Sponsored by Cholula Foodservice
Grilled fish platters and sandwiches, Baja fish tacos, ceviche and sushi burritos are hot — literally and figuratively — on restaurant menus today. Credit that to seafood’s flavorful and healthful reputation, and affinity for spicy condiments and global recipes. The tingle of heat on the palate pushes many a fish creation to a higher echelon of enjoyment.
However, before executing a spicy seafood creation, it is wise to consider the species, advises Sandy Ingber, executive chef of the Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant in New York.
“How well fish goes with spiciness really depends on the type,” says Ingber, culinary helmsman of the iconic eatery, which opened in 1913. “Mild-flavored fish like flatfish, lemon sole and halibut are not that good with spicy stuff. Medium-flavored or stronger-flavored fish like grouper, mahi mahi, tuna and swordfish go much better with a spicy profile.”
Making it easy for customers to customize their food has made the Oyster Bar one of the largest users of Cholula Original Hot Sauce in New York, Ingber says. The 500-seat restaurant positions a bottle of Cholula on every table, going through five to 10 cases per week in that manner. A few years ago, Ingber switched from a competing brand of hot sauce to Cholula after running a taste test of the two sauces with his customers. “Hands down, my customers chose Cholula,” he says.
At the table, a few splashes of Cholula enhance many of the Oyster Bar’s seafood creations. It also enlivens fresh oysters without overwhelming their natural flavor, Ingber says.
Customers also have it their way at Padaro Beach Grill in Carpinteria, California. A self-serve pump dispenser of Cholula Original Hot Sauce on the counter invites them to add zest to Baja fish tacos, shrimp tacos, grilled ahi tuna sandwiches and many other items.
“Some people put it on the side; others pump it right on a fish taco,” says Will Ransone, owner of the oceanfront restaurant. “It gives an extra pop of flavor.”
Along with the seafood items, Padaro Beach patrons also like to dress up French fries, nachos or burgers with Cholula, Ransone says. He estimates that 40 percent of them customize their meals in that manner.
In addition, Ransone has explored dipping sauces for special items made with other flavors of Cholula. The line also includes Chipotle, Green Pepper, Chile Lime, and Chile Garlic varieties. The customer reaction has been enthusiastic. “Peoples’ palates are more adventurous today and many are interested in trying new things,” Ransone says.
A glance at menus around the country reveals many more examples of spiced-up seafood. At Wildflower Bread Company, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based chain of 14 fast-casual restaurants, a salmon sandwich with a lively flavor profile is in development. It features a fillet of grilled wild Alaskan salmon on a brioche roll with sweet shishito pepper aioli sparked by Cholula Original. It is topped with basil leaves, tomatoes and a sunny egg.
Poke, a marinated, raw fish salad of Hawaiian origin, often has a spicy component. It is one of a handful of items touted as “heating up” in the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot 2017 Culinary Forecast. Aloha Poke Co. in Chicago offers sashimi-grade ahi tuna or salmon over a bowl of rice or mixed greens punched up with add-ons like Spicy Aioli, Volcano Sauce (chile and ponzu mayo), wasabi and jalapeños.
In San Francisco, Sushirrito features Asian-Latin sushi burritos like the Sumo Crunch, a medley of shrimp tempura, surimi crab, shaved cabbage, cucumber, ginger guacamole and red tempura flakes with sriracha aioli. Sushi Burrito in Chicago raises the heat level with the Ganzo, a burrito with spicy salmon, spicy tuna, spicy crab salad, cream cheese, cucumber, avocado, spinach, sweet potato, jalapeño, hot sauce and unagi sauce.
Also in vogue is ceviche, a Latin-inspired dish of citrus-marinated seafood. Leche de tigre — “tiger’s milk” in Spanish — is a piquant Peruvian ceviche marinade that includes hot chiles, lime and garlic. Raymi in New York City offers salmon ceviche with ginger, peanuts, sesame seeds, wontons and habanero chile. GT Fish and Oyster in Chicago menus ceviche with coconut, roasted brown rice and Fresno chili.
There is no end in sight to the customer appetite for lively and innovative seafood applications. Chefs and restaurateurs can tap into the trend by leveraging boldly flavored sauces, like those of Cholula’s flavorful options mentioned above, both in recipes and as condiments for customizing dishes at the table.