The Tide Is High For Seafood Menus
Operators require versatile kitchens, designated cold holding equipment and skilled chefs to maintain consistent quality in seafood preparations.
A custom-built hot and cold holding station in the service kitchen at the Union Oyster House accommodates full- and half-size drop-inwells for soups, broths, chowders, sauces and garnishes.
Due to healthful attributes, the expanded availability of many different types of fish and shellfish, and today’s chefs’ culinary creativity, seafood menus have attained a high watermark of popularity, with operators reporting demand for seafood at an all-time high. In any type of facility, properly equipped kitchens enhance the chef’s ability to prepare seafood menus to attain the highest product quality, as well as profits. Generally, standard hot-line equipment is used to support seafood menus, but specialty items are found in some kitchens. For example, Ed Brown, executive chef at The Sea Grill in New York City and a noted authority on seafood preparation, advocates the use of the plancha griddle for some seafood preparations due to the even heat distribution the Spanish-style griddle can provide.
The Union Oyster House, located near Quincy Market in Boston, first opened its doors in 1826 in a former dry goods store, making it the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the nation. Daniel Webster was an early patron, coming in every day for brandy and plates of oysters. The Union Oyster House was also a favorite of John F. Kennedy, whose upstairs booth is commemorated with a small brass plaque, and Senator John Kerry stops by every couple of weeks to enjoy the oysters and classically prepared seafood dishes popular with tourists and locals alike.
The original soapstone ice trough in the old oyster bar at the Union Oyster House has been lined with hammered copper for sanitation purposes, but otherwise the oyster bar remains much the same as when oysters were served there to denizens such as Daniel Webster in the early 1800s.
Although the cozy ambiance of the Union Oyster House has remained the same throughout decades of operation, back-of-the-house operations have evolved with the times. When Executive Chef Bill Coyne came onboard five years ago, he was responsible for replacing aging equipment in the service kitchen on the first floor and in the main kitchen on the second, including five reach-in refrigerators, roof-top compressors for two walk-in refrigerators, and four stoves. He also added an upright steamer, a 40-gal. kettle and a high-powered mixer in a space adjacent to the hot line in the main kitchen. Coyne is currently researching dishwashers, with plans to replace the restaurant’s current unit in the slower months this winter, and also hopes to upgrade the kitchen’s island-style chef’s prep table so that undercounter refrigerated storage will work more efficiently.
“We have a classic menu here at the Union Oyster House, and cook our seafood using classic methods,” said Chef Coyne. “We still boil our lobsters in a big, old, steel pot on the stove. We don’t use anything like the new, patented lobster cooker that Jasper White [the creator of Jasper White’s Summer Shack] is now selling. We might use our steamer if we got slammed for an order of 30 lobsters at once, though,” he confessed.
The hot line in the main kitchen includes two ranges with six open burners each and conventional ovens below, as well as a grill, a broiler and two double-basket fryers. The ranges were initially outfitted with flat-top burners, but were changed over to open tops as Coyne found that they provided his chefs with greater control in the production of seafood menu items. “We gave up the ease of use that the flat-top burners provided for a greater quality in preparation that we found with open burners,” he commented.
Prep equipment added to the main kitchen at the Union Oyster House in recent years includes a steamer, a 40-gal. kettle and a countertop mixer.
The smaller kitchen used for food prep and service of patrons on the first floor of the Union Oyster House contains an expediting station with hot wells and bain maries for chowders, bisques, soups and sauces. Beneath the hot wells are heated drawers used to hold the house-specialty cornbread, which is made fresh every day in the restaurant’s bakery kitchen. The kitchen also contains one stove, a grill and a fry station. Next to the fry station is a custom fry prep cart used to facilitate breading that relies on stainless-steel wire mesh basket strainers and stainless-steel bowls.
Daniel Webster would still recognize the half-circle oyster bar just inside the entrance to the Union Oyster House. Although a copper coating has been hammered over the old soapstone ice troughs to hold fresh oysters at safe temperatures, oyster shuckers still work in the window there, busily shucking oysters for patrons who clamor for coveted stools at the bar. A live lobster tank, once commonly found in classic, upscale seafood restaurants, has an old-time look to it, but was actually replaced two years ago in favor of a unit that includes a filtration system located in the basement. This system keeps temperatures and saline levels perfect for holding live lobsters until they are cooked.
The Neptune Room brought a sophisticated seafood dining option to Manhattan’s Upper West Side when this charming restaurant with a two-tiered dining room opened in May 2003. Executive Chef/partner Glenn Harris’ menu features innovative cuisine inspired by Mediterranean influences, as well as the house’s pride: the “Bait Bar,” which offers small plates of distinctly seasoned raw, or cooked-then-chilled seafood, along with raw oysters, clams and shrimp.
