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A lot of water has passed under the bridge since David Burke’s pioneering "pastrami salmon:" today, you even hear of octopus torchon or pastrami, scallop mortadella, swordfish ham and tuna bresaola or 'nduja. In short, the latest charcuterie specialities come from the sea.
Today’s latest craze is "seacuterie," in which the sea (fish, shellfish and molluscs) marry the sea (salt) and go on, in various forms, to encounter herbs, spices and condiments in a whirl of amazing ideas.
A growing trend? So it would seem and yet seacuterie is not exactly a recent novelty, or at least, not that recent because a few years ago, a young chef came up with an idea that was destined not to fizzle out.
At the beginning it was pastrami salmon
It was 1988 when David Burke, a pluri-starred chef and a well-known face of US television (there was no series that had not engaged him: from Iron Chef America to Top Chef Masters including The Mentor), came up with a dish called "Pastrami Salmon" and served it in his Park Avenue Café in Brooklyn, New York.
Totally unheard of at the time, it was fruit of the chef’s intent to present an American version of Scandinavian gravlax. In place of the salmon marinated with salt, sugar and dill of the Nordic recipe, Burke introduced a spicier version by adding coriander, parsley, black pepper, paprika and maple syrup.
Once marinated and preserved, the salmon sides are sliced in the same way as pastrami which, as we all know, is an American beef recipe and the speciality of Katz's Delicatessen in New York – to quote an address that has become famous worldwide thanks to Meg Ryan. Burke’s version and others area available at Tavern62 in New York, the most recent venue opened by David Burke, where salmon slices continue to be a fixed item on the menu. In the wake of his success, and following a constantly growing trend, his colleagues have not been slow to present their own versions, and much more besides.
At the "PB Catch Seafood and Raw Bar" in Palm Beach (Florida), for instance, Aaron Black serves up pastrami salmon with sauerkraut, rye bread and a "Thousand Island" aïoli sauce (a mixture of mayonnaise, chilli sauce, sweet and sour pickles, olives and spring onions) – Burke opted for the simplicity of a honey and mustard sauce. For a less elaborate version, Luis Escorcia of the Altabira City Tavern in Portland (Oregon) serves his pastrami-style salmon with fennel, endive and cucumber, along with a mayonnaise and caper vinaigrette.
Markus Glocker's octupus pastrami at Bâtard in TriBeCa (New York) is unanimously decreed to be a masterpiece which, at first sight, looks like a soppressata, but in actual fact is much more involved. This leads us into deeper waters, where fish, shellfish and mollusc-based dishes are united under the banner of seacuterie which, more often than not, draws inspiration from cold cuts, such as ham, mortadella, sausages, soppressata, n’duja, and cured fatback.
Fish vs pork: today’s delicacies are "sea-lami"
While the aforementioned Aaron Black flanks his pastrami salmon with the presentation of octopus torchon (with chorizo and pickled maize), tuna 'nduja (served with mustard and raspberry preserve) and an amazing scallop mortadella (plus peach pickle), Rob Gentile of the Buca Yorkville in Toronto (Canada) has risen to fame thanks to his "Seafood Charcuterie."
Here we are talking shellfish sausages with lemon sauce and Cervia salt (from Ravenna, Italy); smoked eel; swordfish aromatised with herbs and spices normally used in the making of lardo di Colonnata (pepper, cloves, sage, rosemary, coriander); salt-cured tuna loin and tuna n'duja; octopus salami; and sturgeon with black pepper and juniper berries.
Lauro Romero of the Three Degrees in Portland (Oregon) has taken a step further with a salmon pâté with Mexican aguachile (an assertive spicy green sauce), as has Eric Rivera of the Bookstore Bar&Café in Seattle, whose menu of diversely smoked or marinated “sea-lami” also features such exotica as "katsuobushi" salmon (dry-cured, smoked and fermented according to the tried and tested Japanese technique) served with o-konomi-yaki (the famous Japanese crepe).
And what more could be added to the platter at Fiola Mare in Washington D.C., where executive chef Brinn Sinnott presents, for instance, swordfish ham or scallop “boudin blanc”?
From a creative idea to an authentic "movement"
Whoever believes that seacuterie is about to give sushi or “raw” bars the push, should think again (or take heart). However, according to some chefs, it does pave the way towards new unexplored frontiers. In the opinion of David Burke, for example, it is 'sexier' (to use his precise words), as well as being more convenient for both chefs and customers, since food can be preserved longer thanks to the various techniques involved, such as smoking or marinating.
According to Takumi Kitamura, chef of the Hotel Grand Pacific in Victoria (Canada), seacuterie is also stimulating, partly because it manages to take seafood to 'another' level, and partly because it combines tradition (the preservation of meat and fish by marinating, smoking and salting is in fact a very ancient technique) with innovation. For example, a gilthead bream marinated with Kombu algae and a salted mackerel marinated in rice vinegar are among his signature dishes.
In the meantime, how does the market respond?
In view of ever-growing interest, either for health reasons or simply out of choice (and here is where the followers of pescetarianism come into their own), it is no surprise that the market is quick to react. Convinced that seacuterie is a soaring trend, Kathlyne Ross of the Canadian venue President's Choice, offers sliced and sous-vide tuna tataki, among other things.
And what about the homeland of charcuterie – yes, we mean Italy – whose products have inspired chefs all over the world? A remote corner of Valtellina (Lombardy), renowned for its beef bresaola, has started to produce a tuna "equivalent." How? According to the manufacturing company, they use the same technique as that of traditional bresaola, including natural air-drying. In short, this is also becoming a hot topic in the Bel Paese ... even though, in all truth, seacuterie already exists in Italy.
Have you heard of the Moreno Cedroni salumeria ittica? Or the Anikò in Senigallia (Ancona), a minimal chic venue, not much more than a kiosk, a cross between an eatery and a seaside grocery store? They serve cold cuts of tuna, swordfish, grouper, mackerel or amberjack with various dressings such as a fantastic raspberry and ginger sauce.