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Top 10 Trends in Seafood


The summer is almost over – those unbelievable sunsets on the beach, the great seafood restaurants, that healthy glow that comes from a summer vacation. But wait! There is at least part of the fun that can stay with you no matter where you live. Fish is coming into its own with a prime spot on the menu. And now, The Food Channel® & Beyond the Plate brings you the latest trend focus: a deep dive into seafood. So you may have to leave the beach behind, but you don’t have to sacrifice the taste of fresh seafood in many great new recipes. The list is based on research conducted by The Food Channel and the International Food Futurists™ (The IFF is an organization formed in 1997 specifically to promote the public awareness of the necessity to plan for the present and future uses of food to meet the needs and desires of the world population). Here’s what we see:

1. Keep an Open Mind (and Mouth) to Discover New Seafood

It’s not new to the ocean, but it is new to the menu: the sardine, the Chesapeake Ray, the red sea urchin, the bluefish—as well as squid and octopus. You might even find mackerel, herring and periwinkles. Some of these are ‘old time’ food, such as the sardine—reminiscent of Depression-era eating with tinned food that stretched a meal. Others are emerging species being introduced as a way of stretching nature’s catch while the waters struggle to catch up with the popularity of traditional seafood items. Bluefish, for example, doesn’t have the same familiarity as flounder but is great grilled or in sauces, such as the ragu at Saraghina in New York. Some of these fish even have superior health benefits, such as the Chesapeake Ray—available at Zoe’s Steak and Seafood in Virginia Beach—with its low fat, high flavor profile making it a good substitute for red meat. Whatever the reason, people are more willing to experiment with new tastes and types of seafood, especially in restaurants which are the ideal place to be introduced to new ideas. Blue Water Café, in Vancouver, Canada, is the poster child for introducing new seafood ideas, and we predict other restaurants are taking notice. It happened with tilapia a short time ago. It was a fish no one recognized until it started showing up on menus and in grocery stores a few years back, and barramundi is in line to go mainstream soon. Watch closely for what’s next.

2. Fish by Mail

Overnight shipping’s the newest way to ensure your fish is fresh—and fresh is not just a trend when it comes to seafood; it’s become a mandatory requirement for many types of food. Some people are turned away from eating fish due to fears that it won’t be fresh and might not be safe to eat. If you live on a coast, the fears diminish. Well, now everyone can have the coastal experience if they are willing to pay the freight. Companies are springing up to offer the consumer home delivery of Alaskan salmon, Maine shellfish, and a variety of Seattle seafood. You get the fish along with some serious packaging using ice packs, gel packs, and a variety of coolers—including some that are reusable and carry a security deposit for safe return. Bottom line: ‘Flown in fresh’ is no longer an option restricted only to high-end seafood restaurants. What can overnight service do for you? Maybe show up with tonight’s dinner.

3. Aquaculture and Sustainability

Aquaculture is a term you’ll see more of as people combine their desire for healthy eating with their desire to protect the environment. People are becoming highly concerned about the issues of overfishing and lack of sustainable practices that could result in our supply of delectable seafood drying up. Pundits predict that even everyday fish such as cod and haddock may be endangered. One answer is Aquaculture, the term for eco-conscious farming of the waters. A key tenet of the aqua farmer code is to do all you can do to ensure nature can replenish what you catch. This non-profit trade association is dedicated to advancing environmentally and socially responsible aquaculture. As a responsible provider to the restaurant industry, U.S. Foodservice, sponsors of the seafood information found on these pages, is a founding member of the Global Aquaculture Alliance. Read about the GAA at www.gaalliance.org to learn about seafood sustainability.

4. Seafood + Ethnic Flavors

People will become comfortable ordering Ceviche or Cioppino—after all, everyone eventually learned to say chipotle, didn’t they? And the next clam chowder will be Chupe de Camarones, a shrimp chowder from Peru. Asian sauces are big with breaded seafood, and spicy broths are being used to bring added flavor to fish that might otherwise be somewhat flat. Mariscos (seafood) entrees on the menu will incorporate concepts such as a truffle sauce, Buerre blanc and demi-glace, and are just as likely to include octopus as they are shrimp. Expect a lot more heat and spice, especially from chefs willing to experiment with chili paste, Worchestershire, and wasabi. Take a dip, not in the water, but in accompaniments that incorporate the flavors of the Tropics—we’re already seeing a pina colada dip served with coconut shrimp, chili sauce mixed with marmalade, and mango chutney contrasting with the heat of a Caribbean Salmon. Seafood paired with fruit flavors adds even more of a health factor and will double the movement on this trend. In fact, papaya, apple and mango are the fastest moving accompaniments. Expect to see it cross over into butters and expand to include key lime and a variety of fruit jams.

