, The Crazy Crab, The Crab Pad, Mad Boiler, Asian Cajun and Captain’s Catch continue to expand across the city.
The menus of these restaurants are all similar, but they offer dining guests nearly endless customizability. Dishes are built from four ingredient categories. First is a selection of shellfish, including various species of crab, whole or headless shrimp, clams, mussels, lobster and crawfish. Guests then choose a flavoring sauce or rub, such as garlic butter, sweet chile, lemon pepper or Cajun spice. Next, one of four heat levels from mild to extra-spicy is chosen. Add-on ingredients are then selected, including corn cobbettes, boiled potatoes, sausage, rice and noodles.
The selected seafood and add-ons are then boiled in a pot, strained and placed in a large plastic bag to which the sauce or rub is added, and then sealed. The captured steam expands and inflates the bag, which is brought to the table on a flat tray, making for an impressive presentation of a dish that is ideal for sharing. The meal is consumed right from the bag, with the aid of steel shell crackers and picks, forks, chopsticks and, for the prudent, large plastic bibs.
The growing popularity of this dining style is understandable. Enjoying a meal at these venues during prime time puts one in the middle of a huge party, with diners sitting elbow-to-elbow at communal tables, getting messy as they dig into boldly flavored, high-quality seafood accompanied by a microbrew, chilled sake or craft cocktail.
While this format may seem like a niche opportunity, full-service operators could menu a seafood boil as an LTO or chalkboard special, creating a single, specific offering of seafood and accompaniments in the bag, but allowing the guest to choose from a selection of sauces, rubs and heat levels—retaining some of the customizability and all of the shareability. This could be a particularly opportune special offered on Fridays and throughout the Lenten season.
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- Shareable Seafood: In The Bag