Dusted Squid from Pacific West
The changing shape of seafood

The old style of seafood presentation – processed and crumbed with a uniform shape and mass-manufactured look – is selling to a smaller and smaller segment of the market.

Many foodservice professionals are now looking for products with an ‘artisan’ look – those which present as though they’ve been made from scratch in the kitchen, and both local suppliers and importers are expanding their product ranges accordingly.

Neil Cane from seafood supplier Pacific West says there’s a move towards lighter coatings, with more spiced and marinated products.

“Traditional breadcrumbs have been superseded by the lighter style Japanese panko crumb – establishments now want fish with a finer coating, along with more exotic species which can command a higher sell price,” Neil tells us. “Fish which is wild caught and sustainable is being sought by the fine dining sector and this will filter down to pubs, clubs and cafes.”

Neil argues that there is a move away from whole fish towards fillet portions with boneless or skinless presentation and this is putting new pressures on suppliers. “Now end-users are looking for perfectly cut centre fillet portions – this impacts on the type of fish you can source as well as the processing.”

He says there will always be a place for the traditional ‘fish and chips’ approach but now a lot more grilled and lightly seasoned choices have been added to the menu – “salmon, barramundi and snapper are the three most common on the market. There’s also a trend at least in the upper market towards looking for alternative species – black cod which is an imported fish, Patagonian tooth fish which is caught down off Macquarie Island. We bring in black cod, Atlantic cod, Pacific cod which is starting to gain a bit of traction – this is the sort of product people should be looking at because it’s sustainable, versatile and has proven its popularity overseas.”

Some market trends are easy to identify – like the popularity of beer batter, which took off in a major way some years ago and is now tapering off. “We’re now going to seasoned flour or a very light crumb, something that’s fresher tasting and healthier. It’s the next step from grilled – people want something a little more adventurous, and rather than a rich sauce they’ll go with a lighter dusting. Soy and ginger, sweet chilli o herb and lemon pepper – these are all basic flavour profiles which have replaced the creamy sauces of old. There is a trend towards a sweeter glaze, say a honey or bourbon glaze, those sorts of things are starting to appear in smokehouses.”

In terms of overall presentation, Neil says the focus is on seafood that appears “chef made, kitchen made, rather than bought in. For this reason our value-added products are randomly sized – it’s about variety not uniformity.”

Neil’s comments regarding the move towards a lighter, more contemporary presentation are confirmed by Harry Peters of leading seafood importer Marine Product Marketing.

“We have moved away from the traditional heavy batters and crumbs, and the new styles are advantageous because being lighter they give the end-user more of the actual seafood with less coating,” Harry points out. “The price is slightly higher but the value of the product is so much better. We’re at a time now where people want to try new and exciting flavour profiles and we’re constantly developing these.” Harry cites the recent example of mango, macadamia and chia seeds coating, available on Clean Harvest saltwater barramundi portions from Marine Product Marketing. “Using fruit profiles is quite new and the perception is these are lighter and healthier. By going back to using a finer type of crumb and not par-frying it, the resultant product is brilliant. In addition to the barramundi we’re putting this on to prawns, sword fish and baby whiting.”

Harry adds that in addition to fruit, Japanese style coatings are growing in mainstream popularity, such as wasabi and chirashi.

“Some of these new coatings have broader application than just seafood,” Harry explains. “They can be used on white meat such as chicken, so we’re now looking at multicoating that will suit both types of meats. There’s a lot of work going on in this area, always with the aim of reducing the amount of preparation necessary by the foodservice operator.”