5. New Methods on the Menu

Just when you were getting used to sushi, now you can get your fish cooked again. Trendy methods on the menu include unexpected seafood casseroles, plus grilling, roasting, and more. High-end preparation techniques such as truffled, poached and caramelized are growing in popularity, and diners are drawn to terms such as ‘macadamia nut encrusted’ (try it with mahi-mahi, salmon or shrimp). Wood fired grilling is big, with Red Lobster leading the chains with the addition of oak-grilling methods and trained grill masters in all of its locations. Casseroles are getting an update, too, such as seafood mixed with bleu cheese and noodles and topped with toasted walnuts—a bit of a change from tuna casserole with crushed potato chips! In this economy, though, casseroles offer value and a bit of nostalgia along with the health benefits of those omega-3’s. One thing to watch for when you cook at home is sardine meat packed like tuna and offered with some of the same recipe ideas. Distributors are offering restaurant operators more fresh fish than ever—minimally processed, not breaded or marinated.

6. Designer Fish

Sure, you expect the labels on your jeans, but on your lobster? It’s a subtle way to show people that the fish is fresh, safe, and healthy—identify it with a trusted brand. For example, Linda Bean of the L.L. Bean outdoor store family has a new company, ‘Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine’, offering Maine lobster with her own brand on it. Positive terminology that will rise to the surface include troll-caught, wild harvest and chemical-free. Distributors are beginning to go by calendars that identify which seafood are in season at any given time and are selling seasonally, too. Also look for certification from sources that promote environmental choices in seafood, such as the Marine Stewardship Council, where U.S. Foodservice is certified. Another certification source is the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch, a consumer education program offered through the waterside aquarium. Learn about the choices you make and how it matters at, www.montereybayaquarium.org When it’s all on the label, perhaps you can call it ‘see food.’

7. Lobster is the New White Fish

It’s all about affordability in today’s economy, without sacrificing flavor. And restaurant chefs are introducing new tactics to make sure those more expensive seafood items don’t get sunk in the process. For example, there is a move on to change people’s perception of lobster as a luxury dish. That, coupled with the desire people have for a little bit of indulgence in bad economic times, means you’ll see more dishes such as lobster mac ‘n cheese and lobster ravioli. And think about seafood starters. For example, if you’ve been surprised recently to find mussels on the tapas menu, look again. Mussels lose their rubbery texture when cooked right (with plenty of liquid), just like when calamari went mainstream a few years ago. Restaurants are picking up on the cheap availability and positioning various seafood items as everyday staples: Crab cakes. Calamari. Clam Chowder. Appetizers are a popular way to incorporate more seafood into one’s diet and offer restaurateurs a way to tempt the diner to spend just a little more. We predict that mussels and oysters will rise in popularity, and that mini-dishes using scallops and lobster will begin to showcase more and more chefs’ creativity.

8. The Phone is the New Fishing Pole

Please don’t dunk your mobile phone in the ocean. But do use it to check out the sustainability factor of your seafood. New trends in technology, such as the iPhone app from Seafood Watch, are changing the way we think about fresh they want verification it is seafood or fresh seafood and correct language seafood. The app puts knowledge at your fingertips, including regional guides to seafood, a search function to find seafood wherever you are, a sushi guide that gives you the common market name and the Japanese name, and more. You’ll see it in more overt ways, too, as companies respond to consumers’ desire to know where their seafood came from (and when). The company CleanFish, for example, provides a service to trace your fish, matching sustainability-minded aqua farmers with restaurants. It’s tied to the overall locavore movement, in which people call out a preference for locally grown—but even when they aren’t near the coast, they want to identify with a location. We predict that restaurant menus that specify where the fish was grown and when it was caught will catch the most customers. So go ahead and fish by phone. No bait required.

9. Fish as Primary Protein

There’s no question that fish is now a staple of both the appetizer and the entrée menu. Appetizer sizes are scaling up, whereas entrée sizes are scaling slightly down—consumer tastes and budgets are warranting the change. And fish is taking the place of other proteins and coming into its own, after years of being the unloved protein. Where you used to get a taco with beef, now you can get a fish taco frequently featured at casual theme restaurants like Houlihan’s. It’s usually made with flounder or mahi-mahi (click here for a recipe). Fin favorites are even popping up in the new Fish Reuben sandwiches (no corned beef in sight) at places like Caribbean Jack’s in Daytona Beach, where it’s one of the most popular items for the twenty-something crowd. And watch for the latest seafood sliders made with crab cakes, salmon or mahi-mahi to overtake hamburger sliders. It’s all part of the trend toward getting your favorite foods in new ways.

10. Seafood for Boomers

With the big block of consumers who are in the Boomer category, seafood is a high interest item. They see it as higher end and healthier. What’s more, the fear of mercury is not an issue since this group has a low-to-no pregnancy rate, high health concerns, bigger pocketbooks and more beach time to whet the appetite. They are also more likely to stretch the meal with an appetizer and an entrée since they aren’t rushing home to pay the babysitter. We also see the growth in the do-it-yourself market, with people clam digging, deep sea fishing, and catching their own Maryland Blue Crabs (see the article about Judy Woodruff of PBS’ The News Hour with Jim Lehrer). Boomers are a big target—restaurants should be reeling them in.

This is part of our Beyond the Plate series. View the complete series at: www.beyondtheplate.com.

For comments, questions or more information, please contact info@beyondtheplate.com

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