Consumers' love of shrimp and crab runs deeper when traditional preparations get contemporary touches.
This article first appeared in the 1 September 2007 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).
R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. To find out more about R&I, visit its website here >>
By Allison Perlik, Senior Editor
They call their dishes Shrimp Cocktail, but chefs Mark Arnao's and Ian Clark's riffs on the classic starter are far cries from simple chilled shrimp dunked in tangy, tomatoey sauce.
At Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace in Boulder, Colo., Executive Chef Clark poaches tiger shrimp in savory broth with onions, citrus and herbs. His Mexican-inspired cocktail sauce is spiked with Worcestershire sauce, clam-tomato juice and chipotle pico de gallo. Executive Chef Arnao poaches jumbo shrimp in white wine, white-wine vinegar, leeks, lemon and herbs at The View restaurant in New York City, where he matches the flavor-infused shellfish with three dipping sauces: curry cream, Mary Rose and traditional cocktail.
"Shrimp cocktail is one of those comfort zones customers go for," Arnao says. "You can serve it a billion different ways, but the basics of what people know [as shrimp cocktail] are there."
"Crab dip is always one of our top appetizers, and other crab treatments we do-whether it's a topping on fish or Dungeness crab legs-are well-received," says Kathy Ruiz, vice president of culinary operations at Rainforest Cafe. "Consumers are a lot more comfortable with crab than in the past."
Operators take comfort in shrimp and crab as well. The versatile products can be purchased in multiple formats and at price points matching the needs of nearly any kitchen. Neither requires complex cooking, and both offer sweet, mild flavors that marry beautifully with other popular ingredients.
Given consumers' fondness for battered or breaded preparations, it's little wonder that two types of deep-fried shrimp sell briskly at Ginger Asian Bistro in Orland Park, Ill., where Executive Chef Joe Wojcik's renditions ratchet up the familiar recipe a few notches. Medium-size Gulf shrimp are marinated briefly in ginger-infused sake, egg white, cornstarch and a sweet-salty seasoning blend and then coated in panko crumbs or tempura batter. Mango-chile sauce and ponzu aÁ¯oli accentuate the panko shrimp; ginger-ponzu accompanies the tempura.
At Dallas-based Boston's The Gourmet Pizza, Shrimp Parmesan staves off veto votes from diners not interested in the casual-dining chain's signature pies. The bite-size shrimp-purchased beer-battered and frozen-are deep-fried to order, sauced with marinara, topped with shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and finished in conveyor ovens.
"Shrimp is so identifiable to the masses, and fried shrimp served this way fits right in with our pizza-and-pasta menu," says Bud Boswell, director of purchasing and development.
Deep-fried preparations are just one of many popular paths for shrimp improvisation. Kevin Camarillo, executive chef at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, punches up shrimp scampi by adding adobo and Worcestershire sauces and chile flakes to the dish's traditional garlicky sauce. At Gator's Neo-Soul Café in San Mateo, Calif., Chef-owner Glenn Thompson puts a California spin on Southern shrimp and grits, lightening traditional butter sauce and adding more-robust flavor.
Cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce and amber ale-style beer distinguish Thompson's updated approach. The spicy sauce, thickened with olive-oil-and-chicken-stock roux, blankets sautéed tiger shrimp, which are seasoned with Gator's proprietary spice blend and spooned over creamy grits.
New Crustacean Sensation
At Wildfish Seafood Grille's locations in Newport Beach, Calif., and Scottsdale, Ariz., Executive Chef-partner John Carver credits the top-selling status of his New Orleans-style shrimp rémoulade adaptation to the one-two punch of both crustaceans.
Carver's Crab-Stuffed Shrimp With Chive Rémoulade starts with grilled colossal shrimp draped with Jonah crab-leg meat, seasoned panko, chives, parsley, shallots and Parmesan cheese. Broiled quickly for a crispy bite, shrimp are splashed with chive-rémoulade vinaigrette flavored with Creole mustard, tomatoes and red onions.
"Crab is one of those ingredients that if you put it on fish or shrimp, people say, 'I'll have that,'" he says. "It's that added value-and people love fresh crab."
Veal Oscar, another traditional preparation pairing crab with a second protein, gets a lighter update in the Chicken and Crab Entrée, a regional special at Glendale, Calif.-based ESPN Zone. Used in place of typical veal cutlets are chicken breasts marinated in a chipotle vinaigrette that caramelizes nicely on the grill. Lively artichoke pesto stands in for béarnaise or hollandaise sauce.
East Coast Regional Chef Gary Patterson says that although claw meat offers more-aggressive flavor, ESPN Zone's recipe calls for jumbo lump and lump crab atop the chicken because larger pieces elicit higher perceived value for guests. Thin spears of grilled asparagus and roasted-garlic mashed potatoes complete the hearty meal.
Despite its aptitude for spotlight sharing, crab is more than capable of standing on its own, as evidenced by the reimagined crab Louis that Catering Production Manager Mathew Starcher menus at West Virginia University in Morgantown.
The recipe's traditional mayonnaise-based dressing is given new flavor dimensions as minced chipotles and Worcestershire, adobo and chile sauces combine for added kick, while sherry hits sweet notes.
For flavorful garnishes to chilled Alaska king crabmeat nestled in Bibb and iceberg lettuce leaves, Starcher presents pickled hard-cooked eggs, marinated Roma tomatoes and capers, and a cracked king crab leg.
"The things you can do with crab Louis are really limitless," Starcher says. "Crab just goes so well with so many different flavors."