Why frozen seafood can be a great catch

You can find seafood in metro Atlanta, including (clockwise starting from top left) salmon fillets, Gulf shrimp, tuna steaks, barramundi fillets and sea scallops. STYLING BY SUSAN PUCKETT / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

With better tech and right species, it can lead to fine meals

In the tiny bayou town of Chauvin, Louisiana, where Melissa Martin grew up, practically every home has a large chest freezer — sometimes two.

“We’re like a fish factory down there,” says the chef and author of “Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes From a Disappearing Bayou” (Artisan Books, $35). “My family fishes every day. They fillet what they catch, eat some fresh right away, and freeze the rest for later.”

Today at her intimate New Orleans restaurant for which her book is named, she serves seafood she buys directly from local fishermen she knows. Almost all of it, other than crab and crawfish, has been previously frozen.

“It’s a delicacy to be able to catch a fish and immediately put it on the grill,” says Martin. “But if you can’t do that, there’s nothing wrong with frozen seafood, if you buy from a trusted source.”

Among consumers who must rely on the supermarket for their seafood choices, frozen seafood has suffered a bad rap, and often for justifiable reasons. Its delicate flesh can turn to mush if not frozen and thawed under optimal conditions.

But sourcing never-frozen seafood can be an expensive and tricky proposition for the average consumer who doesn’t have a reliable fishmonger to turn to for guidance. Much of what’s sold at supermarket seafood counters has been sitting on ice for days. And nearly all shrimp, and often other offerings on display, have been pre-frozen and thawed for visual appeal.

But freezing technology has vastly improved, says Bill Demmond, COO for Inland Seafood in Atlanta. “And the reality is nowadays, most are flash-frozen right on the boat, sometimes to temperatures of under minus 120 degrees within five or six minutes, and that makes a huge difference in the texture. (Depending on the season and species), frozen is often a little better than never-frozen.”

Consumers seem to be catching on to this realization. The seafood industry website SeafoodSource reported that late May sales of frozen seafood outpaced all other frozen food categories, compared to the previous year. And in the wake of COVID-19, as home cooks get more adventurous in exploring proteins beyond the familiar, retail sales of seafood in all forms — fresh, frozen, and shelf-stable — are setting records across the U.S.

Atlanta chef and culinary consultant Virginia Willis began stocking her home freezer with individual packages of frozen fish long before the pandemic, for not only the taste, but for the myriad health benefits: heart-healthy, good for the brain, and much more. “With my desire to eat more fish, it just seemed a smart thing to keep in the freezer. I still buy fresh fish at the market, but frozen is super handy to have on hand.”

An avid fisher for most of her life, Willis educates the public on seafood sustainability as a member of Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, and has recently begun consulting with Wild Alaskan Seafood, a monthly membership that delivers wild-caught, sustainable seafood to your door.

For the recipes in this article, we used sustainable products from the freezer cases of Whole Foods and Kroger. STYLING BY SUSAN PUCKETT / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Quality, of course, ranges widely from one product to the next. Fresh or frozen, it's vital to know where your seafood comes from and how it was raised, she says. Read labels. Buy domestic when in doubt. You'll have to pay more for wild-caught American shrimp than an imported farm-raised species, but "a lot of farm-raised shrimp is not sustainable and grown in massive farms where antibiotics are administered," Willis notes. Further guidance can be found at seafoodwatch.org.

And be sure to follow package instructions for thawing. For best results, Willis recommends defrosting slowly overnight in the refrigerator, as “you’re less likely to have pockets of a still-frozen middle.” But if you’re in a rush, you can also thaw the fillets or shellfish in a bowl of cold water 30 minutes or so before cooking. Lastly, if the fish is vacuum-sealed, remove all packaging before thawing to prevent formation of toxins that can cause botulism.