Menus determined choices for the key hot-line equipment in the kitchen at The Neptune Room, including an eight-burner range with conventional ovens below, a char grill with refrigerated drawers for station mise en place, and a double-stacked convection oven.
Harris designed his compact, well-organized basement kitchen specifically to support his creative menu, with equipment and custom fabrication provided by local dealer M. Tucker Co., Paterson, N.J. The hot-line equipment includes a heavy-duty range with eight open burners and two conventional ovens beneath, a char grill with refrigerated drawers below for portioned mise en place, a double-stack convection oven, and a small frying station used only for some side dishes and garnishes. The line also includes a tilting skillet, sometimes used for preparation of stocks and reductions and for occasional bulk preparation of items for brunch or parties. The corresponding chef’s table includes two countertop refrigerated wells with flip tops, as well as a built-in hot bain marie and dip well for convenient utensil cleaning. Refrigerated drawers sit underneath and are used to store portioned product for cook stations. Shelving in a small corner prep area holds clear, airtight containers of nuts and spices for seafood crusts and sauces, which are prepared using food processors or coffee mills, depending on the desired consistency.
The custom-built, stainless Bait Bar located in the middle of The Neptune Room’s dining room on the second tier includes glass-fronted ice wells to display the fresh shellfish served from the bar, as well as a small prep kitchen area behind the display area. Product stored on ice in perforated hotel pans is transported from the kitchen’s small walk-in and transferred to the ice display or undercounter refrigerated drawers in the prep area. The prep area also includes a refrigerated rail to hold eight, 1/9th-size hotel pans for ingredients used in Bait Bar preparations, plastic squeeze bottles for sauces, a handwashing sink and a prep sink. The ice troughs, located just above the small prep area, are slightly angled to facilitate stocking and drainage.
Often referred to as offering “coastal seafood without the coast,” The Oceanaire Seafood Room, Minneapolis, boasts ultra-fresh seafood served to patrons in a sleek, stylish setting. Oceanaire’s concept was created by the Parasole Group, veteran business professionals who have launched some of the Twin Cities’ most successful restaurants. The company’s commitment to fresh seafood, flown in to the restaurant daily, is demonstrated through the air-freight bills that are on display, menus that feature the freshest seafood based on market availability and, most of all, the cuisine that comes out of the kitchen.
A small custom prep kitchen supports "Bait Bar" menus in The Neptune Room's dining room, and includes a tilted ice trough with designated drainage, undercounter refrigeration, a refrigerated rail for holding product and garnishes and a small sink and utensil dip well.
In the kitchen, a classic straight-line equipment configuration and corresponding chef’s table support hot menu preparation for The Oceanaire Seafood Room. The hot line includes three six-burner ranges outfitted with convection ovens underneath to support sauté preparation, two grills, two salamanders used for broiling, and three fryers. The chef’s table is equipped with undercounter, refrigerated drawers to hold portioned product for preparation. The chef’s table was fabricated with a refrigerated rail for stainless-steel hotel pans to hold other perishable mise en place items, as well as a bain marie to hold sauces and reductions. “We try to engineer menus so that not only is the freshest, market-available fish represented, but also to create a balance between grill and sauté preparations to keep things moving smoothly in the kitchen,” explained Executive Chef Rick Kimmes. “In the summer, our menu tends to lean more towards grilled items, and in the winter, we prepare more sautés and stews.”
The restaurant’s hot cooking line also includes two upright, double-bank steamers, key pieces of equipment in the production of menu items such as lobsters, king crab legs and vegetable side dishes. Each steamer is equipped with a self-contained boiler and connected to a water filtration system, which is extremely important because of the very hard water found in the Minneapolis area. “We have had problems with our steamers, purchased from two different, notable manufacturers, since they were installed,” commented Kimmes. “We are careful to clean and delime the steamers frequently, but still have ongoing issues with those pieces of equipment.”
While Oceanaire’s kitchens require no walk-in freezers for storage due to the freshness of ingredients, two walk-in refrigerators are designated specifically for separate produce and fish storage. All fish butchering for Oceanaire is done in the fish box, which is equipped with stainless tables, a handwashing sink and a prep sink. Whole fish are delivered to Oceanaire daily, checked in and then divided into portions inside the refrigerated box using specialized fish-butchering knives.
For a closer look inside the walk-in refrigerators at Oceanaire, see next month’s “E&S Spotlight” on walk-in refrigerators and freezers.
|Key E&S For Seafood Preparation
Range with open-top burners
Patented lobster cooker
Clear storage containers
Plastic squeeze bottles
Utensil dip well
Perforated hotel pans
Oyster shucking knives
Flexible boning knives