Seasoned suppliers share insights, trends and history behind octopus, calamari and farm-raised trout.
Seafood consumption is up not just in the United States but worldwide. The global fish and seafood market registered a compound annual growth rate of 3.8 percent between 2011 and 2015, according to data from research firm MarketLine, and it’s forecast to grow at a CAGR of 3.9 percent between 2015 and 2020.
“The U.S. is the largest market by value for fish and seafood, accounting for 13.9 percent of global revenues,” says Nicholas Wyatt, an analyst with MarketLine. “Value increases have been driven by increased health awareness.”
Chefs who want more seafood on their menus must first learn the industry, from product to processing to sustainability. Exhibitors at Seafood Expo North America happen to be excellent resources, so Chef chatted with three who were more than happy to share their knowledge.
It’s not squid; it’s calamari
Just like spicy buffalo wings and spinach-artichoke dip, calamari has earned its status as an appetizer mainstay on menus across the country. But it took a change in name, prep and appearance before North American diners warmed up to it.
As late as the 1970s, fishermen discarded the squid they inadvertently caught, or used it for bait. But as flounder and cod populations began to dip, the Cornell Cooperative Extension Division in New York—and soon the federal government—encouraged fishermen to promote lesser known fish species to consumers.
While squid was already a popular dish in the Mediterranean, U.S. diners seemed squeamish and skeptical. So the CCED suggested that distributors and restaurants replace its name with the European “calamari,” the Italian word for squid. As an appetizer, the new species was more approachable for Americans, and it was prepped to their liking: breaded, deep-fried and served with a dipping sauce.
“In the ’60s, I think calamari was almost an ethnic item, like for Italian restaurants,” says James Magee, National Director of Sales & Marketing for Ruggiero Seafood in New Jersey (ruggieroseafood.com). “I think the term calamari really helped market the product because it’s better than saying ‘fried squid.'”
Founded in 1928, Ruggiero Seafood is backed by five generations of fishing experience that began in Italy. In 1981, Rocco Ruggiero—now president of the company—says he revolutionized the calamari industry by designing equipment that could clean American-caught calamari quickly and inexpensively, making it competitive with hand-prepared imports from China. In addition to fresh, frozen and breaded products processed from locally caught calamari, Ruggiero now also offers prepared foods, such as lightly breaded calamari rings, calamari fries and gourmet seafood salads.
Since the ’80s, the popularity of calamari has exploded. New preps include stuffed, grilled, sauted or chilled in a seafood salad. Magee credits the shift to the educated palates of today’s adventure-seeking diners. “I think people are now more willing to try different things and experience different food
ingredients,” says Magee. “Also, seafood has become ridiculously expensive, and chefs are looking for items that they can still make a good margin on, like calamari. But it still needs to be the best quality and fresh, and that’s why chefs are getting more creative with doing things other than just frying it.”
As a smaller family-run business, Magee believes Ruggiero’s advantage is its competitive pricing and quality of its locally caught calamari. But the company is also expanding into related product categories, such as grouper and red snapper, which were added in late 2016. Everything it offers will be on display and available for sampling at the Seafood Expo (Booth 2213), where Ruggiero is a 28-year veteran exhibitor.
“We have a chef that cooks different items so (attendees) can sample them,” says Magee. With many different brands, species, origins, sizes and pack sizes for the foodservice industry, other items include frozen cooked clams, mussels and scungilli. Attendees can also stop by to meet Frank Ruggiero, vice president of Ruggiero Seafood, as well as Magee’s full regional sales team.
“We see a lot of our existing customers, but the best thing for us is that we’re starting to see more restaurant owners and chefs that come to the show,” says Magee. “They’re trying to find better sources for products and locally sourced items. “The show is a global melting pot with all countries presenting their best, so it gives them the opportunity to see unique new items and find new menu ideas.”
Busting the myth: farmraised fish vs. wild caught
Grass-fed, free-range, cage-free all describe the movement toward more natural, clean eating on land. In the seafood world, it’s known as “wild caught.” But with U.S. seafood consumption on the rise—along with the recommendation from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines to consume more seafood—perhaps wild-caught fish are not a sustainable choice for the future.
There are serious consequences to overfishing, according to the World Wildlife Fund. More than 85 percent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits, such as the Atlantic bluefin tuna, a dangerously threatened species.
Kurt Myers, vice president of Clear Springs Foods in Idaho, believes the supplement of farmraised fishing methods is the only way to sustain natural fish populations for future generations. Furthermore, the controlled environment allows farmers to dictate the diet of the fish, which controls its quality. They can also control pH levels and population per farm.
“I do think farm-raised is going to only continue to increase, and I think it’s incumbent upon suppliers and so forth to educate and be transparent—because that’s what consumers want these days—and explain that wildcaught has issues because you could over fish, and the species can become extinct,” says Myers. “It’s been in really the last 30 years that farm-raised has proliferated, so we can control the supply chain and manage what we feed the species and, therefore, we can control the quality.”