FRESH AND FROZEN SEAFOOD, DELIVERED TO YOUR DOORSTEP

There are now numerous ways to order quality seafood beyond what the supermarket has to offer online. Here are a few:

Inland Seafood. Throughout its 42-year history, Inland Seafood has primarily catered to the restaurant and food service industry. Since COVID-19, most of its business has shifted to retail grocers and food clubs. And in recent weeks, they've begun delivering products directly to consumers' doorsteps. domesticseafood.com

Louisiana Seafood. Chef Melissa Martin of New Orleans' Mosquito Supper Club restaurant is a staunch supporter of local fishermen abiding by sustainable practices, and in her book by the same name, recommends several that do delivery, including Sea to Table (fish, shrimp), Sea2table.com; and Louisiana Direct Seafood (crabs, fish, oysters, shrimp), louisianadirectseafoodshop.com.

Wild Alaskan Company. This monthly delivery company offers multiple plans to take the guesswork out of wild-caught, sustainable seafood. They've partnered with local chef and culinary consultant Virginia Willis, and by using her promo code VIRGINIA, you can get $25 off for signing up. wildalaskancompany.combit.ly/25offWildAlaskanCompany

RECIPES

A freezer-full of seafood can open up oceans of possibilities for quick, healthy, creative meals that taste luxurious, but won’t break your budget. For each of these recipes, I used sustainable products from the freezer cases of Whole Foods and Kroger.

Smothered Eggplant and Shrimp, excerpted from “Mosquito Supper Club” by Melissa Martin (Artisan Books, $35), deliciously melds two Cajun staples into one rustic, satisfying supper. CONTRIBUTED BY DENNY CULBERT

Smothered Eggplant and Shrimp

Shrimp freeze exceptionally well, and are always handy to have on hand for simple suppers such as this rustic dish from “Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes From a Disappearing Bayou” by Melissa Martin (Artisan Books, $35). Martin finds the smaller shrimp sweeter and more flavorful, and is particularly partial to inland shrimp rather than offshore. If you’re limited to the supermarket, she advises seeking wild-caught shrimp from the U.S. and avoiding nondomestic varieties. “This dish has the texture and consistency of a great tapenade — thicker than a stew, with enough structure to top rice or toast,” Martin writes.

Smothered Eggplant and Shrimp
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
  • 1 pound onions (about 3 large onions), finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
  • 1 1/2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper, plus more as needed
  • 1 pound peeled and deveined small shrimp
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce, preferably Original Louisiana Hot Sauce, plus more as needed
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion, for garnish
  • Warm a heavy-bottomed 8-quart Dutch oven over medium heat for 2 minutes, then add 2 tablespoons of the oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes.
  • Add the garlic to the onions and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
  • Add the eggplant and bay leaf, then season with a pinch of salt and black pepper and stir to combine. Cover and let the vegetables smother together for 1 hour, or until the eggplant is falling apart, stirring every 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, put the shrimp in a large bowl and season with 1 teaspoon salt, the black pepper, cayenne and hot sauce.
  • After the eggplant is smothered, warm a saute pan over medium-high heat for a minute or two, then add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and heat for 1 minute. Add the seasoned shrimp and sear for 2 minutes on each side, until they’re just starting to brown, then transfer the shrimp to the pot with the eggplant and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to its lowest setting, cover, and let the shrimp and eggplant smother together for about 8 minutes. Taste and season again, if necessary.
  • Serve the shrimp and eggplant garnished with the parsley and green onion.Serves 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 265 calories (percent of calories from fat, 39), 19 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 12 grams fat (trace saturated fat), 143 milligrams cholesterol, 1,263 milligrams sodium.

Excerpted from “Mosquito Supper Club” by Melissa Martin (Artisan Books, 2020).

