Frank McCarron, general manager/ chef at Portino’s Fresh Italian in Valley Center, California, wanted to freshen up his menu. So he decided not to introduce a new type of pizza, but instead opted to incorporate seafood pasta specials. “Seafood pasta spices up the menu and offers variety for customers,” says McCarron. At Portino’s, seafood pasta specials mean shrimp sitting in a pool of scampi, cacciatore or primavera sauce; clams soaking in red or white sauce, or salmon swimming in dill butter and lemon pepper sauce.
There are very few reasons not to consider enhancing menus with seafood pasta. Seafood provides a healthy, vegetarian-appealing menu option. Plus, there’s a plethora of cost-effective seafood to choose from, be it calamari and salmon to shrimp and clams available fresh, frozen or canned.
Seafood pasta is easy to prepare. For example, for McCarron’s shrimp scampi, he sautés shrimp with garlic, extra virgin olive oil, onions and mushrooms. Then he deglazes with white wine, adds heavy whipping cream, reduces and adds in additional seafood (depending on availability it could range from scallops, clams or white fish), which is served over pasta. Shrimp seafood cacciatore begins similarly. Shrimp brown in a pan filled with garlic, extra virgin olive oil, onions, green peppers and mushrooms. Then McCarron deglazes with Burgundy wine, reduces and adds marinara, water and black olives. After that cooks, he adds available seafood (see above), seasons and serves over pasta. Tossing in additional seafood to each dish not only creates menu interest and customer- perceived value, but it also prevents potential food waste.
Troy Mains, executive chef at No. 10 Water Restaurant at the Captain Daniel Stone Inn in Brunswick, Maine, is known for serving shrimp pasta. He poaches it (to give it a “mesquite’ flavor) in a smoked tomato sauce and serves it with creamy polenta. He also pairs shrimp with plum tomatoes, bacon, peas, white wine, Parmesan and garlic with farfalle. He estimates a $4 food cost for the shrimp.
Matthew Danaher, executive culinary director at GR Restaurant Management Group, incorporates seafood in many pasta dishes at Table 42 Italian Kitchen + Wine bar in Boca Raton, Florida. “We like to use seafood that is indigenous to Italian culture, such as shrimp, clams and mussels, to include in our signature pasta dishes,” says Danaher. “We utilize cooking methods that extract the best flavors from the freshest local seafood available. For example, we fry our calamari and grill our branzino.” Popular seafood pasta dishes include linguini with shrimp paired with pink vodka sauce, cherry tomatoes and peas; and Frutti di Mare, which showcases clams, lobster, mussels, calamari and shrimp amongst a sauce built with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, basil, tomatoes, white wine, clam juice and tomato sauce. Customers may also add shrimp ($7) or calamari ($5) to any pasta dishes.
While Danaher is a proponent of fresh seafood, McCarron prefers using individual quick frozen wild caught seafood. “I like that it’s kryovaced and portion controlled so there is no waste. I can order specific portions. It defrosts quickly and there’s consistency,” says McCarron. McCarron does admit, however, that “fresh is always the best quality when you have high volume. Canned product such as clams or salmon is also okay to use.”
Keeping food costs down when working with seafood isn’t a challenge. Just price it right. “Look at your costs, the selling point, your ingredients used, and portion size,” says Danaher, who estimates that his seafood food cost for pasta dishes is 28 percent.
Of course, bad seafood means lost profits. Before diving in, it’s important operators learn proper seafood handling tips since seafood is extremely perishable. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, fresh seafood should arrive packed in crushed or flaked ice, depending on its form. It should be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator, rotated often and be in an area with drainage, since melting will occur. Upon arrival, operators need to evaluate its quality by making sure it has firmness, bright bloodlines, fresh aroma, clear eyes and red gills. Indicators of poor quality fish include a fishy, stale or iodine odor, mushy flesh, dry skin, discoloration, belly burn or dark gills. Canned seafood should arrive without dents, bruises, bulges or leaks. Avoid frozen seafood if its package is open, torn or crushed on the edges. If the package cover is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals, which could mean the fish has been stored a long time or thawed and refrozen — in which case, choose another package.
Mains advises operators keep seafood on ice in the walk-in. “It will make the seafood last twice as long,” he says. He rinses seafood daily and pre-portions it with delicatessen paper. “That way the fish doesn’t touch each other. Otherwise, having protein upon protein multiplies bacteria faster and makes fish deteriorate faster,” he continues.
Another way to stretch the dollar on seafood, says Mains, is to create a shellfish stock that can be turned into crab, lobster or “seafood” bisque. “Bottom line is: Don’t waste anything,” he says.
FRUTTI DE MARE
2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
1 ounce sliced garlic
1 tablespoon basil
1 ounce cherry tomatoes, no seeds
2 ounces white wine
6 ounces clam juice
6 ounces San Marzano sauce or tomato sauce
½ Maine lobster tail split in half
3 ounces calamari rings
2 ounces butter
10 ounces cooked pasta
In a large sauté pan add oil, garlic, basil and tomatoes and sauté over medium heat until translucent. Add white wine and reduce by half. Add clam juice, San Marzano sauce, clams, lobster and mussels. Simmer for 3 minutes or until clams and mussels open.
Add calamari and shrimp, simmer until cooked. Season with salt and pepper and reduce. Add butter and toss with pasta of your choice.
Recipe courtesty of Matthew Danaher, executive culinary director, GR Restaurant Management Group.
Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and lifestyle trends.