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Aug 25, 2008 01:09 PM

Fish/seafood in restaurants--frozen?

I was thinking about restaurants that have fish or shellfish on the menu--salmon, sole, swordfish, shrimp, etc.

It seems to me that such restaurants will keep their fish frozen, and defrost it when a customer orders it. Otherwise, if a restaurant tried to rely on keeping enough fresh fish on hand, there are 2 risks: the fish may go bad if no one orders it, and the restaurant could run out.

Anyone have any more knowledge about this, either from working in restaurants, or in the restaurant supply business?

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  1. I can't speak for the midwest, but here on the coast (Boston) any quality restaurant offering fish darn well better be using fresh or they'll go out of business. Figuring out how much to buy and dealing with waste are basic elements of restaurant management.

    This does not apply, of course, to fast food joints and Applebee's level crap chains, they'll use frozen everything.

    2 Replies
    1. re: BobB

      Ditto for the midwest.
      Howard 2 - A restaurant will run out of fresh fish. It doesn't bug me. It actually shows that they do use quality fish, and may have not ordered enough. Maybe the place was uncharacteristically busy. Life goes on. I'd rather the place be out of the fish I requested than get it frozen. Most of the time, it's REALLY easy tom tell when it's been frozen. Not ALL of the time, but MOST of the time.

      The menu price you pay for the fish and other items on the menu will offset losses of fish (and everything else) that goes bad. It's just another foodstuff with a shorter life span than others. (Celery goes bad, tomatoes go bad etc..)

      1. re: BobB

        A quality establishment will use quality products. Fish included.

        I remember a few years ago it was either the Daily News or the NY Post rated the chain restaurants in Time Square. They went to Red Lobster and on the menu it said "lobster fresh from our tanks." The writer asked to see the tanks and the server said something like they don't keep their lobsters in tanks. Needless to say I'll never go there.

      2. From personal experience, shrimp are usually frozen because the quality doesn't suffer quite as much as with other fish, and they're extremely perishable fresh. Good luck finding shrimp in a grocery store that has not been frozen, no matter where you live.

        I would imagine that if a restaurant uses frozen fish, they would thaw enough portions for a day or two at a time. Defrosting at the time the order is placed would be silly and time consuming.

        1. Most fish in an upscale restaurant (I've worked on west coast only) will come in fresh, often it got off the plane from Alaska early that morning. Fish can be delivered usually 6 days a week, the restaurant may not get an order every day, but will order enough for 2 or 3 days at a time and keep it under ice in the walk-in. One chef I worked for did get frozen scallops in because he didn't think the dayboats were worth charging so much extra for (trying to keep entrees affordable), but everything else was fresh. You get the fish in on ice early in the day, sous chef comes in and portions it, if its been a few days and its starting to get fishy, give it to staff or sell it to staff for cheap to cover costs (example $5 salmon for staff when its $30 on the menu).

          Ordering is an art of its own. In most places I've worked, we get produce every day except sunday, meat and fish 4 or 5 times a week, and dairy products and dry goods twice a week. Storage space is often at a premium, and you also want to keep fairly low inventory for accounting purposes, so no one is keeping freezers and freezers full of individually portioned frozen fish. But business can only be so predictable, some nights everybody orders steak, some nights its all fish, some nights its half and half.

          3 Replies
          1. re: babette feasts

            The only exception to this is most sushi fish. By law, it has to be flash frozen, because of concerns over bacterial levels. I was shocked when I learned this recently, but it makes sense.

              1. re: PorkButt

                Yes, you're right. We would also get sushi-grade tuna in frozen blocks for searing rare.

          2. Just abide by the cardinal rules:

            1) Never order fish on a Monday in any restaurant, and maybe even skip Tuesday!
            2) Only order fish in a seafood restaurant- steakhouses are for steak
            3) Avoid seafood chowder- it's usually the leftovers, scraps, and offal
            4) Tuna fish salad is something you should only make at home
            5) Farm-raised fish is for the farmers that farm them- AVOID!!!

            4 Replies
            1. re: paulispumonti

              Sorry, I have a different experience with #2. I'm not much of a red meat eater so I often order fish at a steakhouse. It's usually cooked perfectly, and is fresh!

              1. re: paulispumonti

                #3- but you could say the same about restaurant gumbo, and it ends up being such tasty leftovers, scraps, and offal

                #4- I can think of a couple places that have killer smoked tuna dip that I've never been able to replicate the taste of at home

                1. re: paulispumonti

                  #5 is true for some species but not all. Trout, tilapia, barrimundi and farmed oysters and clams are all great examples of sustainably farmed seafood. What you want to avoid is farmed shrimp and farmed carnivores -- like tuna ranching -- because it takes 20 pounds of wild caught fish to create 1 pound of farmed-raised tuna. Not a sustainable choice in any way.

                  1. re: paulispumonti

                    Re: #3. I made seafood chowder by the bucketful and it was always good fish, scallops, shrimp, etc. The fish cubes may have been trimmings from salmon sides, but there's nothing wrong with that.

                    But then, fish stock is made from leftovers, scraps, bones, etc, as is any stock, so there is a certain truth there.

                  2. There is a bit of difference between "frozen fish" and fish steaks that have been cryovac'd at sea. There are ships that are equipped to catch, butcher, and flash freeze certain fish (like tuna and swordfish) all within minutes of pulling the fish from the water. Many midscale restaurants use this fish for their regular menu items, and the quality is generally very good.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: mojoeater

                      Yup, that's "fresh frozen" and it's generally as good, if not better, than "fresh".

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        But it cannot be represented as "fresh" , can it?

                        1. re: dockhl

                          Yes it can. In fact, most "fresh" fish in grocery stores have been frozen. A friend of mine used to own a truly fresh seafood shop and he had to fly in fish regularly. Went out of business due to the cost. He told stories of even the smaller, "gourmet" stores using the cryovac'd fish. It doesn't bother me at all as long as it tastes good!