7 Things You Need To Know About Seacuterie
The quick summary
- Seacuterie brings a seafood twist to the classic charcuterie board
- Takes skill and knowledge to prepare – and requires storage and fridge space
- Choose the finest, freshest fish to set your seacuterie apart
- Timing is important. You need to hit the sweet spot between firm and soft
Seacuterie is the latest food trend to catch the imagination of Irish foodies. It uses the same techniques as ever-popular charcuterie boards – only this time the ingredients come straight from the sea.
It’s a trend that’s turning chefs’ heads as well as customers. The reason? Because it’s relatively low-cost and convenient to prepare. And the only limit to what’s possible is your own imagination.
Want to know more? Well you’re in the right place. Because we asked Sysco development chef Patrick Clement for 7 things every chef needs to know about seacuterie.
1. A brief history of seacuterie
There was more to the 1980s than shoulder pads and poodle perms. It was also the decade that Brooklyn chef David Burke decided to spin an American twist on the classic Scandinavian cured salmon dish, gravadlax.
His American take, pastrami salmon, is credited for spawning a trend for more innovative seafood, which is now making a splash on menus all over the world.
2. Are you prepared?
There are a few questions to ask yourself before deciding whether seacuterie is right for your restaurant.
First, the good news. Seacuterie dishes are prepped well ahead of service, which makes them a tempting option for any busy kitchen. But that’s not the full story.
To make it work, you’ll need to have enough storage space – and refrigeration space. You’ll also need the right equipment to vacuum pack the fish as well as enough time to properly cure your dishes. This can take up to 72 hours.
The culinary process also requires skill and knowledge. And it must be done in a controlled environment, with your fridge at a consistently safe temperature.
But this is no kitchen nightmare. All your time and effort will be rewarded, insists Patrick. “Once it’s prepared, vacuum packed and refrigerated, you can use it for several days,” he says. Which is sure to take the heat out of any overloaded kitchen.
3. Be fussy about your fish
Any chef – and any restaurant – is only as good as the ingredients they use. Choosing the finest, freshest ingredients is essential if your seacuterie is going to stand out. It’s not just about choosing the right fish. Be meticulous about the fillets and grades you use, too.
In terms of fish type, it’s really down to how adventurous your customers are. We’ve seen everything from octopus to mackerel, herring to trout – and even shellfish sausages.
Patrick’s favourite seacuterie dishes are made with salmon and tuna. The success of each hinges on the cuts he chooses.
“We use sashimi grade tuna, and that’s really important,” he says. Sashimi grade is super fresh. It’s caught on a line, rather than in nets, and is even landed on a mattress to prevent the fish from bruising! It’s premium quality and will take your charcuterie plate to a divine new level.
With salmon, there are lots of species and types to choose from. So which should you reel in? You can choose between wild or farmed, Pacific or Atlantic, chinook or sockeye. Our choice, of course, would be organic salmon from our own shores. Go local and your dish will leap from the menu whenever customers take a look.
4. Mouthwatering marinades
The star of the show on any seacuterie plate will be the fish itself. But you’ll need to match it up with the right flavours to create dishes that customers fall in love with. You’ll want to create some fun and theatre, so which flavours really hit the mark?
Patrick injects incredible – and unusual flavours – into his salmon dish. It couldn’t be further from the stuffy image of standard smoked salmon.
“After curing (see next point), we add spices, coriander seeds and fennel seeds, then we add orange zest and juice and lemon zest and juice as well,” he says.
Once that has been left for 24 hours, Patrick splashes in some surprises.
“We add black treacle, ginger, lime, lemongrass, and chilli, and some soy sauce – you mix all that in a blender so you get a nice, smooth mixture. Just mix that in with the curing and cover the salmon fillets again and leave that for about 48 hours.”
For his loin of tuna dish, he brings in bold, Asian flavours.
“We use demerrera sugar, which adds sweetness, spiciness, and fruit flavour as well. We add coarse sea salt and star anise and some fennel seeds. Mix it all together, and mix in a blender with coriander, your lime juice, and your ginger and some sesame seed oil. And then add some nice dark soy sauce as well,” he suggests.
Patrick uses treacle with the salmon, because the sweetness works well with oily fish. But he warns it wouldn’t work as well with tuna.
Other than those pairings, there’s an ocean of options out there. Items that have tickled our tastebuds include scallops with pistachios and black peppercorns; sardines with radish, butter, lemon and herbs; and prawns flavoured with garlic, red wine and paprika.
So try to thrill your diners, while remembering that the aim is to enhance the flavour of your seafood – without overpowering it.
5. The curing process
Curing is at the heart of seacuterie. The process amounts to drying, salting, smoking or pickling your fish, rather than cooking it in the more traditional way.
The curing process preserves the fish, ensures it’s safe to eat and really compresses the flavours down.
If you want cured fish to taste just like heaven, it does take time. Patrick’s recipes take around three days to cure.
He uses sea salt and sugars during the first stage of curing. This takes away any moisture and leaves you with a fresh-tasting fish that has a natural sweetness.
The first stage takes at least a day – after that you’re free to add your creative flavour combinations, before leaving the fish for a couple more days so it becomes deeply imbued with them.
6. Stay on top of your fish’s firmness
It takes skill and patience to get seacuterie absolutely on the money. It’s not a dish you can just prep and forget about.
Test the fish regularly for firmness, because you don’t want it to become too soft. Take it out early and it’ll be too firm. Miss your moment, and you’ll have fish that’s too soft to serve.
According to Patrick: “You need to check it, because once the texture is just right, you must take it out of the curing, rinse it, dry it, and vacuum pack it.”
You’ll also need to show your fish some extra TLC during the curing process itself. Often the salt and sugar will deposit at the bottom and any juice you use will rise. To get the best taste, you’ll need to mix the marinade again. And remember to turn your fillets, so they’re evenly marinated.
7. Why is seacuterie so popular now?
Seacuterie is riding an incredible wave with chefs and diners. For chefs, the appeal lies in the fact they can have fun and be playful with it. But it also does good business, with customers willing to pay a premium for seafood innovation.
Patrick isn’t surprised by its growing appeal. “In the summer, it’s great as a sharing plate, in the outdoors on a terrace with a glass of sauvignon blanc or chardonnay. It’s beautiful with some nice salad to go with it or some country-style bread.”
It’s a versatile trend, too. You could use just one seacuterie recipe as a starter or create a great barfood platter, where seacuterie sits alongside some BBQ’d fish.
Social, shareable food is going nowhere. And seacuterie is the latest, cool and on-trend option. So why not give it a try, have fun with it, charge the premium that customers are prepared to pay – and put some extra euros into your business account.