New ways to highlight fish and seafood on your menu

By Laura McGuire

Canada has a bounty of waters to fish from, but little has changed over the years with fish and seafood offerings at restaurants. The predictable plating of fish and seafood is partly due to chefs continuing to cook with the same traditional species like salmon and tuna, and running short of ideas of how to bring these dishes to the forefront of menus.

But all that is changing as operators are now getting more creative with fish and seafood. Let’s take a look at some emerging applications for these items.

Seafood and fish blends

top seafood

One opportunity to make seafood and fish standout on menus is to craft dishes that combine multiple species, as is the case with the Jerk Fish dish at Red Fish Blue Fish in Victoria, B.C. This fusion of halibut, cod, salmon and tuna harmoniously balances multiple flavours and textures, and is enhanced by simmering the fish in a Caribbean jerk sauce with sriracha.

Blends can also combine fish and seafood with other proteins as part of imaginative reinterpretations of surf and turf dishes, which traditionally pair steak with lobster or prawns. Examples of this include the Tiger Prawn & Chorizo Hash dish at Fish Shack in Vancouver, and the Lamb & Lobster Burger with Cambozola cheese, guacamole and oven-dried tomato-mango salsa at Big Fish in Calgary.

For consumers, seafood and fish blends are appealing because these combos offer novel flavour profiles to sample, yet are still approachable because many of the fish and seafood used are already familiar to and liked by diners. For operators, blends open up new channels for culinary development. Innovation could include working with unfamiliar species to featuring fish combinations in burger patties or atop salads.

Bowls and tacos

Another avenue for fish and seafood is to feature these offerings in bowl and taco applications. These on-trend formats can be served at both limited-service and full-service restaurants; as brunch, lunch or dinner meals; and with a variety of seafood and fish species. Limited-service operators can emphasize the portability of these dishes, whereas full-service restaurants have opportunities to highlight mini tacos and bowls of ceviches or pokes as shareable appetizers or small plates.

For both seafood bowls and tacos, customizability is a big draw for diners (especially Millennials). Having a build-your-own option for these dishes allows guests to select their preferred fresh, premium and craveable ingredients to pair with a specific type of fish or seafood.

Hamilton, Ont., restaurant Pokeh is at the forefront of this emerging trend, serving both signature and create-your-own bowls that spotlight poke — a Hawaiian fish salad with Asian-inspired ingredients traditionally made with chunks of raw ahi or yellowfin tuna, along with green onions, sea salt, chili peppers and soy sauce. The restaurant’s customizable format allows patrons to choose from more than 20 different toppings ranging from gluten-free and vegan ingredients to premium options; a sampling of toppings includes tamari pickled tofu, salmon, ahi tuna, cucumber noodles, yuzu kosho sauce, spicy kewpie mayonnaise, avocado and jicama.

Another menu prospect is adding an ethnic twist to seafood bowls and tacos, as seen at Asian taco joint Tacoreano in Coquitlam, B.C. Its limited menu of gourmet Asian-inspired tacos includes an albacore tuna poke taco with romaine, wakame, ginger and wasabi mayonnaise.

In addition to wakame, ginger and wasabi, chefs can feature other complementary Asian ingredients in these bowls and tacos, including:

  • Sriracha — a bright red Thai sauce that mixes sun-ripened chilies, garlic, sugar, salt and vinegar
  • Gochujang — a Korean chili bean paste or sauce with salty and spicy flavours, made with fermented soybeans, dried chilies, garlic and other seasonings
  • Mirin — a low-alcohol, sweet golden wine made from glutinous rice, used in Japanese cuisine to add flavour to dishes, sauces and glazes
  • Sambal — popular throughout Indonesia, Malaysia and southern India, sambal traditionally consists of a mixture of chilies, brown sugar and salt, but multiple variations of this blend also exist

Operators can look beyond Asia to feature global interpretations in seafood bowls and tacos, such as adding guacamole, salsa or chipotle crema for a Baja-Mexican twist, or pineapple, black beans and jerk seasoning for a Caribbean spin. These dishes can even feature North African influences with the addition of harissa (a fiery Tunisian hot sauce made with hot chilies, garlic, cumin, coriander, caraway and olive oil) or chermoula (a thick sauce or paste that typically consists of cilantro, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, pepper and salt).

Underutilized species

As part of the eco-friendly “no waste” movement happening throughout North America, operators are looking to lesser-known species of fish and seafood to promote sustainability and minimize costs. Dubbed “trash” fish or “rough” fish by fishermen, these undervalued species offer operators new possibilities for menu development and can often serve as substitutes for more traditional varieties like halibut. In Montreal, U.K.-inspired Brit and Chips puts its own environmentally conscious flair on the traditional British staple fish and chips with offerings such as Orange Crush-battered hake served with chips.

Beyond the eco-friendliness and cost savings of cooking with bycatch species like hake, history has proved that gambling on underutilized fish and seafood can pay off in the long run. Prime examples are lobster and monkfish — two species that were previously considered trash fish but have since climbed in status to be highly prized at restaurants today.

For operators, the challenge is promoting trash fish as high-quality, tasty offerings to skeptical and cautious diners. Consider increasing the appeal of trash fish by:

  • Enhancing trash fish species with gourmet sauces and condiments
  • Educating diners about why use of the fish is important
  • Featuring the fish in a familiar and approachable format like fish and chips or a breaded fish sandwich

‘Trash Fish’ to explore on menus

  • Dogfish
  • Hake
  • Smooth Skate
  • Chub
  • Acadian Redfish

Chefs are turning to Canada’s rich abundance of seafood to cater to diners’ willingness to explore new foods beyond the familiar. Expect to see more innovative uses of fish and seafood as preparations and techniques like blends and bowls become more popular. Use of ethnic ingredients with fish as seen with tacos, as well as the eco-conscious movement to bring trash fish into the mainstream, should also resonate well with today’s restaurant-goers.

About the author:

Laura McGuire is Senior Manager, Content and Editorial, at Technomic in Chicago. Technomic provides clients with the facts, insights and consulting support they need to enhance their business strategies, decisions and results. Its services include publications and digital products, as well as proprietary studies and ongoing research on all aspects of the food industry, Visit