Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

12 Ways with Seafood Chefs are exploring new horizons in seafood menu development

Miami’s Baja Bao House stars Jose Mendin’s take on global street food. Here, his Tuna Poke Guacamole showcases poke’s reach, featured over guacamole and served with chips as a premium bar snack.
PHOTO CREDIT: Brigitte Schambon

The seafood category offers a great snapshot of innovation as a whole in modern foodservice, where global ingredients, flavor complexity and creative combinations are driving trial and building business. Inspired menus are showcasing seafood’s pristine, premium character, positioning it in a casual, relaxed posture. Here are 12 categories where opportunities abound, helping answer the call for new and exciting while satisfying a desire for wholesome protein choices.

1 Poke’s Next Play

Poke has lost its “otherness” in many markets, now becoming a viable option for lunch, particularly in a customizable bowl format. Now that this marinated fish is embraced by a number of consumers, what’s the next step? Poke moves seamlessly as a wholesome protein option over salads, tucked into tacos, tumbled over artisan toast—even giving a premium lift to nachos.

  • Tuna Poke Guacamole: Fresh-made guacamole topped with fresh tuna, seaweed and sesame seeds
    —Baja Bao House by Jose Mendin, Miami Beach, Fla.
  • Tuna Poke Tacos, served on a crispy wonton shell with seaweed salad and ponzu sauce
    —Stirr, Dallas

2 Seafood In a Bowl

Salmon and tuna in particular seem to have found a welcome home in bowl builds, often added as a premium protein in the customizable world of fast casuals. Flavor detail is important, and as the opportunity widens, bowls starring seafood are popping up in segments outside of fast casual, working as wholesome lunch and brunch options.

  • Pick Your Hoisin: Hoisin-glazed salmon, grilled lemon kale, charred broccoli, zucchini noodles, red pepper flakes, avocado, cider-Dijon dressing
    —Legal Fish Bowl, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Grain Bowl with seared tuna, runny egg and collard slaw
    —Superba Food + Bread, Los Angeles

3 Seafood That Takes the Cake

Seafood cakes have long been a staple of seafood-focused restaurants. Today, their flavor stories have moved beyond the East Coast tradition, serving as a great carrier for other compelling flavor combinations. At Bonchon Chicken, a fried chicken fast casual, the tteokbokki is a main dish featuring rice cakes and fish cakes simmered with scallions and onions in Bonchon hot sauce, topped with mozzarella and kimari (seaweed rolls).

  • Blue Crab Cakes: Lump blue crab, romesco, fresh basil aïoli and pickled mustard seeds
    —Red Herring, Eagle Rock, Calif.
  • Grilled Alaska Salmon Cakes served on a bed of rice with a choice of two sides
    —Captain D’s, based in Nashville
Captain D’s Grilled Alaska Salmon Cakes star wild-caught salmon, bread crumbs, red pepper and scallion. The cakes are offered as both an entrée or as an add-on to a customizable meal.Captain D’s

Captain D’s Grilled Alaska Salmon Cakes star wild-caught salmon, bread crumbs, red pepper and scallion. The cakes are offered as both an entrée or as an add-on to a customizable meal.

 

4 Cool Ceviches and Crudos

It seems that there’s been a surge in ceviches and crudos on menus, thanks in part to their shareability, ease of signaturization and clean flavor profiles. Raw and cured seafood in general also got the green light from consumers, who signaled interest when they embraced poke with such enthusiasm.

  • Drunken Snapper with tequila, cilantro, Key lime
    —Upland, Miami
  • Ahi Tuna Tartare: Handline tuna, wasabi-avocado mousse, tropical salsa
    —Seasons 52, based in Orlando, Fla.
This Cebiche Tasting at Tanta, a Peruvian restaurant in Chicago, wows diners with the Clásico (chef’s selection of fish, red onions and cilantro), Criollo (fish, scallop, shrimp, calamari, aji amarillo) and Nikei (ahi tuna, avocado, cucumber and tamarind).Tanta

This Cebiche Tasting at Tanta, a Peruvian restaurant in Chicago, wows diners with the Clásico (chef’s selection of fish, red onions and cilantro), Criollo (fish, scallop, shrimp, calamari, aji amarillo) and Nikei (ahi tuna, avocado, cucumber and tamarind).

 

5 Preserving Seafood

Seacuterie is giving charcuterie a run for its money, stealing the idea of curing and preserving and applying it to seafood in intriguing, head-turning presentations. PB Catch in Palm Beach, Fla., piques guest curiosity with items like octopus torchon and salmon pastrami. Restaurants across the country are tapping preserved seafood, looking to this kind of curated, memorable shareable to help deliver a singular experience.

  • Sea Charcuterie Board with scallop boudin blanc, swordfish prosciutto and house-cured sardines in escabeche
    —Fiola Mare, Los Angeles
  • Smoked Fish Dip with pickled red onion, Tabasco and crackers
    —The Bell Marker, San Diego

6 It’s a Mash-up World

Chefs are applying global touches across their menus, capitalizing on consumers’ fascination with bold, exciting flavors. That strategy certainly works in the seafood realm, making everything from bar snacks and bowl builds to entrées more enticing. Global mash-ups also help make seafood more craveable, boasting distinct flavor combinations wrapped up in familiar profiles.