Panko-crusted Fish Fillet with Spicy Remoulade with Oven-roasted Asparagus and Grape Tomatoes is an easy and flavorful meal in one that works with any fish fillet, fresh or frozen. CONTRIBUTED BY VIRGINIA WILLIS

Panko-crusted Fish Fillet with Spicy Remoulade with Oven-roasted Asparagus and Grape Tomatoes

To help people get comfortable with cooking fish, Atlanta chef Virginia Willis advises recipes such as this one, which works well with virtually any fillet, fresh or frozen. “A crust, a coating, moist vegetables, or even using the skin of whole trout puts training wheels on fish recipes by protecting the delicate flesh and ensuring perfect moist fish, every time.”

Panko-crusted Fish Fillet with Spicy Remoulade with Oven-roasted Asparagus and Grape Tomatoes
  • 1 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 small cloves garlic, very finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 (5-ounce) pieces fish fillet
  • Prepared remoulade (recipe follows)
  • Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Spread out the asparagus spears in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil and shake the pan to evenly coat the spears. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Move the asparagus to one side of the baking sheet. Place the tomato halves adjacent to the asparagus; set aside.
  • Combine the breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, red pepper and lemon zest in a small bowl. Brush each fish with some of the remaining olive oil, then add the rest of the olive oil to the breadcrumb mixture. Season the breadcrumb mixture with salt and pepper and stir to combine.
  • Place the fish on the other side of the baking sheet from the asparagus. Divide the breadcrumb mixture on the top side of each fillet. Roast until the breadcrumbs are browned and the fish is opaque, about 8 minutes. (Cook salmon to 125 degrees and halibut and cod to 130 degrees when measured with an instant-read thermometer.)
  • If the asparagus isn’t quite done, remove the fish to a serving plate and increase the heat of the oven to broil. Continue to cook the asparagus until lightly charred, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve immediately on warmed serving plates with remoulade on the side. Serves 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, excluding Spicy Remoulade: 346 calories (percent of calories from fat, 32), 31 grams protein, 28 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 12 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 61 milligrams cholesterol, 163 milligrams sodium.
Spicy Remoulade
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 stalk celery, very finely chopped
  • 2 green onions, white and pale green parts only, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce or to taste
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Serve as an accompaniment to fish. If not using immediately, store refrigerated in a lidded container up to 3 days.Makes about 1 cup.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per tablespoon: 25 calories (percent of calories from fat, 71), trace protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace fiber, 2 grams fat (trace saturated fat), 1 milligram cholesterol, 58 milligrams sodium.
Perfect Seared Scallops with Arugula and Cauliflower Puree, excerpted from “Buck Naked Kitchen” by Kirsten Buck, takes the intimidation out of searing scallops. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. CONTRIBUTED BY KIRSTEN BUCK

Perfect Seared Scallops with Arugula and Cauliflower Puree

“Preparing scallops may seem quite intimidating, but they are actually one of the easiest and quickest types of seafood to prepare,” writes Kirsten Buck, author of “Buck Naked Kitchen” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28), in the introduction to this delightful restaurant-worthy meal that comes together in less than 30 minutes. “The secret to a good sear is to make sure your pan is nice and hot and that the scallops are dry so they sear rather than steam.”

Perfect Seared Scallops with Arugula and Cauliflower Puree
  • 1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets (about 4 heaping cups)
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or clarified butter
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 10 large fresh scallops, side muscle removed, rinsed and dried with a paper towel
  • 2 cups packed baby arugula
  • Add 1 inch of water to a large saucepan. Place a steamer basket or colander in the saucepan and add the cauliflower. Cover the pan and bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and steam the cauliflower for 15 minutes, until easily pierced with a fork. Transfer the cauliflower florets to a blender. Add the chicken broth, coconut milk, and ghee and blend on high until smooth. Season generously with salt and pepper to taste.
  • In a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon, stirring, until crispy. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel–lined plate. Retain the fat in the skillet. Crumble the bacon when cool enough to handle.
  • Season the dry scallops with salt and pepper.
  • Heat the bacon fat in the cast-iron skillet over high heat for 1 minute. Using tongs, place the scallops seasoned side down in the skillet. Sear the scallops, turning once, until each side develops a golden crust and the centers are translucent, about 90 seconds per side. Remove the scallops from the pan.
  • Serve the cauliflower puree topped with the arugula and scallops. Sprinkle with the crumbled bacon.Serves 2.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 569 calories (percent of calories from fat, 62), 28 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams fiber, 41 grams fat (21 grams saturated), 87 milligrams cholesterol, 1,188 milligrams sodium.

