Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Vendor Spotlight: Samuels and Sons Seafood

Recently, members of the Black Restaurant Group (BRG) team were invited to tour the facilities of Samuels and Sons Seafood, which is located in Philadelphia, PA and nestled within a Mike Schmidt homer of the Philadelphia sport's teams complex.  We weren't sure what to expect.  We knew Samuels was a large company servicing many regions, while continuously looking to expand.  We also knew that they offered attentive, hands-on services with excellent quality seafood options.  It's very difficult to accomplish both of these things under one roof, but somehow Samuels is doing it and we were there to find out how.

Upon entering we were greeted with a state of the art test kitchen where a professional chef uses a revolving seafood inventory so large that it would make Poseidon blush.  Here, delicious seafood concoctions are created to educate staff, especially those in sales, so that they are able to intelligently advise the most discerning customers (read here chefs) on what is running strong and how those items may be utilized.

Walking through the giant facility, it was apparent right away that cleanliness is an active priority for the company's staff.  Though thousands of pounds of seafood lay inventoried, only the sweet smell of the ocean wafted through our olfactory senses.  The cutting room floors were spotless and reminded me more of a surgical operating room than a fillet house.
Cutting Room Display Tuna 
So how does Samuels keep an active eye on each client and give each one of its customers the individual attention they command?  Without giving away all their secrets, I can comment on a couple of initiatives I found creative and progressive.  Instead of one person working with an account, Samuels employs teams of sales staff to assist each account.  It isn't just lip service either, each person on the team had a vested interest in taking care of each team member's customer, ensuring that each account had many eyes on its products and services.  It was also refreshing to see sales staff not buckled down behind desks away from the seafood they were selling.  Sales staff was expected to assist in the loading of trucks every morning, getting a first hand view of what their customers were ordering.  In fact, moving boxes of fresh fish was actually the highlight of most of the sales staff's day and, overall, it seemed as if the process of getting the seafood out each day was a united team effort of everyone working in the company.  You got the feeling that even though you have this huge company where everyone had a specific task, it was everyone's concern that the right fish got to the right people.

That's where over a hundred years of success comes from.  The group effort of a well orchestrated team working with a united goal of serving great seafood is why we offer Samuels and Sons Seafood.  Samuels may grow tenfold in the coming years, but it's the attention to detail and the small company hands on service that will keep them rooted in their artisanal ideals and successful principles.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Seasonal Update: Black Sea Bass

The season is on in Massachusetts for one of the tastiest fish in the sea: the elegant Black Sea Bass.  Black Sea Bass are actually cousins to the grouper and their stocks can be separated into two divisions: the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic fisheries.  The Mid-Atlantic stock consists of fish from north of Cape Hatteras, NC all the way to Maine and the fish are usually caught in inshore waters during the summer months.  The South Atlantic stock has a winter fishery that takes place from south Cape Hatteras, NC down to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Massachusetts fishery is a part of the Mid-Atlantic stock which today is considered a rebuilt, sustainable fishery.  Black Sea Bass are considered incredible table fare.  Their flesh is silky white with tender, firm meat that is sweet, yet briny with shellfish undertones.  They feed on crabs, shrimp, small fish and clams and their delectable flesh resonates with a mouth pleasing bouquet of ocean flavor.  Their skin is best served crispy, and if this result is achieved, it can remind one of bacon of the sea.

In Massachusetts the quota is very small, only 263,000 lbs, so fishing will most likely be closed in a couple of weeks.  They are harvested by hook and line and the highly desired bigger fish are usually in the 3 lb range.  Trophy size 5 lb fish are even harder to find.  The males can be distinguished from the females by their enlarged foreheads, and few people know that they are actually hermaphrodites, changing sex at least once during their lifetime.

The Black Sea Bass is an American success story and the Massachusetts fishery produces some of the highest quality and best tasting examples.  You have only a few weeks to get these fish on your dinner table and I highly recommend you take full advantage.  There are few things better than a perfectly seared piece of Black Sea Bass done right with crispy skin.  The beauty is in the simplicity, the flavor is in the fish.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Market Forecast In A Shell

Happy National Oyster Day!  Each year I feel that this glorious day gains more and more traction in the national media and in restaurant goers' collective dining conscious.  Seriously, as if you needed more reasons to eat delicious bi-valves?  Getting caught up in the National Oyster Day celebration is easy to do.  However, we fishmongers must do our due diligence and keep our heads out of the clouds.  It's our duty to bring you both the good and the not so good news, so in the spirit of fairness and all things shellfish, I just wanted to give you a quick market update on what's happening with some shell wearing treats of the sea.

Shrimp season is in full swing in Texas.  It's been about 3 weeks of fishing now, and landings look to be solid.  As the freezer boats come in, we should see prices for domestic shrimp decrease for the September, October, November months.  Fresh North Carolina shrimp quality has been off the charts and availability has been very strong.  Prices for NC white shrimp have been the lowest in the last 3 years.  Weekly landings of CT Red Shrimp have been sporadic due to catch, but I expect these delicious rubies to be around for a few more weeks.

Lobster prices seem to be on the rise.  Canadian availability is almost nonexistent and Maine is shipping about 60,000 lobsters a week to China.  China's growing middle class is developing a growing appetite for "bugs" and this demand is causing prices to soar.  Summer lobster prices are usually pretty reasonable, but this year has seen some big increases.  Don't expect this trend to change until Canada gets back on line.

Most predicted this year's scallop harvest to be much better than years past.  Most thought the big harvest would give much needed relief to the exorbitant prices we have seen over the last two years on quality domestic scallops.  Sorry, we were wrong.  The U.S. landings are up around 8%, but the sizes of the scallops are smaller than projected.  Couple this with two major global scallop players, namely Japan and Peru, having very poor harvests, and what you have is a global market thirsting for good scallops.  Japanese harvest is down 25% and Peruvian is down about 50%.  The global deficit is placing a strain on our supply, and the outlook for the rest of the year looks expensive.

I noted earlier that West Coast Oyster production was taking a hit due to extremely warm water temperatures, but all is not lost.  We have had some excellent New Hampshire Oysters coming in that are summer gems and fall is right around the corner.  If we can make it through the month of August, then we are home free as far as mussels, clams, and oysters go.  They all will begin feeding again and the wonderful flavors we associate with delectable shellfish will once again be just a raw bar away.