Seafood on the Cheap
Looking in incorporate more seafood into your diet? Not wanting to sell your left kidney to do it? Following are strategies, recipes, suggestions and resources to celebrate the sea affordably.
- Frozen. I'll be the first to admit that certain types of fish fillets just don't survive the flash freezing process with their taste intact. But as far as shrimp, scallops and mixed seafood go, I find them still more than workable with regards to flavor stability.
- Hit the Docks. Not everyone lives next to a place where you can snag the fishermen as they land back home for the day. But if you do, this can be a stellar way to snag great fresh fish on the cheap. Being in the know certainly helps, so I have some feelers in to a top chef or two for a follow up article on how to shop smart when it comes to fresh seafood. (Stay tuned.)
- Canned. This won't work for every type of fish, and certainly not for every recipe. However, there are numerous ways to use canned salmon, clams, oysters, caviar and mussels that save money and still provide style.
- Be Domestic. I'm sure you're expecting me to launch into a home cooking sermon here, and I'll certainly touch on that in a bit. But that's not the strategy I'm talking about here. Since I mentioned caviar above, I'll use that as an example. Not necessarily needing the finest imported variety can save you hundreds of dollars per jar. Stretch it out as an accent on canapes for even greater savings.
- Bulk and Loss Leader Sales. Certain types of seafood go on sale from time to time in accordance with certain holidays and events. While it's certainly good to take advantage of those opportunities when they come along, if you live near a Costco you can get great prices on certain types of fresh seafood on a fairly frequent basis. How? They have fresh seafood for sale in bulk every other weekend. While some of the prices were still way higher than I wanted to pay, there were certain types of crab for under six bucks a pound and both mussels and Rhode Island clams were in the two dollar a pound range.
Resources and Suggestions:
- SoupBase.Com. This web site offers fantastic professional base flavorings for the home chef at prices way more affordable than buying the stock yourself, if you can even find it in a store near you. While they have loads of flavoring and seasoning options for all sorts of food, for the purposes of this article I contacted them regarding a product test of their standard seafood and clam bases. They were happy to send along a sample of each, as well as a can of their cocktail clams (Delish!). In order to get this article out as soon as possible, I put the pedal to the mettle and test drove both bases this weekend. Yesterday, it was the seafood base in both a newburg sauce and a batch of surimi and cucumber canapes. The results? Stellar. Today, it was the clam base's turn. To focus completely on the flavor factor, I did a simple assembly cooking batch of red clam sauce and set some aside in the crock pot to simmer away for tonight's dinner. So far, I'm noticing a difference there as well. I think the important thing to remember is that you won't be changing your overall recipe that much. You'll simply be able to add that “extra something” you would otherwise only be able to find in a restaurant. Definitely a two thumbs up product.
- Buy the Trim. This one applies to smoked salmon. So far, the only company I've seen offer this is Duck Trap River. Here's the deal: By purchasing the packaged trim for seven to nine dollars a pound instead of the regular smoked salmon packs for twenty-five to thirty-seven dollars a pound, you'll get all the flavor and none of the high priced hangover. There is absolutely no difference in flavor or quality that I've seen. In fact, the only difference I've seen at all is that with the packages of trim, you will notice a few slightly darker patches here and there. It's simply the end portion of the fish. Big deal. Since these also tend to be on the ends of the pieces of smoked salmon, they are easily sliced off if they bother you. But honestly, there are very few of them, and they are still usable in a chowder or smoked salmon Alfredo if placing those few little tidbits on top of a canape doesn't float your boat. The trim packs usually hang just below the regular packages of smoked salmon in the refrigerated case next to the seafood section of the meat department.
- Practice Fish Yoga. Basically, this is very similar to my recent suggestions on stretching meat money. Think shrimp pad Thai, smoked salmon canapes, lobster bisque or mussels and mushrooms with linguini in white wine sauce. These are all great ways to feed 4-8 people at a home dinner party for less than the cost of a decent dinner for two at a moderately priced restaurant.
Rather than list out every seafood recipe known to man and leave you to implement the various strategies and suggestions above where you happen to spot an opportunity, I'll be using this category to provide ideas for the more affordable types of seafood you might not immediately consider incorporating.
- Mixed Seafood. This is the stuff you can usually find frozen at the grocery stores for five bucks a bag, or in the super giant bags at Sam's Club for around eleven dollars. I've seen it used with a fair amount of flair in newburg, paella, and in this slamming dinner soup from El Salvador: Ingredients: 1 bag of mixed seafood, 1 can of diced tomatoes (seasoned is nice), 1 can of baby clams,2 cups of broth (fish or even chicken), 1 cup of white wine, ½ a chopped onion, olive oil, 1 diced green pepper, cilantro and parsley to taste, a flexible amount of water depending on the thickness you desire. Fry all ingredientsexcept seafood and liquids in olive oil to release flavor. Add seafood mix, broth and water and simmer until the flavors have suitably blended. Serve with crusty bread and whipped garlic butter if desired.
- Haddock. A basic fish that many people lean on when trying to incorporate more seafood into home menus. A few recipes that caught my attention? Haddock with bacon and onions, haddock ravioli, this recipe for creamy haddock pie, and this collection of haddock recipes featuring ideas for both home spun and more exotic entrees.
- Frozen Shrimp. These fall into two categories. First, the frozen miniature salad shrimp, suitable for bisque, spring rolls, shrimp toast or paired with cocktail sauce over cream cheese for a basic party spread. Second, the slightly larger frozen shrimp that you can buy either raw or pre-cooked. The simplest way we enjoy these is stir fried with snow peas over rice. Getting a good sale or the four dollar a pound frozen ones at Aldi's, you can also whip DIY versions of shrimp primavera, lo mein, Alfredo, shrimp cocktail, kabobs or any other favored restaurant entrée with a reasonable amount of flair and quality.
- Canned Clams. In addition to a basic red clam pasta sauce, the large cans of these you can buy in bulk as a double pack at the warehouse store can also be used in dips, creamy white clam sauces or a rustic clam and corn chowder.
- Scallops. The most affordable strategy I've found for buying these is to go frozen, and choose bay scallops over the larger ones. I can usually get them for under four dollars a pound this way, which is less expensive than both shrimp and imitation crab meat, and I have absolutely no prep work to do with them. They make a great seafood linguini, Thai noodles and basic Asian stir fry. They are also quite elegant in a scallop and artichoke risotto, over pasta in a cream sauce with sun dried tomatoes, or with lemon and dill served with rice.
This is seafood on the cheap in as much of a nutshell as I can provide it, folks. Also of note is surimi (imitation crab meat) which has so many yummy ways to use it, that I'll be doing a completely separate article, coming soon. Got another great seafood tip that's doable on a budget? Don't forget to sound off.