Historically, frozen seafood has had a bad reputation. Products were often frozen at or near the point of sale, several days after being pulled out of the water. By then, processors and fishmongers were freezing already aging fish. This bias against frozen seafood unfortunately endures today.
The good news is that the tide is turning for frozen seafood. Recent technological and procedural advances in the seafood supply chain now offer chefs the opportunity to work with products whose flavor was literally frozen in time.
These developments have transformed the freezing process from an outdated system for arresting spoilage to a proactive means of capturing the pristine quality of fresh seafood. Fresh frozen—or “frozen fresh” as an apt descriptor—connotes this sea change in the quality of frozen seafood. It’s a fitting phrase because, when properly handled from the freezer to the pan, fresh-frozen seafood delivers inspiring quality. Fresh-frozen seafood is defined as a product that is frozen directly after harvest at ultra-low temperatures to lock in the fresh-caught taste, texture and nutrients.
Most of today’s coastal processing facilities in the United States, and even some vessels still at sea, are equipped to freeze seafood at very low temperatures, very rapidly within hours of being pulled from the sea. This, in combination with a protective sheath of micro-misted water, protects the flesh from damage caused by ruptured cell walls, reduces exudation (the amount of water released from the protein during the cooking process), prevents oxidation of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and staves off protein breakdown that leads to spoilage.
Frozen seafood also carries the benefit of a smaller transportation footprint, due to the ability to ship it via more efficient transport rather than rush to market via airplane, and reduces the incidence of food waste because you only thaw what you need. It is important to note that fresh-frozen seafood doesn’t demand its own timeline for being served, but rather becomes a convenience protein to be pulled from the freezer just hours before it’s needed. Due to these efficiencies, fresh-frozen seafood is often priced quite competitively.
Market research firm Datassential recently surveyed 350 restaurant operators about how seafood flows in and out of their kitchens. The study reveals that while 40 percent of operators report buying fresh seafood because of its perception as being higher quality, a short shelf life of fresh seafood was also a chief complaint. And over half of the operators buying fresh seafood say they end up freezing it anyway. And chances are they are not using state-of-the-art equipment to do so.
Buying fresh-frozen seafood can reduce the anxiety of procuring high-quality seafood. Fresh-frozen seafood is available from fisheries and farms all over the globe and delivered through any reputable supplier. One of the best places chefs can now look to for the highest quality seafood ingredients is the very place we’ve shunned for so long: the freezer.