With eight fish farms stretching across 15 miles of the East Snake River Plain Aquafir in Idaho, Clear Springs specializes specifically in farm-raised rainbow trout. Founded in 1966, the company is celebrating 50 years of farming and processing rainbow trout, and it credits much of its success to the Snake River Aquafir.
“When the water comes out of the aquifer, it’s pure and unbelievably pristine drinking water— because it’s coming from snow melt hundreds of miles north and then filtrated through the rocks, and ends up in the aquifer,” he says. “The temperature of the water is, with very little variation, 58 degrees. And that happens to be the very temperature that’s perfect to raise rainbow trout.” Clear Springs is also considered a non-consumptive user of water, meaning once the aquifer’s water runs through Clear Springs’ concrete raceways, its discarded back into the Snake River, returning the water it “borrowed.” Furthermore, the waste from the fish farms is turned into fertilizer for local land-based farmers.
To Myers, it’s clear that farmraised fish is the sustainable option of the future. Yet, he still fields common questions of misconceptions among consumers, chefs and even his own friends. They’re often surprised to hear that the fish raised at Clear Springs is antibiotic-free. They’re also often intrigued about the company’s sustainability efforts and superior quality control. After all, farm-raising rainbow trout for 50 years gives you time to hone your craft.
When purchasing farmraised fish of any kind, Myers suggests doing your research during the vetting process. Find a company that offers responsible, sustainable fishing practices. Then ask that company to define what “sustainability” means to them? “Ask, what do you mean by sustainability?” says Myers. “It’s a very broadly used term, and everyone has a different definition.” Other questions to inquire: Are you engaged in continuous improvement? Are you using less antibiotics over time? Are you continuing to optimize your stocking-density ratios?
Learn more about the latest farm-fishing methods by visiting Myers and his Clear Springs team at the Seafood Expo, Booth 1533, where they’ll be showcasing the company’s most innovative product yet: Clear Cuts, completely boneless fillets of rainbow trout.
Food trend alert: Octopus
If you’re looking to keep your seafood program exciting, contemporary and competitive, then staying on top of industry trends is imperative, and a big one for 2017 is octopus. This invertebrate (of the cephalopod species) landed in the No. 5 spot on the 2017 Pinterest 100 trends report for the Food + Beverage category, the largest category on Pinterest. The trends were identified based on users’ pins and posts from January to November 2016. With about 300 different species, octopus is a longtime delicacy of Spain that has been tantalizing the taste buds of diners in Miami, Florida, in recent years. Now, it’s gradually prodding its way onto menus across America. Whether it’s grilled or pan fried, served on skewers or in tacos, this eight-tentacled creature is the next culinary adventure for that growing population of daring foodies who are looking for a unique dining experience.
“It doesn’t have to be really complicated. You can grill it or make a ceviche out of it. There’s so many exciting things that can be done with it,” says Adriana Sanchez, with Sea Delight, an importer of frozen and fresh seafood products that’s based in Miami. “It’s definitely not your base choice, but it’s a challenge to see what chefs can do with it.”
Sea Delight was founded in 2006 and specializes in five core product lines: tuna, snapper, swordfish, grouper and mahi mahi. It imports its seafood from Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Panama, Chile, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The family owned company already sells octopus from Spain to the European market, but it began offering the same product to its U.S. customers in January 2017, which Seafood Expo attendees can sample at Booth 3325. “Octopus is very popular in Spain,” says Sanchez, who grew up in her family’s seafood business. “Now, here in Miami, octopus has recently been a trending dish. There’s one place that serves it where it simply just melts in your mouth.
“So these restaurants are now trending because they’re serving octopus, and it’s a new culinary experience.”
When it comes to Latin cuisine, Miami serves as the food trend epicenter of the United States, and cities like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles have already begun to pick up on the excitment over octopus. “American consumers are trying new products now that maybe they otherwise wouldn’t before, and octopus is one of those products,” says Sanchez.
Sea Delight owns a 70 percent interest in its processing plant in Valencia, Spain, which allows its staff to have control over how the product is cleaned, processed and packaged. “What’s really distinguishing is our methods of hand-cleaning the octopus and actually using brushes to clean the suctions and remove everything in the head, including debris and little rocks. So it’s important to clean them really, really well,” she says, noting that only water, ice and a small amount of salt are used. Then, the octopus are weighed, frozen and sorted by size before being shipped to Sea Delight’s 16,000-square-foot warehouse in Miami.
As director of sustainability, Sanchez is already exploring ways to create a more sustainable product. “With octopus, (sustainability) is a tougher issue because the specific region where it’s sourced (in Spain), there are some management issues with the fisheries, so it’s not weighted as sustainable,” she says. “But we’re trying to work with our suppliers to help with some of the issues in the fishery. So we ask ourselves, through our sourcing, how can we help with some of those challenges, and how can we get the vendors engaged in that conversation?”