Get the Most Bang for Your Buck with Seafood
As many people consider it a delicacy, seafood can get pretty expensive. That's why you want to source the best product and buy only what you need to, ultimately, get the most bang for your buck. Whether you're buying and preparing lobster or salmon, there are many ways to make seafood go as far as possible.
If you are comfortable butchering fish, then definitely buy whole fish. You can get any range of fish — barramundi, tuna, salmon and more — and either cook and serve it whole or you can break it down and use all the different parts, including the belly, cheeks, head and collar.
"With salmon, we take off the belly, cure it, do a quick smoke for gravlax and use it for brunch," said Giuseppe Tentori, executive chef/partner at GT Fish & Oyster in Chicago. "With fish heads from like halibut or monkfish, you can use the cheeks. We sear halibut cheeks. It's a heartier texture and more meaty. In summer, we'll do roasted heirloom tomato and grilled halibut cheeks with a nice vinaigrette with basil, pickled garlic and olives."
And most importantly, you'll need to think about how best to keep your catch fresh. If you're not selling it all in a day, seafood can go bad quickly if you don't store it properly.
"Keep it very cold," said Matt Frensinski, corporate chef at Mercato della Pescheria at the Venetian in Las Vegas. "We store all of our fish in pans with holes and crushed ice over the top. This keeps our fish fresh and allows for drainage. Just because they lived in water doesn't mean you want to store them in it."
Once you've butchered a fish or removed the meat from shellfish, keep the bones and shells. Those are fantastic to make sauces, stocks, soups and more. Even fish tails can make a fun, albeit adventurous, appetizer or snack.
"Fish heads have a lot of meat on them" said chef Rob McDaniel of SpringHouse in Alexander City, Ala. "We've made soup with the heads to use that meat. And I grew up in the South and we would fry whole fish and the tail gets crispy like a potato chip. With some of the tails, there's always a little nibble of meat and we'll fry those and eat it like an artichoke."
Even before you get to decide how you're going to use your seafood once you have it in your kitchen, you need to order it. Taking stock of your needs, what you used the week before and other points to check off your list will help ensure you don't have waste.
"Make sure you have a system in place so you're ordering seafood appropriately," said Tony Gentile, corporate executive chef/co-owner of Flagship Restaurant Group, which owns 20-plus restaurants in seven states, including Plank Seafood Provisions in Nebraska. "It allows you to have enough knowledge of what you need to order."
Also, it's not just about using all the parts of a fish, but even buying fish like sardines, anchovies or mackerel will save you money. They're less expensive and smaller yet still full of flavor. And shellfish like mussels are a great option, too.
"If you leave mussels in a shell, you can serve them in a nice sauce and the plate will look full, but it's not," Tentori added. "You can use 16 to 18 pieces and make it look like there's more on the plate. The guest thinks they're getting more."
Not that we advocate deception, but if you're trying to stretch your seafood budget, a little trickery can go a long way.