If you want to innovate your seafood plate, you have some excellent options. First and foremost, you can get involved in a growing sustainable seafood trend that allows food service professionals to deliver new approaches to the plate. The technical term for this trend is “bycatch,” and it’s becoming a popular part of re-imagining how we harvest marine life. Bycatch fish, sometimes known as “trash fish,” are fish that commercial fisheries and fishermen typically dispose of because they don't have an established market for them. NOAA Fisheries offers this explanation: “Fishermen sometimes catch and discard animals they do not want, cannot sell, or are not allowed to keep. This is collectively known as ‘bycatch.’” Bycatch fish are, in other words, unwanted.
In trying to catch large-market fish like swordfish, tuna, salmon, or cod, fishing crews sweep up large amounts of other kinds of fish and marine creatures that often go to waste just because of a disjointed market strategy. Sustainable fishing experts are trying to change this unfortunate pattern. They want to make consumers aware that trash fish or bycatch are often just as healthy, or even healthier, than the big traditional catches. That’s a big part of why you may be seeing more and more bycatch fish on a menu near you.
Pursuing Sustainable Seafood
If you’ve read about the disconnect between markets and sustainable fishing, you might be motivated to add bycatch fish and sea life to your menu because it's a win-win. These types of fish tend to be cheaper than others because the market doesn't put a premium on them — but in terms of value and health, they're just as good or better than many traditional options. For example, more sophisticated restaurant diners sometimes turn up their noses at farmed salmon, which exists partly because of overfishing. With the right guidance, these diners could warm up to other lesser-known fish and enjoy some of the more diverse seafood tastes on a menu.
Types of Popular Bycatch Fish and Sea Creatures
What's going on the plate when chefs are embracing the trash fish philosophy? Fish varieties like the Atlantic butterfish or lionfish have their own unique tastes and textures that chefs are adapting for use in dishes like stews or ceviche. There's also the Sea Robin, which is an elegant fish with big side fins. It has a hearty texture that works well as a fillet. Other examples of bycatch are smaller fish varieties, like anchovies and sardines.
These tiny but flavorful fish have a small presence in the American market, but they are very much in demand in other areas around the world. They can be incorporated into salad dressings or added to pasta to build and intensify flavors. Then there are different kinds of crabs, varieties of squid, and creatures like skates, all of which can diversify a dinner plate and help adventurous diners expand their horizons.
Cooking Bycatch Fish
If you are cooking bycatch fish, you may want to imitate some of the techniques you would otherwise use with corresponding large-catch varieties of marine life. For example, it’s common to make a correlation between skates and scallops in terms of cooking and plating techniques. You might use butter fish or even Sea Robin in place of cod, especially when their durability may help prevent dishes from falling apart on the plate.
Other smaller creatures or those with flakier flesh might go into a remoulade or other sauce to intensify their flavor. Crab varieties will require some labor-intensive prep work, but a little bit goes a long way in gourmet cooking. It's easy to justify the labor when the end result is a delicious menu item made with unique and sophisticated ingredients. Like fresh local produce, sustainable seafood has a lot of potential. Don’t be afraid to partner with new vendors and experiment with new dishes. It’s an exciting way to think about seafood. Pivoting to bycatch is a great way to open up your possibilities and innovate for better health and cuisine in the future.
At Chefs’ Toys, we embrace these kinds of creative ideas. We strive to operate a business that is “for chefs, by chefs,” which means that our people have proven their skills in the kitchen. Ask us any questions about the best gear for your restaurant or food service business.