How some chefs are upping their charcuterie game with seafood

by Suzanne Hall

Chefs know all about seafood’s fresh flavor and versatility. They put it on the menu in a variety of ways. Lately, some have been offering a single platter of little bits of fish and shellfish prepared like the meats on a charcuterie board. The dish can be called seafood charcuterie or the more trendy label, “seacuterie.”

Whatever the name, these innovative preparations please chefs and customers alike. They encourage innovation in the kitchen. They offer diners a variety of tastes and textures. They fit right in with customers’ love of snacking and sharing food, especially as a prelude to the meal.

Using fish and shellfish in place of cured pork and other meats is not a new concept. As far back as 1988, Chef David Burke created salmon pastrami and served it in his Park Avenue Café in Brooklyn, N.Y. Over the years, seacuterie has appeared in various forms on menus around the country.

Recently, though, the concept seems to be gaining in popularity. Chefs are creating pastramis, rillettes, terrines and other preparations from seafood and presenting them on wooden boards or plates or platters. These boards can include all seafood or seafood paired with traditional charcuterie items. Cheeses and jams usually are not included with seafood charcuterie.  Mustard and aioli are likely to take their place.

Chef’s Choice

Fish Bologna 2
Fish bologna at The Macintosh

Chef Aaron Black started serving traditional charcuterie 20 years ago when he was cooking in his native Ohio. Today, as chef de cuisine at PB Catch Seafood + Bar in Palm Beach, Fla., he puts a seafood spin on it. An advocate of boards made solely of seafood, he says: “Seacuterie is a natural progression from my charcuterie program back then. Also, it fits our concept of clean, sustainable seafood.”

Like Burke, Black also makes salmon pastrami. To prepare it, the fish is first brushed with orange vodka, and then cured with orange peel, cilantro, salt and sugar for a couple of days. It’s rinsed off and stored in the walk-in overnight. The fish is then cold smoked for 30 minutes with apple wood and hickory. Finally, it’s brushed with molasses and coated with toasted Tellicherry, Szechuan, white and pink peppercorns. 

The seacuterie at PB Catch also includes house-smoked fish dip made with octopus torchon paired with chorizo, pickled Fresno chile peppers, pickled sweet corn, capers and red onion. His smoked mussel piperade is prepared with roasted red pepper, garlic, herbs and olive oil. 

Pastrami seasoning can be prepared with many different kinds of fish. J.D.Woodward, executive chef at 1751 Sea and Bar in Houston, Texas, cures Ahi tuna with salt and sugar overnight, rubs it with spices and lets it sit overnight again. Then, he slow smokes it. “The smoking draws out a lot of moisture, so it’s like a tuna ham you can cut into thin slices,” he says. 

Woodward uses a variety of fish, including swordfish to make pastrami. “You can’t use a flaky fish, though; it has to have a little steakiness,” he says. In place of dry-cured pork for lonzino, Woodward uses swordfish and turns scallops into a conserva. His charcuterie presentations also may include salmon gravlax, cured tuna, smoked oysters and boquerones with accoutrements like pickles, mustards, fresh greens, endive chiffonade and toasted bread.

Sous Chef Rob Roy, who oversees the charcuterie program at Nostrana in Portland, Ore., also puts salmon gravlax on the seafood charcuterie board. It isn’t offered every night, but when it is, it outsells traditional charcuterie. Roy tries to vary the seafood selections. One week, he might include octopus, the salmon and smoked oysters. The next week, he’d offer fried crab cake, shrimp salad and calamari. He admits that the calamari probably sells better than the octopus. “But,” he says, “we have octopus elsewhere on the menu and it does sell.”

Roy got interested in seafood charcuterie after a visit to Tuscany. “There was so much cured fish there,” he says. “We decided to take those individual components and put them on a plate so people can sample more seafood. It’s very popular.”

In other coastal cities, chefs have myriad fish and seafood options for charcuterie. At The Macintosh in Charleston, S.C., Chef/Partner Jeremiah Bacon uses everything in season to create numerous, special charcuterie items. Sometimes, they are used on a plate that is solely fish. More often, seafood appears alongside meats and other traditional charcuterie items.

Throughout the season, which starts in May, he sources several different varieties of shrimp, which he usually pickles or turns into a dip. He also makes grouper head terrine and puts a spin on fried bologna by using grouper, trigger fish or swordfish. “As long as the fish isn’t too firm like wahoo, the bologna works well,” he explains. It starts with a mousse that is then poached. When complete, he cuts the set mousse into slices, about the size of a silver dollar, and often serves them as sliders.

Easy Sell

Chefs agree that seacuterie isn’t a particular strain on the kitchen. It does, however, take planning and some skill. Assigning one item to a particular chef or cook often is a good approach

“It’s about organization and timing,” says Roy. “You have to decide when you want something and then plan on how long the preparation will take.” That could be hours or more likely days. 

Trusting your fish purveyor is very important for seacuterie, Woodward says, who buys product specifically for it. Bacon uses fish trim for his platters.  

Seafood charcuterie is also a relatively easy sell. “Once the first one is brought into the dining room, we get more orders,” Black says. “This program gives our guests a play on flavors to add to their dining experience, and it creates a learning environment for the kitchen staff by allowing them to master both traditional and unique techniques.”

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