Over and over, seafood demonstrates how well it plays in the shareables category. Chefs are making their offerings playful and approachable, then ensuring craveability for big menu success. Three chefs we talked to use global mash-ups as a way to introduce differentiation and modern appeal with their seafood appetizers. Another highlights regionality while elevating the dish into something truly special.
Bhel of the Ball
As poke bowls continue their strong showing on American menus, they are paving the way for global takes, like an Indian version that has found success at Baar Baar, an Indian gastrobar in New York. The traditional ingredients in bhel puri, the Indian puffed rice salad, are at the center of the Tuna Bhel appetizer, including puffed black rice, savory sev (crunchy seasoned chickpea noodles), boiled potato, green mango, tamarind chutney, green chile and mint. But the dish moves into creative territory by adding diced raw tuna, avocado and green apple. Radish and cilantro cress accent the dish.
Chef/Partner Sujan Sarkar credits the dish’s unique texture and flavor combination for its success. “Tamarind chutney introduces a hint of sweet and sour, while sev and puffed black rice add to the texture,” says Sarkar. “Avocado brings in creaminess, while the green mango, green apple and mint chutney add a freshness to the dish. Radish and the hint of green chile lend pungency.”
Creamed spinach is both a menu staple at steakhouses and a nostalgic comfort food for many Americans. Executive Chef Carlos Cruz updates the dish at The Promontory, a stylish, modern eatery, by subbing in hearth-fired poblanos for the spinach.
“Taking a classic such as creamed spinach and putting a twist on it makes for such a delightful surprise,” he says. “The dish has a nice creamy texture as well as a pleasant kick from the poblanos.”
Currently, the creamed poblano serves as a topping for the Oysters Rockefeller, with Parmesan and herb bread crumbs. Cruz calls out other ways it can be menued, from a killer baked side dish to a rajas taco build.
Fried clams are a New England tradition, but they’re gaining favor across the country as well, thanks to seafood’s recent positioning as a trend-forward casual shareable. At French-inspired Craigie on Main, Chef/Owner Tony Maws reimagines this coastal classic into a fine-dining favorite. His Crispy-Fried Essex Clams are breaded and fried, then garnished with preserved lemon and pickled peppers. The dish is paired with a dramatic dipping sauce of dried black olive and squid ink anchoïade, which is a Provençal dip made with anchovies, olive oil, white-wine vinegar and garlic.
“The flavors of lemon and pickled peppers enhance the flavors of the clams, while giving a subtle zest to the dish,” says Maws. “The dish is accompanied by the salty and bitter taste of the anchoïade.” This rendition of fried clams was inspired by his time at now-closed Clio in Boston, where Chef Ken Oringer breaded clams in panko. “He gets the credit for that idea,” says Maws. “At Craigie on Main, we played with the breading a bit, added togarashi, and came up with a play on tartar sauce where the pickles—in this case lemons and peppers—are on top and the dip is a squid-ink anchoïade.”
As ceviche becomes more mainstream, an adventurous octopus ceviche paired with a familiar Latin format has become one of the top-selling appetizers at The Locale in Boca Raton, Fla.. This New American concept brings Latin flavor to its beach-town menu. The Octopus Plantains start with a fried green-plantain base.
Executive Chef Joshua Miranda usually tops tostones with guacamole or cheese, but he decided to put his own spin on the dish at The Locale. Here, he tops the classic fried plantain with octopus ceviche and avocado salsa. The tender octopus pairs well with the ceviche’s notes of lime, sweet tomato and creamy avocado. The indulgent plantain base gives this dish a handheld approachability that makes it a great bar bite or appetizer.
“In my opinion, what makes it the best is that it’s one of the items that we offer that is most indicative of a Latin flair,” says Miranda. While The Locale also offers an entrée of octopus, the use of this less-familiar seafood in the appetizer category is a smart, lower-risk approach for chefs to introduce it to their guests.