Rick Moonen making canned seafood the next big restaurant trend
Even though chef, cookbook author, sustainability advocate and restaurant operator Rick Moonen insisted at Seafood Expo North America’s keynote panel that he despises the word, “trend,” he is about to start one.
At his flagship seafood restaurant, RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Moonen recently began experimenting with canned seafood.
“We need to figure out a better way to get the sustainability message out. Sardines have all the protein and nutrients, and they are great for the environment,” he told SeafoodSource at the expo on Sunday, 19 March in Boston, Massachusetts.
Moonen’s hope is that more Americans eat lower on the food chain, recognizing the nutritional, economical and sustainable benefits of “bait fish.”
Moonen and other restauranteurs that took part in the keynote panel said that one of the biggest hurdles to consumers accepting sustainable seafood is the premium price on many of the items.
“People pay a premium for items like caviar served over blini pancakes. Why can’t we take a USD 3 [EUR 2.78] can of sardines and get people into it?” Moonen said.
RM Seafood is featuring Bela Brand Seafood sardines, which hail from the Algarve region of Portugal. Many Portuguese restaurants feature Bela sardines on their menus.
RM Seafood is not the first restaurant to feature canned seafood. The trend gained notoriety in the United Kingdom when Tincan, in London’s Soho district, opened its doors in 2014. The restaurant served only canned seafood, including Portuguese mackerel in olive oil, Icelandic smoked cod livers, and Galician urchin caviar.
And in New York City, Maiden Lane carries a “Tins” section of 38 types of canned seafood, including anchovies, octopus, mussels, oysters and cockles.
If RM Seafood’s “experiment” is successful, Moonen plans to share his results and methods with other restaurant operators.
Meanwhile, at his new Rx Boiler Room concept – also at Mandalay Bay – Moonen said he enjoys serving underutilized, unappreciated species like buffalo fish.
“It’s from the Tennessee River, and used to be popular with poorer individuals, because it has more bones than other fish,” he said.
The fish’s prolific bones reminded Moonen of ribs, so he prepared them as such. He smoked the fish, and then added a tasty barbecue sauce. Proud of his experiment, he then tasted the fish.
“It was too mushy,” he said.
Moonen gave up on the idea of using the sustainable fish, but left the barbecued fish with the restaurant’s chefs and asked them to experiment with it.
“Two days later, the staff was swarming around a table, eating the fish. It had sat in the refrigerator, and, with the barbecue sauce and acidity, it became a really attractive texture and flavor,” Moonen said.
Now, the pulled pork-style buffalo fish are served in tacos, both at Rx Boiler Room and at large events where Moonen is asked to cook.