  • Bangs Island Mussels with ají-soy butter, Bianco di Napoli tomato, white wine, and grilled ciabatta with ají panca aïoli
    —Señor Bear, Denver
  • Tunisian Tuna Crudo with apple, buttermilk, harissa and pistachio
    —Emmaline, Houston

7 Casual Caviar

Caviar seems to want to join in the modern casual movement, offering up its briny, popping deliciousness to menu options beyond blinis and forma tastings. Chef David Chang is helping propel the trend. His Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York serves a Caviar and Fried Chicken Meal, pairing cold fried chicken with caviar.

  • Caviar Frites: Hot and crispy frites topped with crème fraîche and two kinds of caviar
    —Petrossian, West Hollywood, Calif.
  • Omelet with salmon, steelhead roe and crème fraîche
    —Marie-Jeanne, Chicago
Petrossian in West Hollywood, Calif., turns to the perfect french fry as a carrier for two kinds of caviar, a drizzle of crème fraîche and a finish of chives.Petrossian

Petrossian in West Hollywood, Calif., turns to the perfect french fry as a carrier for two kinds of caviar, a drizzle of crème fraîche and a finish of chives.

 

8 Fish Collars Suit Up

Long a popular item in Asia, fish collars are just now starting to pop up on more menus in the United States. Prized for their rich, meaty flavor, chefs are showcasing them in various ways, using everything from salmon and halibut to yellowtail, grilling, smoking or simmering them with great effect.

  • 7-Spice Market Collar: Catch-of-the-day collar with a seven-spice blend and sesame slaw
    —Roe Seafood, Long Beach, Calif.
  • Smoked Fish Collar with yuzu salt and lemon
    —Kemuri Tatsu-Ya, Austin, Texas
Chef Arthur Gonzalez features catch-of-the-day fish collar on the menu at Roe Seafood in Long Beach, Calif., seasoning it with a proprietary seven-spice blend and topping it with a sesame slaw.Roe Seafood

Chef Arthur Gonzalez features catch-of-the-day fish collar on the menu at Roe Seafood in Long Beach, Calif., seasoning it with a proprietary seven-spice blend and topping it with a sesame slaw.

9 Octopus Reaches Out

Calamari is still king of the cephalopod hill, but octopus is seeing a lot more play on menus. It definitely has plate presentation locked up, impressing with its curling tentacles and uneven surface—perfect for picking up glazes and chars. Chefs are roasting, grilling, braising and poaching it—using flavor combinations that express the menu’s personality.

  • What’s Kraken?: Octopus, chorizo and giardiniera on toast with black sesame spread
    —The Mockingbird, Nashville, Tenn.
  • Polpo with lemon-marinated ceci, Calabrese chile butter, rucola and fennel mixture, aged balsamic
    —Virtù Honest Craft, Scottsdale, Ariz.
  • Spanish Octopus with sweet potato purée, braised fennel and chorizo
    —Wewatta Point, Denver
At The Mockingbird in Nashville, the What’s Kraken? deftly combines the octopus and toast trends.Emily B. Hall

At The Mockingbird in Nashville, the What’s Kraken? deftly combines the octopus and toast trends.

 

10 Fried Seafood 2.0

Thanks to that ever-loving combination of crispy, salty and fatty, fried seafood has always been a thing. Today, the opportunity looks beyond the beloved popcorn shrimp and fried calamari, creating singular experiences that still answer that primal call for craveability.

  • Dill Fried Smickles: Smelt and pickles, tartar
    —Shaker + Spear, Seattle
  • Black Bass Schnitzel with winter greens and piccata
    —Camperdown Elm, Brooklyn, N.Y.
  • Fish Sandwich: Beer-battered fish, American cheese, hot sauce, aïoli, North Star pickles
    —Parsons Chicken & Fish, Chicago

11 Crispy Fish Skins

Tasty, and boasting a rich concentration of omega-3 oils, fish skins are being played up for their “Wow!” factor, either served as a bar snack or used as a unique textural element in bowls, salads and entrées. In Sausalito, Calif., Fish restaurant menus a fish skin chicharrones, dusted in fennel pollen.

  • Sashimi of sea bass, quinoa tabbouleh, crispy fish skin and tzatziki
    —Timna, New York
  • Buffalo Fish Wings: Basket of fish wings, chile-lime hot sauce and celery hearts
    —Stiltsville Fish Bar, Miami Beach, Fla.

12 Shareable Shellfish

A bowl of mussels served with crostini, or even a classic shrimp cocktail, have always had a place on shareable menus. But today, the game is sharper, more intense, calling for creative takes on shareable shellfish—pulling from global pantries or extending familiar flavor systems in inviting, memorable ways.

  • Bruschetta Mussels: Lobster, white wine, marinated tomato, basil, garlic, crostini
    —Flex Mussel, New York
  • Singapore Chili Clams with fermented black beans, tomato and mint
    —Night Heron, Houston
The Buffalo Fish Wings at Stiltsville Fish Bar in Miami Beach, Fla., makes crispy fish skins more approachable by leveraging the well-liked Buffalo flavor system.Stiltsville Fish Bar

The Buffalo Fish Wings at Stiltsville Fish Bar in Miami Beach, Fla., makes crispy fish skins more approachable by leveraging the well-liked Buffalo flavor system.

  From the Mar/Apr 2018 issue of Flavor & the Menu magazine. Read the full issue online or check if you qualify for a free print subscription.

 

 

About The Author

mm

Katie Ayoub is managing editor of Flavor & The Menu. She has been working in foodservice publishing for more than 16 years and on the Flavor team since 2006. She won a 2015 Folio award for her Flavor & The Menu article, Heritage Matters. In 2006, she won “Best Culinary Article” from the Cordon D’Or for an article on offal.