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Coast-to-Coast Seafood Tips from Top Chefs

World-renowned executive chefs of Avra Madison in NYC & Michael Mina Restaurant in SF bring you the ultimate guide

You may order the Surf n’ Turf every time you dine at your steakhouse of choice, but the only way you’re guaranteed to know the ins and outs of seafood is when you’ve heard it from those who know it best. We spoke to two world-renowned chefs – one from each coast – and got the low-down on their experiences with cooking, preparing, and most importantly consuming their favorite delicacies from the sea. For certain, you’ll be going at the full fish, bones and all, on your plate with more confidence and expertise.

Below, your ultimate guide to seafood. Bon appetit.

Executive Chef Raj Dixit

Michael Mina Restaurant, San Francisco

michaelmina.net 

First time working with seafood

The first time I remember cooking seafood was when we were living in Warwick, RI. For my fourth and fifth birthday, my mother would take me down to the wharf and buy a live lobster (partially for her) to cook at home. I remember the smell of the lobster boil and I was fascinated by it turning red. 

Greatest challenge in working with seafood

The greatest surprise or challenge in cooking seafood is where to purchase great fish locally.

Common misconception when cooking seafood

That it is messy and difficult to work with at home. Nowadays your local butcher/fishmonger will filet almost everything for you into portioned cuts. Try to buy whole fish, and if you cannot filet it, have the butcher cut it up for you into manageable pieces. Personally, I love the simplicity of putting an oil and herb marinade on fish and grilling it for tacos. My favorite, most underrated way of cooking it is steaming it to perfection. This is the most challenging because it forces you to have an absolutely pristine product to execute.

Common misconception when ordering seafood

What determines what “fresh” is. There are a lot of restaurants that sell “fresh catch,” but the fish is actually “flash-frozen” and often times treated with chemicals. One of my favorite dishes that Michael Mina does now is a dish they did at Mina Test kitchen with Adam Sobel at MiddleTerranean. It’s kind of a hybrid dish that ties into Michael’s Middle Eastern roots and Adam’s Italian/Jewish heritage. The dish is his Pastrami Salmon on house made Laffa. The fish is seasoned with exotic spices and cured and cooked on a flatbread. The execution is everything. 

Executive Chef Mike D’Armi

Avra Madison, New York City

avrany.com

First time working with seafood

I’m an Italian-American from Philadelphia and grew up around a lot of food and at the age of 13 I started as dishwater at this mom and pop Italian place. They gave me little odd jobs to do on the side, and I’ll never forget the first time I peeled shrimp. The chef gave me the shrimp and said, “do this!” So I go down to the place’s basement and I’m peeling the shrimp but I’m breaking them. Every piece of shrimp I broke I threw in the trash, and when chef came down and saw all the shrimp I had thrown in the trash he freaked out, he pulled it all out of the trash and docked my pay. From that moment on I learned to really respect food, and seafood, as an art.

Greatest challenge in working with seafood

One of the things we highlight here at Avra, aside from our octopus, is our huge fish bar. It’s not your run-of-the-mill fish bar. We serve specialty fish that is coming from places like Spain, Greece and Portugal on a daily basis and there are challenges to cooking it when it’s coming from so far away. Sometimes the fish gets stopped at customs or the weather delays it from getting here. So you have to be on your game at all times.

Common misconception about cooking seafood

It’s not just like throwing something on the grill – you should pay attention to that piece of fish every minute when you’re cooking. When someone orders a $250, six-pound fish here that means someone’s investing in it. You have to cook it properly every time.

Common misconception about ordering seafood

We sell whole fish and I think people are intimidated by it. They think, “I’m going to have to get dirty, I’m going to need to use my hands,” but that’s not the case. We’re simply grilling you a whole fish: we open it very gently and delicately, and then we de-bone it for you. So you’re getting a fish that was cooked whole that’s then fileted. It’s actually quite elegant, not messy.

Main Image: Avra Madison fishbar

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