As executive chef for more than 15 years at the Grand Central Oyster Bar in Manhattan’s bustling Grand Central Station, Sandy Ingber continues to make a daily 4 a.m. visit to the Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx to get his pick of the best mollusks and other seafood for the restaurant. And right now, he says, the getting is good.
Although oyster season traditionally takes place during the summer, Ingber says that East Coast oysters—which happen to be most popular with his customers—are currently of the highest quality due to the area's unseasonably warm weather.
Nation’s Restaurant News recently spoke with Ingber about the popularity of oysters, his favorite ways to prepare seafood and the importance of sustainability.
Oysters seem to be more popular than ever right now. Is that something you’ve noticed, or has it just been business as usual at your restaurant?
Oysters have been super popular since around 2000. Since the economic boom of the late '90s, it seems everyone decided that oyster farming was an 'in' thing to do— which was great for me and my restaurant. I usually have 30 varieties of oysters on my menu at any time.
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What types of oysters are the most popular with your customers, and why?
Blue Points, by far, because they are local and the name recognition is there. Also, they are a good beginner's oyster because they are mild and easy to eat. Belons and Kumamotos run a close second mainly because of their world famous names.
How do you like to use and prepare oysters other than serving them raw on the half shell?
We serve a Bloody Mary oyster shooter with either Pisco Portón or Double Cross vodka. We also serve oysters Rockefeller, broiled oysters with anchovy butter, fried oysters and a different oyster appetizer special daily.
What other types of seafood and preparations to you see gaining popularity with consumers?
Black cod is a really popular fish now, and it's the perfect substitute for Chilean sea bass, which we still boycott. The texture and flavor is amazing. We still blacken and Cajun-grill all kinds of different fish with assorted toppings such as salsa, relish, gumbo, etouffee and flavored compound butter. Any way we make these, they are popular.
What is your favorite way to prepare fish?
My favorite way to prepare fish is the way it sells the most, but I love pan-fried fish.
From where do you source your seafood, and how important is that to the quality of the product?
It is the most important. I still go to the Fulton Fish Market daily, but I have found myself sourcing directly from fishermen more and more, especially for quality purposes.
Do you currently notice any new culinary trends for seafood? Do you see anything exciting coming down the pipeline?
There aren’t really many different ideas lately. We continue to mix and match flavors with fish that we think would be a good match.
The biggest thing coming down the pipeline is making sure we stay as sustainable as possible so that we can continue to have fish and shellfish to cook in the far future. I am a believer of that and do my best to source product from places that adhere to state regulation on catch limits and sizes. This seems to be one of the best ways to stay on top of preserving our future.
Contact Charlie Duerr at [email protected].