Mild seafood pairs with many flavors

It may not get all the attention of pink and palatable Atlantic salmon or firm and flavorful ahi tuna, however white fish — mild, quick-cooking species such as haddock, cod, halibut and tilapia — have their merits and many fans.

In the last few years, more chefs have begun menuing white fish, haddock in particular, because it’s ideal for everything from frying and searing, to baking, to using in soups, dips and chowders, and it has the ability to serve as a foundation on which to build a variety of flavors.

Largely popular in New England and the Mid-Atlantic, haddock has been gaining in popularity across the United States in recent years. Broadline sales of haddock increased in nearly every U.S. market between 2016 and 2018, according to the latest data acquired by Seafood Source. 

“Using white fish like cod, haddock and others allows me and other chefs the ability to take a very familiar protein and be creative, expanding guests’ horizons while still remaining approachable,” said Bill Greene, executive chef and partner at Peppervine in Charlotte, N.C. Greene menus a variety of white fish, highlighting versatility of the protein.

He said that, while he might offer a different type of white fish based on seasonal availability, he can keep the recipe essentially the same.

During later summer and early autumn, Greene rotates halibut, cod and flounder with a preparation of corn and lady pea succotash, grilled squash, Vidalia onion, and a smoked yellow tomato emulsion.

Similarly, on the menu board at Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co., a fast-casual seafood bar and market in the Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood of Williamsburg, dishes such as tacos, sandwiches and fish & chips stay the same, but the type of fish is swapped out almost daily depending on availability. 

“I love using haddock the most for fish & chips because it cooks quick and comes out perfect, flaky and delicious every time,” said Greenpoint’s chef, Orion Russell.

A shortage in 2018 of wild Alaska salmon on the market has driven chef and partner Mychael Bonner of Di Pescara, a seafood, sushi and steak restaurant in Northbrook, Ill., to serve more white fish, specifically an almond-crusted Lake Superior whitefish with lemon butter.

“As far as I know, the recent 2019 harvest was a better year for salmon, but I saw a lot more people ordering white fish during the last couple years due to higher prices in salmon,” he said.

“Whitefish is typically a lighter, cleaner tasting fish that pairs well with almost any flavor,” said Bonner. “It’s always been a popular fish, but with a shortage of salmon on the market and more innovative white fish dishes, we’ve seen an uptick in demand.”

Lake Superior whitefish is also on the menu at Wildfire, a steak, chops and seafood concept with seven locations in the Midwest and Virginia. At Wildfire’s suburban Illinois locations, executive chef and partner Joe Decker serves the whitefish piccata-style with spinach, wild mushrooms, lemon-caper butter and redskin mashed potatoes.

“Whitefish remains a great value and more affordable compared to your salmon, halibut, tuna, mahi mahi and so on,” said Decker.

White fish varieties ranging from haddock to halibut and more have long been popular at Shaw’s Crab House in Chicago.

“People like these fish because they are mild flavored and they are very adaptable to many different preparations,” said partner Steve LaHaie. “They can be grilled, steamed, sautéed, and baked which gives our chefs many options.”

Currently on the menu is a parmesan-crusted George’s Bank haddock served with sautéed spinach and lemon butter, and an oven-roasted Pacific halibut served with white asparagus salad and herb vinaigrette, and topped with pea tendrils.

“Our biggest selling seasonal item throughout the year is halibut, which we have from March to November,” said LaHaie. “We have haddock available year-round as it remains one of our mainstays.”