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Chefs keep it simple with crudo Tu
Crudo with guava, habanero is topped with shaved “cheese ice” at Tu in Charleston, SC.

Chefs keep it simple with crudo

Raw fish with a few vibrant flavors make for dazzling appetizers

One of the hottest seafoods on menus today is actually cold and raw. Crudo, the raw fish or seafood dish, is becoming the new must-have menu item, chefs and restauranteurs say

“What is new and interesting here is how many places have a crudo on the menu,” said Peter Juusola, general manager and partner of Greenpoint Fish and Lobster Co. in Brooklyn, N.Y. “It's the new menu item that everyone has to have.”

Often called the Italian version of sashimi, crudo, unlike its untouched-fish-focused Japanese counterpart, is about enhancing the flavor profile of the fish with high-quality ingredients, such as extra virgin olive oil, citrus and fresh herbs.

At Greenpoint Fish and Lobster Co. crudo appear on the menu based on seasonality and availability of fish and seafood. This time of year they prefer to use local black sea bass or local fluke, but one of Juusola’s favorite crudo varieties is the scallop currently on the menu.

“Our live sea scallop crudo is pretty unique for preparation and presentation,” he said.

One Market Restuarant

Hawaiian kanpachi crudo with green apple, ponzu and horseradish at One Market Restaurant in San Francisco.

To prepare it, a live scallop in the shell is cleaned, the meat is removed and thinly sliced and then carefully arranged back in the shell and seasoned with Maldon salt and olive oil.

Chef Mike Ward at The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards, an American concept influenced by Italian, French, and California cuisine, in Livermore, Calif., is a fan of starting meals with raw fish dishes, especially kanpachi, an open-water, sustainably raised fish also known as amberjack.

“Starting a meal off with raw fish is one of the best ways to go,” he said. “There are a lot of different species out there that chefs are using today for dishes like crudo and ceviche. For me, I really like using kanpachi.”

To get his guests started off right, Ward prepares the kanpachi crudo with a rotating selection of flavors.

“[Kanpachi] goes best with fresh wasabi. It also acts as a culinary sponge, taking on any flavor you apply to it,” Ward said. “You don't have to only serve it with Asian-inspired flavors. Many times, we have used Moroccan and Spanish flavors on this fish.” 

Though seemingly simple to prepare, “crudos and other raw preparations are not easy to do well,” said Mark Dommen, chef and partner at One Market Restaurant in San Francisco.

Currently on Dommen’s menu is a Hawaiian kampachi, or yellowtail, crudo prepared with green apple, ponzu and horseradish.

“It’s all about having the best quality ingredients and knowing how to balance flavors in a way that enhances the dish,” said Dommen. “A good crudo showcases the beauty of a seasonal ingredient like halibut and lets nature’s bounty be the star.”

Nicholas Elmi, executive chef and partner of Royal Boucherie in Philadelphia, said he enjoys working with lesser known species for his crudo. He recently served sea robin cured in sakekasu, the inactive yeast leftover from sake production, and served with shaved radish and yuzu purée.

“The sea robin is a rare fish to get, as it's bycatch,” or fish caught incidentally in the process of fishing for other species, said Elmi. “We keep it really simple because I want to highlight the flavor of the fish. Sea robins feed on crustaceans, so the meat is fairly sweet, and we want to ensure that comes through."

Also on Elmi’s menu is a surf clam crudo with smoked mayonnaise, fines herbes and sourdough. The dish is a cold version of the restaurant’s herb-baked clams.

Although fairly simple crudo preparations are the norm, that doesn’t mean unusual ingredients can be brought in to play.

Executive chef Josh Walker did that at Tu in Charleston, S.C., where he recently offered a crudo with guava, habanero and “cheese ice” made using the restaurant’s vintage shaved ice machine.

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