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Consumer Trends in Seafood: Fish Belly from Wholesale, Sustainable Bay Area Fish Is the New Bacon

Posted by on Sunday, January 1st, 2017

Fish belly is often served in restaurants raw, as sushi, but there are many ways to cook with this delicious cut. Image source: Flickr CC user Jason Bagley

Chances are most of your customers have had fish belly before at sushi bars where it’s known as toro—fatty tuna belly. But that’s bluefin tuna, a species that has been overfished. Offering fish belly from sustainably harvested fish species–like salmon, halibut, and albacore tuna–feeds customers’ love for this rich cut of meat without the environmental consequences of bluefin tuna.

Sourced locally, fish belly from local Bay Area species also has the added appeal of being a hometown product. Local fish belly will also be a lot cheaper for customers than what they’re used to paying for toro at their local sushi bar. And for us as vendors, fish belly opens up a new product line.

Chances are most of your customers have had fish belly before at sushi bars where it’s known as toro—fatty tuna belly. But that’s bluefin tuna, a species that has been overfished. Offering fish belly from sustainably harvested fish species–like salmon, halibut, and albacore tuna–feeds customers’ love for this rich cut of meat without the environmental consequences of bluefin tuna.

Sourced locally, fish belly from local Bay Area species also has the added appeal of being a hometown product. Local fish belly will also be a lot cheaper for customers than what they’re used to paying for toro at their local sushi bar. And for us as vendors, fish belly opens up a new product line.

From Pork Belly to Fish Belly

Following on the heels of the pork belly trend, the popularity of fish bellies is rising in upscale restaurants. According to Technomic, a food service research and consulting firm, the number of fish belly dishes in restaurants has grown by more than 8 percent in the past three years. “With opportunities ranging from trout to swordfish to salmon, fish belly roll-outs are becoming competitive,” Technomic’s Lizzy Freier told SeafoodSource.com. The site listed fish belly as one of its top five seafood trends of 2016.

So far, the trend is happening at independent restaurants and hasn’t yet broken out into the mainstream or retail markets. “I’m not sure if it will have the potential that pork belly has had, but the fact that they’re both rather inexpensive parts of the animal could account for their growth,” Freier said. In our opinion, the increase in interest is doubtless due to how the cut tastes as well. It’s fatty, moist, and hard to dry out, even if you cook it a little too much. Why not get in on the trend early and offer this versatile cut using local fish at your Bay Area seafood counter?

Fatty, But Healthy

Like a tenderloin of beef, fish bellies are relatively small cuts of meat—long and narrow. For obvious reasons, you’ll want to focus on larger species of fish for fish belly. Small fry need not apply. While fish belly is the thinnest part of the fillet, it makes up for its small size in flavor. This cut is higher in fat than other parts of the fish (it’s a belly after all) but it’s the good, heart-healthy fat: omega-3. The popularity of good fats is another trend working in your favor and one that customers now recognize. Be sure to explain the difference between good and bad fats to your customers.

For most customers, fish bellies will be new territory, so your guidance will be critical in this early adopter phase. If a customer already knows they want a standard fillet or steak in a fish you’re featuring as a belly as well, you’ve got a natural opening to suggest trying a belly cut. WIth its fattiness and deep flavor, fish belly is a lot like bacon–something most customers already know they like. There’s a big difference, though. While bacon is something you feel guilty about eating, fish belly is delicious and good for you. Don’t forget to mention that your store sells fish belly from sustainably-caught local fish–a big draw for eco-conscious Bay Area customers.

Cooking Fish Belly for Beginners

Because fish belly is different than other cuts, it’s important to let your customers know how to properly handle and cook it. The high fat content means it’s best to keep this cut very cold right up until cooking. Once it warms up, the fat in fish belly liquefies and can make the meat mushy. When it comes to cooking fish belly, simple, fast, and hot (or raw) are the words to remember.

Because fish bellies will be new territory for many customers, you’ll ultimately have to sell them on how they can turn them into dinner. A whole fish belly coated in cracked pepper and sesame seeds and seared quickly in a hot pan is a good starter recipe to pass on. You could even offer fish belly preseasoned like this in the case, ready for a sear. It’s the ultimate fast food: it takes just a minute or two to cook per side, goes with almost any side dish, and is nearly as healthy as you can get. Other suggestions are steaming the belly and then topping it with stir-fried ginger and garlic. My favorite method of all is serving it raw, sliced as crudo or sashimi or diced into a riff on tuna tartare.

Clear and enticing signage is important for drawing customers in as well. Promoting fish belly as the bacon of the sea is a good way to get many shoppers interested, as are signs explaining the high omega-3 content of the cut and the health benefits of good fats. The best sales tool, though, may be offering a taste of seared and sliced fish belly or some other easily prepared recipe, along with recipe cards so customers can replicate the dish at home.

Local Choices

At Pucci Foods we pride ourselves not only on the fresh-off-the-boat quality of our fish, but its sourcing from healthy, sustainable fisheries and farms. Because we’re based in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have direct access to the best local fish species for fish belly—albacore, salmon, black cod, halibut, swordfish and lingcod. Get in touch and let’s talk fresh fish.