Restaurant consumers are seeking menu items that meet a variety of demands, including the use of sustainable and healthful ingredients, inventive recipes with adventurous flavors and experiences they can’t easily recreate at home.
In fact, sustainability and health — particularly immunity-boosting foods — were among the top 10 trends forecast by restaurant chefs for 2022 in the National Restaurant Association’s most recent What’s Hot report.
“More than ever, consumers are focused on health and immunity and seafood is the perfect protein to support those healthy diet goals,” said Leah Krafft, foodservice coordinator at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Additionally, Datassential research shows that consumer’s believe seafood is the number 1 protein that boosts immunity.”
Research from Datassential also shows that 73% of consumers choose seafood for its health benefits and 58% said they want to increase their seafood intake.
Many consumers may be intimidated by cooking seafood at home and instead are seeking out seafood dishes at restaurants, Krafft pointed out. These trends present opportunities for restaurant operators to incorporate sustainable, wild-caught seafood from Alaska on their menus.
“The versatility of Alaska seafood also provides endless flavor combinations and can be a protein that satisfies any flavor craving,” said Krafft.
In addition, she said, the variety of species available from Alaska provides operators with the ability to source seafood at a range of price points, based on their specific needs.
Opportunities for seafood innovation
Alaska seafood lends itself to menu innovation due to the variety of wild species that come from Alaska waters, said Krafft. These include Alaska pollock, cod, crab, scallops, halibut, salmon and many more that can be easily added to menus.
“Chefs have carte blanche as far as flavor and ingredient combinations, as Alaska seafood is an incredibly versatile protein that can be showcased at all meal times and in all dishes – from appetizers to entrées,” she said. “Seafood from Alaska is the perfect canvas for taking on the flavors of any cuisine.”
Krafft suggests that chefs consider lesser-known Alaska species such as sole (flounder) and rockfish, as recipe-friendly, versatile whitefish options.
“They are the perfect example of being mild in flavor, making a wonderful complement to any global cuisine,” said Krafft.
Chef Ann Kim of Pizzeria Lola, Young Joni and Sooki & Mimi, Minneapolis, demonstrates in this recipe for Spicy Korean Fish Stew (Maeuntang) how Alaska sole (flounder) provides the perfect complement for the bold and complex flavors of Korean cuisine, for example.
“This is one of my favorites not only because it is delicious and packed with spice and bold flavors, but it is extremely nutritious,” she said. “I also like this dish because we get to highlight Alaska sole, which is perfect for this dish because it is mild, delicate and flakey.”
The stew features a spicy chili paste, which is a blend of traditional Korean hot sauces, mixed into an anchovy broth with daikon radishes, zucchini and some soft tofu, along with the Alaska sole and some additional seasonings, including Fresno chilies.
“It’s really important to me that the seafood I use is sustainable and is of highest quality and this Alaska sole meets all of those requirements for me,” said Kim. “It’s caught by people that really care about the freshness and the sustainability of the fish, in the ice-cold waters of Alaska and you’ll taste it.”
More recipes for Alaska seafood
Chef Lee Wolen of Boka and GG’s Chicken Shop, Chicago demonstrates in this video how he prepares Sous vide Alaska Sockeye Salmon with Peas, Mustard and Dill using flash-frozen, wild-caught sockeye salmon from Alaska.
“We have a strong belief in Alaska seafood,” said Wolen, who said flash freezing preserves the flavor and texture of the seafood.
He cures the salmon with salt and sugar before cooking in with a little olive oil in a sous vide bath for about six minutes to yield a tender and flakey salmon filet. He tops it with a dressing made from whole grain mustard, lemon juice, crème fraiche, olive oil and buttermilk, seasoned with a little tarragon. The dish is topped with the pea salad, made from julienned snap peas, lightly blanched English peas, fleur de sel and olive oil.
Wolen said he likes to work with wild-caught Alaska salmon not only because it is sustainably caught, but also because of its health benefits, citing high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and high levels of protein.
Seafood from Alaska can also be a great addition to bowls, tacos, salads, sandwiches and more, said Krafft.
Krafft cited work that ASMI did with Kim to develop some modern and delicious new taco recipes featuring Alaska seafood.
“Think Korean BBQ salmon tacos or coconut crusted rockfish tacos,” she said.
Sustainability of Alaska seafood
In addition to their interest in health and global flavors and ingredients, consumers are also paying increasing attention to restaurants’ sustainability efforts.
Research from Tastewise, which measures billions of data points across social media, restaurant menus and other sources, finds that consumer interest in sustainability is growing, with mentions of that topic up 24% over the last two years.
Having wild Alaska seafood on a menu helps operators boost their green credentials among today’s consumers. Alaska seafood is sustainably harvested and certified by Alaska’s Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) programs.
In Alaska, fishing is a way of life for thousands of families in small towns along the state’s wild, scenic coastline. In fact, most of the 9,000-plus fishing boats in Alaska are operated by small, multi-generational family businesses. The state supports this rich tradition by taking steps to ensure that its bounty of seafood is preserved for future generations.
Mentioning the Alaska origin on menus is powerful and drives sales, said Krafft, as it shows the restaurant cares about the quality of its ingredients.
“Consumers know that when they see ‘Alaska’ mentioned, the item is sustainable, wild and delicious,” she said.
Simply using the word “Alaska” in front of whichever Alaska species they menu increases ordering of that menu item, Krafft said, citing a 2019 Datassential study showing that that seven out of 10 consumers were more likely to order an Alaska pollock sandwich than a pollock sandwich.
“Calling out that origin really matters,” she said, adding that the same study showed that 64% of consumers were more likely to order seafood when they saw the Alaska Seafood logo on the menu.
The logo is available free of charge for those sourcing from Alaska and ASMI often partners with operators in promoting the Alaska origin of their seafood.
“It’s just a financial win for our operator partners,” said Krafft.
For more recipe ideas and inspiration about how to satisfy your customers’ demands with high-quality, sustainably harvested Alaska seafood, visit www.alaskaseafood.org/foodservice/