Excerpted from “Buck Naked Kitchen” © 2020 by Kirsten Buck. Photography © 2020 by Kirsten Buck. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Veracruz Seafood Cocktail, excerpted from “The Deep End of Flavor” by Tenney Flynn with Susan Puckett (Gibbs Smith, $30), is a refreshing way to perfect your poaching skills with shrimp and calamari. CONTRIBUTED BY DANNY LEE

Veracruz Seafood Cocktail

If you haven’t yet discovered the virtues of frozen calamari, I highly recommend trying it in this recipe for a wonderfully refreshing Mexican-style seafood cocktail from “The Deep End of Flavor,” which chef/co-author Tenney Flynn aptly describes as “a kind of a cross between chilled soup and ceviche.” It’s fully cleaned and a snap to thaw, cook, and use in numerous ways. Vary the seafood here however you like — the spicy tomato base will accommodate most anything from the sea.

Veracruz Seafood Cocktail
  • 12 ounces frozen cleaned squid, tubes and tentacles (or use octopus)
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 parsley stems (reserve the leaves for another use)
  • 1/2 cup large-dice sweet onion
  • 12 ounces (16-20 or 21-25) wild-caught American shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 quart ice
  • 1/2 pound jumbo lump crab or crab fingers, optional
  • 1/2 pint fresh oysters, optional
  • For the tomato base:
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup tomato juice
  • 6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1/4 cup large-dice roasted red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus a few sprigs for garnish
  • 1 avocado, peeled and sliced (for serving)
  • Prepare the seafood: Thaw the squid under cold running water for 5 to 10 minutes and separate the tentacles. Feel the center of each to check for small pieces of beak and remove them. Run water inside the tubes and remove any stray debris with a finger. Slice the cleaned tubes in 1/4-inch pieces. Place them in a bowl and mix them together with the tentacles.
  • In a large pot, bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the salt, pepper, bay leaves and parsley stems and stir. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the onion and continue to simmer until slightly softened, about 3 minutes longer. With a slotted spoon, remove the onion, spread out on a plate, and put in the refrigerator.
  • Raise the heat and return the liquid to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook for 2 or 3 minutes, until the shrimp are just beginning to turn pink. You don’t want them all the way done — the lime juice in the sauce will finish “cooking” them.
  • With a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to a large bowl. Return the liquid to a boil, add the squid, and cook for another 3 minutes. Transfer the squid to the bowl with the shrimp, add the ice, and pour the cooking liquid over them. There should be enough ice to completely cool the mixture. Let the shellfish sit in the water while you make the tomato base. (You can prepare the seafood the day before and chill in the refrigerator.)
  • Prepare tomato base: In a medium bowl, mix together the ketchup, tomato juice, citrus juices, Tabasco, roasted pepper, and the cooled onion. Mix in the cilantro and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until very cold.
  • To serve, drain the squid and shrimp and add it to the tomato base, along with the crab and/or oysters, if using. Serve in chilled footed glass goblets or glass bowls. Garnish with avocado slices and cilantro sprigs.Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 4: 396 calories (percent of calories from fat, 25), 43 grams protein, 32 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 11 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 390 milligrams cholesterol, 1,774 milligrams sodium.

Excerpted from “The Deep End of Flavor: Recipes and Stories From New Orleans’ Premier Seafood Chef” by Tenney Flynn with Susan Puckett (Gibbs Smith, 2019).

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