Be it crabs, mussels, clams, scallops or—the big daddy of all shellfish—lobster, operators have come up with endless ways to incorporate these invertebrates into their menus. But it’s the satisfaction these dishes give customers that operators say makes any extra cost or labor associated with serving these sea creatures worth it.
Lobster is, obviously, a huge deal at the University of Maine, in Orono, says Glenn Taylor, director of culinary services. Along with a yearly lobster feed, where the department usually orders about 2,000 of the crustaceans, Taylor says the department incorporates lobster wherever it can. Taylor’s team has used leftover lobsters from the event to make dishes like lobster ravioli. Using premade pasta sheets, the team made a filling with lobster, ricotta cheese, Parmesan, scallions, parsley, dill, Tabasco sauce, salt and pepper. The pasta was folded up, brushed with an egg wash and served with a sauce made from the boiled down lobster bodies, heavy cream, white wine and shallots.
“We’ve also done a seafood carbonara, which included Maine lobster, scallops and shrimp,” Taylor says. “Otherwise it was a very traditional [carbonara] with bacon, onion, garlic and egg.” The team also makes a seafood paella that features lobster, shrimp and mussels. The dish is made with a little olive oil, onions, garlic, turmeric, white wine, vegetable stock, tomatoes, capers, red pepper strips and rice.
Beyond Maine’s signature shellfish, Taylor says his team has served a seafood Creole, which included Maine shrimp, scallops and haddock, plus garlic, onions, celery, cayenne pepper, tomato purée, green and red diced peppers, chorizo sausage, sherry, thyme, roux, basil and Worcestershire sauce. Another popular preparation is the department’s lemon grass mussels, which is a combination of Maine mussels, shallots, garlic, white wine, butter, parsley, tarragon, lemon grass and thyme.
Taylor’s team has been able to overcome some challenges of working with shellfish simply by purchasing cleaner products. “When we started serving mussels, especially more a few years ago, it would take forever to clean them,” Taylor says. “Now we’ve moved to a cleaned product. With lobster, the biggest challenge is the cost. But I think what I like the most about it for our student program is that I don’t think students ever thought they were going to get that kind of food here. It shows them we are more than just a cafeteria. The students really appreciate it.”
At Allegro, an LTC facility in St. Augustine, Fla., Eric Henley, dining services director, likes working with shellfish because it only takes a light touch to enhance the flavor to make a well-rounded dish.
“We do a paella bar at our action station where we offer shrimp, steamed mussels or oysters as options for residents to build their own paella,” Henley says. “We also have a couple different salads we do with shrimp and scallops. Those are marinated in white wine, lime juice, orange zest, olive oil and black pepper. We grill the shrimp or scallops and put them on a salad plate with mixed greens, citrus and avocado. Another great dish we make is chicken Oscar, which is a sautéed boneless, skinless chicken breast topped with crabmeat. We plate that with asparagus spears and top it with hollandaise sauce.”
Fresh or frozen?
Joy Cantrell, executive chef at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, in Burbank, Calif., likes working with frozen products. “I haven’t had great consistency with fresh items,” Cantrell says. “Plus, the cost doesn’t allow me to order them frequently.”
One dish her department offers is mussels in pasta, where they first steam the mussels in garlic, thyme, white wine, lemon juice and chicken broth. Once the mussels open, they make the pasta, linguini in a white wine and lemon sauce.
The department also serves mussels in catering by arranging them on a platter and topping them with a spray of lemon juice, chopped tomato salsa or an onion/cilantro salsa. Another simple shellfish dish Cantrell serves in catering is cucumber rounds with a cream and Boursin cheese blend topped with lemon-herb seasoned shrimp, garnished with honeydew melon balls and rosemary.
Thinking outside the box
Michael Uddo, executive chef with Sodexo at Olive Blue Catering at Tulane University, in New Orleans, says his team likes to try new twists on traditional dishes when incorporating shellfish into recipes.
“We do a baked Louisiana oyster on the half shell,” Uddo says. “We shuck it and top it with a cornbread dressing with bacon and fresh thyme and a little mozzarella. We bake it off and it’s a really beautiful dish.”
Another favorite is a take on classic deviled eggs that the team tops with jumbo lump crabmeat salad. The crabmeat salad features mayonnaise, Creole mustard and horseradish.
“We actually do that for breakfast a lot around here,” Uddo says. “It’s really, really popular. Another fun dish we have done is, we took a lobster tail and took it out of the shell. We steamed it in an Italian sausage and fennel broth. Then we topped it with a bunch of vegetables and a little watercress salad. We try to keep our shellfish dishes as light as possible. It was a nice variation on the traditional lobster with drawn butter.”