As executiveat Oceana in New York City, Ben Pollinger uses fresh seafood and unique ingredients to create complex dishes that have helped the fine-dining restaurant maintain a Michelin star rating for five consecutive years.
Pollinger, who is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and has worked at such high-profile New York restaurants as Union Square Café and Tabla, joined Oceana as executive chef in 2006. Since then he has received positive reviews from the New York Times and Crain’s Gael Greene, and in 2009, former New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton named his Whole Curried Fried Pink Snapper one of the top 11 dishes of the year.
Pollinger recently spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about his favorite ways to use seafood, where he sources his ingredients and what trends he currently sees in seafood preparation.
What do you think consumers are looking for in seafood in terms of taste, preparation and presentation?
Consumers are looking for the “wow” factor and want to be inspired. This includes new tastes, new varieties, and new preparations that they either haven’t seen before or can’t/don’t cook at home.
At Oceana, what are your favorite preparation techniques, and what is most popular with your customers?
My favorite methods are steaming, because it shows the purity of the fish, and also poaching in olive oil because of the richness it gives the fish. I find that steaming is also popular with the customers because of its lightness.
Where do your source your seafood and how important is that to the outcome of your dishes?
I source the majority of my fish from Fulton Fish Market [in New York City]. I also buy Hawaiian fish off the auction floor in Hawaii.
I buy my East Coast oysters direct from the farmers, except the Canadian ones, and I buy my West Coast oysters from both Blue Island Shellfish and Pangea Shellfish.
Gulf shrimp are from Four Winds Seafood [in New Orleans], and jumbo shrimp for cocktail and a la plancha are wild caught from the pacific coast of Guatemala. I buy from a vendor at the fish market called Crown Fish.
Buying directly from the source whenever possible is extremely important in the quality of the seafood.
What excites you most about preparing and cooking seafood as opposed to other proteins?
I have always been excited by cooking and preparing seafood. To me, fish is like a blank canvas to an artist. It takes to so many different flavors, with a variety of preparations and innumerable opportunities.
What are some trends in terms of ingredients, techniques and cooking methods that you currently are seeing in seafood dishes?
I am seeing a lot of exotic fish coming from Hawaii and Japan, such as Opah, Monchong, Aji and Ayu. Also, more fish are being farmed in an organic and sustainable manner. I’m also seeing techniques that include more steaming and moist roasting with the presence of a combi oven in the kitchen.
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