Seafood trends for 2018

Delaware is uniquely situated on the Delmarva Peninsula, bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay and River. As such, fishing, crabbing and clamming are a way of life, giving seafood a special place in Delawareans’ hearts and appetites.

To find out what’s trending on seafood menus, we contacted several area restaurants. Here’s what we found:

Poke Bowl: Gotta Eat ‘Em All

Delaware has caught onto the poke (poh-kay) wave. This “deconstructed sushi-in-a-bowl” was a lesser known dish, possibly first available at Brian Ashby’s Wilmington restaurant, 8th & Union Kitchen. That’s not the case now, as these Hawaiian-inspired bowls are now available at not one, but two Poke Bros. locations in Delaware: in the Mill Creek Shopping Center, Wilmington, and on Main Street, Newark.

Says Paul Naidas, an employee at the Newark location, “When Saladworks on Main Street closed, people (especially students) were hungry for a fresh and healthy take on lunch. We fill that special niche, since we have plenty of options for seafood fanatics and vegetarians.”

Poke (poh-kay) has been called “deconstructed sushi-in-a-bowl.” Photo provided by Poke Bros.

Started in 2015, Poke Bros. began as a fast-casual concept in Columbus, Ohio, whose business model was to cater and be part of the Ohio State University campus and community. The franchise eventually opened locations near the University of South Carolina and then the University of Delaware late last year.

Poke Bros. is a welcoming place for a quick, healthy bite to eat. When you arrive, employees greet you with a warm “hello.” Next stop is the impressive service counter, with its array of colors and textures from the various toppings and seafood options.

You can get your sea legs by choosing one of a half-dozen signature poke bowls that are pre-priced and pre-selected. During my first visit back earlier this year, I opted for the Johnny Utah, a classic poke bowl with salmon, avocado, edamame, cucumber and masago (the orange fish roe that often accompanies sushi), topped with Sriracha aioli. Boy, was I in heaven!

Once you’re hooked, don’t forget to grab a Poke Pro punch card and get every 10th bowl free. Says Naidas, “There has been at least one redemption per shift since our first month in business.”

Hot Raw Bar

Please pass the clams and oysters. The raw bar and all its fixings are hot right now. One place that does it right is George & Sons Seafood Market in Hockessin. Shuckers, as they’re lovingly known, are happy to give you the whole story behind the life of the humble bivalve. Restaurant Manager and oyster buyer George L. Esterling IV is one of those happy shuckers who will share his wealth of knowledge about all the seafood he can get his hands on.

George & Sons’ raw bar serves clams, cocktail lobster tail and more than a half-dozen oyster varieties, including Irish Points from the world-renowned waters off Prince Edward Island in Canada and local East Points from the Delaware Bay in New Jersey.

“Oysters have grown in popularity across the United States and that has inspired us to improve our dining experience,” says Esterling.

The restaurant recently completed a renovation of the kitchen, and to capitalize on that, Esterling says, “The dining area will have a new layout and look, so that there will be synergy between the raw bar, seafood counter and the kitchen.”

Similar to wine sommeliers’ recommendations, oysters have a ranking system that helps consumers understand what they’re getting by looking at an oyster’s size, salinity and minerality (the distinct taste left by a quality oyster). A good shucker is able to both educate the guest and recommend the perfect oyster based on these factors. And if oysters and raw bars aren’t your cup of tea, there’s always a full dinner menu with surf & turf, a lobster roll and Chesapeake crab dip.

Innovative Preparation

Raw preparations influenced by Japanese and South American cultures have gained momentum in Delaware as a fresh take on traditional seafood appetizers. Whether it’s a ceviche, crudo or tartare, “Chefs are breaking away from the old-fashioned interpretations like crab imperials and instead are focusing on highlighting seafood in creative, more exciting ways,” says Esterling. George & Sons serves two dishes that fit that bill, including a Day Boat Scallop crudo (“raw” in Italian) and yellowfin tuna tartare.

Another one of these interpretations is ceviche, a dish made with fresh fish that is popular in Latin America and the Caribbean. To make ceviche, raw fish is mixed with citrus juice, onion, chili peppers and other seasonings and left to marinate until cured.

At 8th and Union Kitchen, Ashby marinates the shrimp for his tacos in “leche de tigre,” or tiger’s milk, a Peruvian marinade made from the leftover, addictively flavored, ceviche juice that is normally discarded after making the dish. The shrimp are then deep fried in rice flour, wrapped in a tortilla and topped with corn, avocado, cilantro and bean sprouts.

Other restaurants, like the new Évero Spezia in Newark, serve a delicate, Asian-inspired scallop crudo with yuzu and lemongrass or a tuna tartare with capers, shallots and cornichons.

Sustainable Seafood

Sustainable seafood—seafood that is caught or farmed responsibility—is a long-term trend based on our environmental responsibility to preserve and protect fish and shellfish populations so they will survive for future generations.

Over the past few years, Esterling says, “There’s been a shift, or more like a correction, in the seafood industry with regard to sustainable seafood practices. Our loyal customers don’t ask anymore if our seafood is sustainable. In fact, the only time I hear the word ‘sustainable’ is when we have someone new to George & Sons. The returners have come to expect sustainable seafood from us.”

One example is the rise of “trash fish,” or fish caught in the bycatch that are often killed from the line or trawl when not thrown back immediately into the sea. Don’t let the name fool you; trash fish are fully edible, but since they’re lesser known, they’re not as commercially viable. Fishermen and chefs are exploring new ways to use these fish, a sustainable alternative to allow other endangered fish a chance to re-populate.

Just a couple of steps down the road from George & Sons is the House of William & Merry, where owner and Chef William Hoffman believes in “educating the consumer” about why he uses one type of fish over another. His passion for sustainability grew out of “a huge respect for the ocean. As a child and now surfer, I grew up in the ocean.”

Most important, he looks to different species of fish other than the traditional “chef” offerings like sea bass, grouper and red snapper when devising his menus. For example, he switched to Icelandic black cod because, though it was “prolific back in cooking school, it has neared the brink of extinction due to its rise in popularity with chefs,” he says.

Like George & Sons, Hoffman looks to support and utilize “trash fish” in his cooking. “In Europe and other major cities,” he says, “I’ve seen a lot of chefs seek out hyper-local seafood rather than importing fish from across the world. Since it’s abundant locally, it not only supports the local industry, but it can also cut down on the impact on other ecosystems.”

Locally caught blue catfish is a perfect example of a trash fish, Hoffman says. “It’s delicious pan-roasted or fried and we can help support our local waterways by removing this invasive species, whose diet consists of one of Delawareans’ favorite meals, blue crabs.”