Produce isn’t the only thing chefs get excited about when winter fades to spring. The season is perfect for cooking with seafood. After many months of heavy, cold-weather dishes, chefs look forward to using bright vegetables and delicate, buttery, and light pescatarian delights. I asked chefs around the country to weigh in on some of the novel ways they’ll be working with seafood this spring.
Hot smoked salmon
When spring rolls around, chef Timothy Hollingsworth of Otium in Los Angeles turns to salmon because its fattiness complements many of the season’s vegetables. Plus, it’s simple to cook. "Salmon is such an easy and friendly fish to make at home because it works well with universal flavors,” Hollingsworth says. One of his favorite salmon dishes is hot smoked salmon. “I cook this on my Traeger grill, setting it at 165 degrees and putting the setting on super smoke, which allows me to get a lot of smoky flavor into the fish.”
Hiroki Odo, chef and owner of odo in New York, loves spring for its bounty of ingredients like wild foraged vegetables from the mountain and seafood. In New York, spring means shellfish in particular. “One in particular that stands-out for me is the Asari, manila clam that we get from Long Island Sound,” Odo says. “These clams are larger and taste sweeter, while retaining that soft texture.” A painless way to enjoy clams is by cooking them with sake, and adding scallions, chopped garlic, or mitsuba, Japanese wild parsley.
Spot prawn crudo
Chefs near coastal California are blessed with access to Santa Barbara spot prawns, and cherish the world-class seafood that flourishes in their nearby Pacific Ocean habitat. “They are very versatile, they can be prepared as a crudo, ceviche, fried, cooked, grilled, sauteed, poached—you name it,” says chef Johan Denizot at Belmond El Encanto in Santa Barbara. For those who can’t get their hands on the Santa Barbara spot prawn variety, try other prawns, best purchased live from a local fishmonger, says Denizot. “Two of my favorite ways to enjoy them are as a crudo with local citrus and avocado, or prepared tempura-style with an aioli for dipping.”
Wood roasted open blue cobia
If you’re Vinnie Cimino, chef de cuisine, at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Cleveland, you’re excited to cook cobia white fish this spring. “This dish is made with sustainably-sourced cobia, housemade chickpea stew, chermoula, fennel, and herbs,” Cimino says. “We put the cobia in a wood oven, where it steams in the rich tomato harissa from underneath and the top crisps from the broil.” Once the fish is out of the oven, Cimino finishes it with chermoula, fresh radish and fennel, lemon zest and olive oil. If you don’t have a wood-burning stove, us a charcoal grill, dutch oven, or cast-iron skillet.
Crispy skin striped sea bass
“Crispy skin sea bass with kombu-jime prawns, quinoa with a black togarashi fish jus is a dish I love to make,” says Hiroo Nagahara of Bao Hiroo in Los Angeles. Hiroo doesn’t pick any sea bass; he chooses farmed Pacifico Aquaculture sea bass raised in “the pristine waters of Todos Santos Island, Ensenada, Baja California,” says Hiroo. “Due to the open water farming practices in such waters, Pacifico produces a consistent product with great texture and fat content. Perfect for searing.” When cooking fish at home, temperature control is a critical element of the process. “Make sure to temper your fish—it’s no different than cooking meat,” says Hiroo.
Lightly cured salmon
Spring is the best time for bright and bold flavors, says chef Christopher Keyser at Union in Pasadena. Keyser goes for wild Alaskan salmon of many varieties, like pink, coho, sockeye, chum and king, and keeps things simple. "Lightly grilled or cured with lemon, salt and a nice salad of raw shaved spring vegetables from your local farmers market will make it bright and refreshing,” he says.
In Denver, TAG Restaurant Group chef and owner, Troy Guard, turns to halibut come springtime. “It is light but also meaty, healthy, and very versatile in a number of cooking preparations like ceviche, smoked, grilled, pan sauté, steamed, etcetera,” says Guard. It’s a fish that pairs with his favorite spring vegetables like peas, fiddlehead ferns, and ramps. “I recently prepared halibut on the grill for my family with just a squeeze of lemon, olive oil and salt and pepper,” Guard says. “You could also add honey and hot smoke the halibut for another delicious and flavorful variation.”