Preparing raw meat and fish is a time-honored art that dates back to ancient times. From Italy’s beef carpaccio and Ethiopia’s kitfo (spicy minced raw beef) to France’s pâté, cultures across the globe have distinct variations of traditional raw recipes. The recent rise in popularity of poke, a Hawaiian dish of raw seafood cubes, has transformed countless consumers into raw enthusiasts who see value in these items when they’re customizable and presented with craveable components. Though they’re rooted in tradition and classic style, raw dishes are making a comeback, and chefs are experimenting with contemporary flavors and concepts to make these timeless creations appealing and approachable to modern diners. Bring awareness and celebration to these old-fashioned raw items through strategic merchandising techniques that will create fresh opportunity on your menu.
Raw Ingredients, Real Benefits
Whether it’s sliced crudo, diced and seasoned tartare, oysters on the half shell, or shrimp cocktail with shells on, raw classic cuisine appears in various forms. No matter the presentation, one component of raw dishes should remain constant: preserving the fresh qualities of the fish or meat. As chefs incorporate new and trending ingredients into raw recipes, it’s vital to uphold the natural elements of raw meat and seafood that deliver maximum value, like the fresh, mild flavors and melt-in-your-mouth textures. Keeping the embellishments minimal can also position raw items as a better-for-you option, perfect for health-conscious consumers and those following trendy eating styles like the ketogenic diet that has a large focus on raw foods. Since they don’t undergo cooking processes, raw meat and seafood also maintain enzymes and nutrients that benefit the body in various ways, including improving the nervous system and hormone production.
Raw offerings carry a stigma of being dangerous to consume, but with top-quality products and proper handling, the chance of foodborne illness is minimal. To reassure customers that they’re consuming the finest products, embrace transparency, and list your meat and seafood suppliers on your menu, as well as any details available about the backstory of your raw products. These aspects enhance the value of raw offerings, indicating they are reliable and trustworthy and may even influence apprehensive customers to give them a try. Maines has a variety of dependable meat and seafood partners that can help you promote responsible sources and serve top-quality raw dishes.
Raise the [Raw] Bar
Raw bars exude luxurious qualities that make them a suitable option for special occasion dining. Shareable plates are ordered more often during special events, providing opportunity to encourage groups to order shareable dishes such as seacuterie (a leading appetizer trend that nods to sustainability) like pastrami salmon, scallop mortadella, pickled shrimp, tuna ‘nduja, or salmon pâté. Another way to attract more customers to your raw bar is by merchandising products that cater to specific events. For example, Maines provides a diverse assortment of oysters with names that align with holidays. Cupid’s Arrow or French Kiss oysters are perfect for recommending as a flavorful and sensual Valentine’s Day special. Varieties like Irish Point, boasting bright green hues on their shells, and Drunken Kiss are ideal for engaging, social media-friendly St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Feature these specialty items with pairing suggestions for wine, beer, or cocktails that round out the celebrations and boost check averages.
Further differentiate your raw bar by implementing treatments that give diners a taste of the unexpected. House-made condiments, a top-trending concept listed on NRA’s “What’s Hot 2019 Culinary Forecast,” are an efficient way to distinguish your raw offerings. Capitalize on the poke craze and offer poke bowls or poke tacos with signature sauces like pickled ginger-soy dressing or yuzu-ponzu miso-caramel (see recipe on page 27 of Essence). You can also increase the appeal of oysters by upgrading a classic mignonette sauce with modern, trendy elements like fresh cucumber and dill or kombucha (a functional, health-forward beverage) and hibiscus (see photo from our 2020 calendar). Consumers are willing to pay more for ethnic-inspired flavors, creating opportunities to merchandise cultural takes on raw items. Consider infusing Thai-inspired flavors into traditional beef tartare with lime leaf, fish sauce, and fried quail egg to excite customers and boost your bottom line.
Presentation is another vital ingredient to draw customers to your raw offerings. Revive raw classics with noteworthy, Instagrammable presentations by mastering the technique of delicately folding sashimi into flower shapes or executing visually appealing plates like veg-centric terrine toasts made with vibrant produce. Or, create a plate with exquisite contrast by serving light-colored ingredients such as halibut sashimi (see recipe on page 27 of Essence) or swordfish crudo on darker hued plates. For more elaborate raw bar applications, utilize vessels such as boat-shaped platters or striking seafood towers with brilliant tiers of raw compositions that make bold statements in the dining room. As customers order these dishes, other guests will take notice of the eye-catching displays, generating buzz and creating a positive talking point for your brand.
As you expand your raw repertoire, let go of the hesitations that come with serving raw ingredients and embrace the creative culinary opportunities and profit potential they provide. Celebrate raw simplicity by ensuring these traditional treasures are anchored in authenticity, yet feature contemporary components that make for unique bites and experiences, growing your customer base and your business.