Choosing the Best Seafood for Your Restaurant

As many foodservice professionals know, purchasing, preparing, and serving seafood can be a bit nerve-wracking. So, in honor of October being National Seafood Month, we’ve decided to school you on choosing the best seafood to prepare in your restaurant! Whether you purchase frozen fish in bulk from a large supplier, or you visit the docks to buy from a local fisherman, we'll tell you what to look out for!

Purchasing Fresh, Unfrozen Seafood

Choosing the Best Fish for Your Restaurant

Since we reside in a country that’s recognized as a global leader in responsibly managed fisheries, agriculture, and sustainable food, purchasing fresh seafood from local markets has gained popularity. Plus, the eat local food movement has made society aware of how much better the taste of local food is. Offering seafood on your menu that’s sourced from nearby cities, counties, and states can also oftentimes justify a higher entree cost – because consumers, now more than ever, are willing to pay more for local, sustainable ingredients. If you're purchasing fresh, unfrozen seafood, consider the characteristics, pros, and cons we’ve listed below.

Characteristics of Fresh Seafood

  • Fish should have a seawater or cucumber smell; not sour, fishy, or ammonia-like smell
  • Eyes should be clear and slightly bulged
  • Fish should have firm, unmarred flesh
  • Exposed flesh should have no traces of browning
  • Fish’s body should spring back when pressed with your finger
  • Natural markings and colors of fish species should not be faded
  • Scales should adhere closely to the skin
Pros of Fresh Seafood

  • Fresh seafood advertises to customers better than frozen
  • Time-consuming task of unthawing is eliminated
  • Restaurant owners have a choice between multiple species depending on the fisherman’s catch
  • Opportunity to save money by purchasing bycatch, unintentionally caught fish
  • Ability to market your business as being devoted to sustainability
Cons of Fresh Seafood

  • Availability of seafood is unpredictable due to bad weather, shifting ocean temperatures, and small catches
  • Must be prepared within two days
  • Requires frequent trips to the local market
  • Risk purchasing from a source that doesn’t practice sustainable fishing
  • Lack of refrigeration during transport if located far from a coastal town

Purchasing Frozen Seafood

How to Purchase Frozen Seafood for Your Restaurant

Unlike you may think, frozen seafood can be just as flavorful and fresh as seafood purchased from a local market – but you have to do your research first and make sure you’re buying high-quality fish. Thanks to technological advances in the foodservice industry, fish can be caught, flash frozen, and shipped overnight (with a high cost, of course). In fact, frozen food is the ideal choice for restaurants not located within close proximity to the coasts or other large bodies of water. If you're purchasing frozen seafood, consider the characteristics, pros, and cons we’ve listed below.

Characteristics of Frozen Seafood

  • Fish should be completely frozen solid
  • Package should not be torn, opened, or crushed on the edges
  • Seafood should not be positioned above the frost line or at the top of the freezer case
  • Fish should be free of frost and ice crystals
  • Fish should not have any white, dehydrated areas
  • Fish should be wrapped in a moisture- and vapor-proof material
  • Fish should have very little or no odor at all
Pros of Frozen Seafood

  • Can be unthawed and prepared at any time
  • Restaurant owners can stock up on a bulk supply of frozen fish without it going bad
  • Less frequent purchases and trips to the supplier are required
  • Fish is typically frozen and preserved at its peak for the best flavor
  • Purchasing frozen is less intimidating than going to a fresh market
Cons of Frozen Seafood

  • Fish can spoil if it thaws out during transport and is left at warm temperatures
  • Risk of freezer burn
  • Risk of purchasing from other countries that aren’t required to follow the same FDA standards as the U.S.
  • Unthawing can take hours if done properly
  • Frozen fish is not guaranteed to be local and is not as marketable as fresh seafood

When it comes to choosing the best seafood to prepare in your restaurant, it really all comes down to availability, customer demand, and your personal preference. If your diners are looking for fresh catch, then that’s what’s going to sell best, and that’s what should be provided to them. However, if your geographical location permits you from visiting a local market, then be sure to do all the research on where your frozen seafood is coming from. You may also want to stock up on our seafood preparation supplies while you’re here!

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