When it comes to seafood, sometimes there’s nothing better than frozen.
If this sounds peculiar, think again. Frozen seafood has a lot going for it. Although the term “fresh” has connotations of better quality wild fish is frozen within just hours of leaving the water.
This means that the quality of frozen fish is now extremely high, and operators can offer customers wild seafood year-round at consistent prices. That spells opportunity for restaurants—according to researcher Datassential, consumers overwhelmingly prefer wild-caught seafood over farmed seafood, so offering these types of options year-round can boost seafood sales.
“Frozen seafood carries better prices,” says Barton Seaver, an author, speaker and chef who specializes in sustainability and health issues. “When wild salmon are running in the tens of millions, the market can’t absorb all that fresh fish. Freezing not only guarantees year-round availability, but it also ensures stable pricing for both the fisherman and the food service operator. It makes every fish count.”
Seaver adds that for operators looking to create a uniform menu they can train around, price consistently and always be sure of product availability, frozen seafood is the way to go. “Using frozen takes away a lot of cost—not just in the price of the product itself, but also time and money spent training, sourcing and adapting menus to changing availability.”
One of the top seafood restaurants in the country, Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle uses high-quality frozen fish for a number of different reasons. “We have a long history of using wild frozen fish to fill in the gaps when live runs are not producing fish of the quality we demand,” says Douglas Zellers, general manager of the 43-year-old restaurant, which now encompasses the Boathouse restaurant, a casual cafe and a thriving catering division. Salmon, in particular, is a huge part of the business.
“We were the first restaurant to buy and offer Bruce Gore’s Frozen at Sea salmon back in 1978. His Frozen at Sea [FAS] technique and care of the product was a dynamic shift for the industry and made serving amazing fish year round a possibility,” he says.
“Guests who join us expect high-quality, wild sustainable salmon and may not fully understand when or where the runs are,” says Zellers, “We remain patient for the spring runs and persistent, not serving just any fish.”
Handled properly, adds Zellers, frozen fish behaves just as if it were fresh, and tastes just as delicious. “Our guests know that what is in front of them is the best seafood we can source at that time. When we explain fresh versus frozen, it is with authority. People count on us to do it right.”
Sustainability is also a major factor in why Ray’s uses frozen seafood. “Part of being sustainable is eliminating waste,” says Zellers. “I have been in this business long enough to remember when fish deliveries came in sporadically and the product had already started to deteriorate. I would hate to know how many tons of fish deteriorated beyond the point of use at the dock or in the holds of fishing boats before frozen at sea was perfected. Now I imagine that most fish caught is treated correctly and makes it to the table in the same pristine state in which it was pulled from the water.”
The cost of waste in the supply chain on a global scale is astronomical, according to Zellers, and by eliminating it, everyone wins. “The good fishermen of Alaska know this and have worked hard to preserve their treasure. We think of them every day.”
This post is sponsored by Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute