Seafood’s Low-Carb Fit

If low-carb still rates high among your customers’ dining preferences, you might take another look at seafood.

Low-carb menu requests are retaining some staying power, despite how the frenzy has died down somewhat in recent months. Once the domain of athletes and fitness buffs, then seemingly most of the population, low-carb dishes might finally have found their niche—if not among the population, certainly in the average customer’s diet.

Of course, it’s not all meat and eggs. Seafood fits well into the low-carb, high-protein menu category—per serving, most seafood is lower in fat than meat or eggs. This makes seafood the perfect menu item for customers attempting to keep their carb- and calorie-intake low.

They may not have set out to do it, but many chefs across the country are offering gourmet, low-carb seafood entrees:

  • At Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, Chef Jim Fitzgerald offers braised shark with lemon pesto.
  • In Phoenix, Chef Vincent Guerithault at Vincent’s on Camelback offers steamed scallops with ginger and basil.
  • At Pesce Restaurant in Houston, Chef Mark Holley offers a creole seafood stew with shrimp, seafood boudin sausage, mussels, sea scallops, clams and shrimp stock.

Butter up: Low-carb seafood does not mean dry or flavorless offerings. Simply broiling fish steaks, fillets, shrimp or scallops with maitre d’hotel butter (butter seasoned with chopped fresh parsley and lemon) or other savory compound butters (think of whipped butter seasoned with cayenne or red pepper flakes, chopped basil and lemon or cracked black pepper and garlic) makes for a savory low-carb entrée.

Other simple preparations include stovetop-poaching in court bouillon or oven-poaching in parchment. Think about:

  • Salmon steamed with lemon and olive oil, flavored with thyme, black pepper and lemon zest.
  • Roasted red snapper seasoned with fresh cilantro, rosemary and oregano.
  • Grilled sea bass made with Cajun seasonings.
  • Grilled catfish with charred Southwestern spices.
  • Pecan-crusted halibut.
  • Paupiettes of salmon with shrimp mousseline.
  • Steamed black bass with mustard vinaigrette.

Match and cook: Seafood is naturally low in carbs, and can be easy to menu. Seafood menu items can be quickly prepared with a variety of cooking techniques. Match the seafood to its best cooking method, relying on fat content as a guide.

For cold seafood salads, hold the pasta and potatoes, and add chopped hard-cooked eggs, flavored mayonnaise-based dressings and a small vegetable garnish. Think of cold poached salmon and halibut salad, shrimp and crab salad, mussel and shrimp salad, chilled ahi and crab salad, or chilled monkfish salad. Expand on traditional shrimp cocktails or oysters Rockefeller with the addition of chopped apple-smoked bacon or seafood sausage.

Here’s a general guide to matching fish to a preparation method:

Grilling: Almost any type of seafood can be grilled, but salmon, trout, swordfish, blue fish, bass and snapper, oysters and clams on the half shell, stuffed squid and whole lobsters really shine. Think about marinating leaner fish prior to grilling, and always brush with butter or oil while cooking

Baking/roasting: Fatty fish such as blue fish, tuna and salmon can hold up to prolonged temperatures required for baking or roasting. You’ll want to add a sauce, since the fish does not get a chance to caramelize in the oven. Season fresh oysters with spinach, watercress and Pernod for a baked oysters Rockefeller or offer lobster refilled in shell with a savory butter, garlic and dill sauce

Sautéing: The secret to successful sautéing is to cut seafood into even pieces and cook over a fast heat. Think about sautéed halibut with three-color pepper coulis and black olives or sautéed lemon sole with Moroccan preserved lemons and capers.

Steaming: Steaming adds no fat to a dish, offering flavor with a seasoned liquid. There are many ways to steam seafood: skin-on for whole fish; shellfish or mollusks in the shell; oven-steamed (en papillote) in parchment or foil. Salmon, sea bass, mussels and clams do well with steaming. Steam Cantonese-style with white wine, green onions, ginger, garlic, sugar and soy sauce. Always steam seafood in a flavored liquid.

Poaching: White lean fish, such as turbot, hoki or sole, benefit from poaching. Think about offering a very classic, very classy fillet of sole bonne femme, poached in wine and fish stock flavored with sautéed shallots and mushrooms, served with a veloute, parsley and lemon juice.

Smoking: Smoking began as a food preservation method, but it’s used nowadays more to add flavor than to extend shelf life. Fish with higher fat contents, such as salmon, swordfish, cod and shark, do well with hot or cold smoking. Shellfish, such as shrimp and lobster, do well with cold smoking, especially if they’ve been brined first. Seafood brines can be combinations of salt (usually kosher or coarse salt), citrus juice, garlic, onions, and herbs or spices of your choice.