Hazelnut Fish and Chips
“Sunshine Sushi (pictured here) brings in nearly the same amount of revenue as the onsite Burger King.”
Everyone knows seafood is good for you¯but it's got to have more going for it than that to really make a splash among customers. Onsite operators and chefs share some of their tips and techniques for enlivening seafood presentations¯from a distinctive carving station to re-energized sushi programs and innovative coatings and crusts for adding eye-appeal and crunch to fish fillets.
Carving out a niche
At the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Executive Chef Eric Eisenberg recently replaced one of the three rotating selections at his weekly meat carving station with cedar planked salmon.
"Being in the Northwest, salmon is always a popular offering, so trading a meat option for fish as one of our spotlighted carving features was logical," he says. "It's a unique presentation. We roast a side of king salmon on a seasoned cedar plank board, then carve it in front of customers, to order."
Reaction to the new item has been overwhelming, Eisenberg notes. "Customers love it, and every time we serve it we need to forecast more for the next time, to keep up with demand. I've been told on several occasions that this is the best thing we serve."
To ensure proper portioning, Eisenberg and staff score the salmon prior to roasting it, and serve up five-ounce portions at the station. Accompanied by creamy polenta and balsamic roasted mushrooms, the meal retails for $6.00 (see recipe and sidebar for more details).
Adventures in sushi
While not exactly new anymore, sushi nevertheless still commands excitement and buzz at many onsite facilities. As Robert Gordon, food and beverage manager at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York explains, "Sushi is still a very strong performer in our sales mix, selling over 100 packages daily."
The demand for sushi spills over into Gordon's catering operation as well, where calls for both prepared sushi platters as well as a sushi chef to create rolls and assorted pieces in person at events continue to increase.
At the University of Missouri-Columbia, Manager Alan Petersen reports that the campus' Sunshine Sushi restaurant brings in nearly the same amount of revenue as the onsite Burger King. To meet the demand, plans are underway to expand the shop's size and increase the number of chefs from two to as many as six. Petersen expects that after the renovation, "we can do as much as two and a half to three times the current business."
One new slant in sushi presentation that some operations have begun to adopt is a roll-your-own approach. "Students will stand in line 15 to 20 minutes for this," says Cornell University's Executive Chef Steven Miller. Staged for special occasions as part of the board operation, the program provides an interactive way for students to eat sushi and have fun at the same time.
But an occasional roll-your-own program doesn't begin to slake the demand for sushi on campus. Miller notes that packaged sushi produced in-house is available in all university convenience stores, pulling in $30,000 a week in sales.
A made-to-order sushi special featured twice a semester for lunch through the board program at University of Maryland, College Park, has students lining up an hour prior to opening time just to make sure they get their share, says Quality Coordinator/Dietitian Maureen Schrimpe. This, despite the fact that "sushi is available in all cash operations on campus, where the demand is constant," she notes.
At Ohio State University, a local sushi producer, Bento A Go Go, provides a new twist with a "Crunchy Buckeye" roll, consisting of barbecued eel and candied pecans with hoisin sauce. With over 1,000 trays of sushi sold per day on campus, Chef Mark Newton is endeavoring to meet the constant demand by developing a new stand-alone, sushi salad bar concept for one of the busiest student corridors.
Granted, carving and sushi stations may not fit into every operating plan; but anyone can easily implement a simple seafood upgrade with creative new crusts and coatings.
At St. Luke's Cornwall Hospital in Newburgh, NY, Chef Manager Ryan Conklin presents catfish with an irresistible sweet potato crust. Starting with grated, fried sweet potatoes, he mixes in brown sugar, panko breadcrumbs, cinnamon and nutmeg.
"It's a nice balance between sweet and savory, as the brown sugar melts on top of the catfish while cooking, and leaves a flavored sweet potato crust that stays crunchy," he says.
Piyush Sahay, executive chef at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, incorporates Asian-themed crusts into many seafood presentations, from vermicelli crushed or cut into small bits and pressed into the fish after a flour-and-egg-wash dip; to blanched cellophane noodles wrapped around a fillet and deep-fried; to finely-cut wonton strands mixed in a dusting of corn flour before applying to the fillet and frying or sautèing.
Check out the sidebar on page 66 for more ideas on quick-fix upgrades with crusts and coatings.
Pluck a Plank
"It's easy to find and prepare cedar planks for seafood roasting," says Executive Chef Eric Eisenberg of Seattle's Swedish Medical Center. Here's his advice:
Visit your local lumber yard for untreated cedar planks. "There's no need to buy some fancy board at a gourmet store. The nice thing about going to the lumber yard is you can choose the width and have them cut the lengths to the average size of your salmon fillet."
Toast the plank before use. This is a must, Eisenberg insists, suggesting the planks be toasted in the oven for about 20 minutes prior to use.
Rub with olive or vegetable oil. Right after toasting, when the plank is still hot, rub it down with oil and allow to cool. "Then it's ready for use, and can be reused after a thorough washing without retoasting," he says.
Add new interest and excitement to seafood coatings and crusts with flavorful, unexpected and tantalizing ingredients. Use by themselves or in a flour, meal or breadcrumb base: