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Product Spotlight: Raw seafood

Sushi, crudo lead the demand for healthful, convenient seafood

 - Photo courtesy of Il Grano
By April Forristall
April 01, 2007

Raw seafood runs the gamut from sushi to upscale crudo. Wrapped in rice, tangled with seaweed, dipped in dressings and thinly sliced, a variety of seafood can be served raw. Keeping it away from the oven, stovetop or grill not only allows seafood to retain its flavor and texture, but also 
the nutrients that are lost when it is cooked.

Americans' love affair with raw seafood began in the 1980s when sushi restaurants appeared on the West Coast and miraculously beat the curse of typical short-lived food trends. At a time when diet fads cramped eating habits, sushi let customers go out to a nice restaurant, order a full meal and still keep their waistlines in check. Consumer focus on healthful foods has bolstered demand for sushi and other raw-seafood-centric foods.

Today, the American culture is experiencing a second sushi boom. Zagat's 2006 edition of America's Top Restaurants, as voted by its readers, put Japanese cuisine neck and neck with French as the best restaurants. This fad is not just on the West Coast, but up and down the East Coast and in Chicago and Denver.

Boston's Clio added Uni sashimi bar in 2002, which serves only raw seafood, including squid, sea urchin, mackerel, scallops, hamachi, eel and more.

Sushi's convenience has propelled it beyond restaurant confines and into supermarkets nationwide. Consumers can pick up sushi at supermarkets like Whole Foods, Shaw's and Wegman's or eat at in-store sushi bars or cafés. A high-end Wal-Mart that opened in Plano, Texas, in 2006 even provides a small sushi bar.

Smaller locations have taken sushi from confined to convenient - stores that is. The stops best known for gas, cigarettes and beef jerky are trading in shrink-wrapped sandwiches for sushi.

Amidst 20 gas pumps, NexStore Marketplace in Boca Raton, Fla., has more than 40 chefs who prepare 16 varieties of sushi daily, including California rolls and smoked salmon finger rolls.

Sushi's popularity eventually led to the introduction of the upscale crudo. Thinly sliced fresh fish drizzled with oils and accented with acid and spice, crudo is much more than the Italian word for "raw." Il Grano opened in west Los Angeles nine years ago and is well-known for its crudo. New York's Esca opened in 2000 with six crudo options on its menu and today has 10 to 15 raw menu items daily. In San Diego, Crudo restaurant serves crudo sashimi and crudo sushi with maguro, hamachi, nama sake, hirame, tai red snapper tuna and more. Bar Crudo in San Francisco open in 2005 with such menu items as Arctic char cubes and black bass.

Carpaccio and tartare are more ways chefs are slicing up raw fish. Both traditionally refer to beef dishes, but restaurants like Aleo in New York are using fish such as tuna and salmon and turning these styles into seafood classics. Typically the thin slices of fish are served with an olive oil and lemon juice dressing plus seasoning, often with green salad leaves such as arugula or radicchio and thinly sliced Parmesan cheese.


Editorial Assistant April Forristall can be e-mailed at aforristall@divcom.com


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