Shimon & Tammar
Crudo from Scott Conant of L'Impero in New York City: Alaskan spot prawn with clam/cucumber salad.
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Raw Revealed

Jim Poris - March 2005

It's not yet the twist or the tango, but the latest culinary dance making the rounds is called the crudo.

After almost 40 years of jabs from Japanese sushi/sashimi wizards and 15 years of uppercuts from Latino seviche masters, the dining public has been softened up for a roundhouse right of crudo. Neither nakedly raw like sashimi nor "cooked" by an acidic marinade like seviche, crudo—the word is Italian for raw—occupies a middle ground as garnished and dressed raw seafood. Crudo is usually presented as thin slices, like sashimi, and then decked out like a Philadelphia Mummer on New Year's Day with such fancy adornments as coarse sea salt; extra-virgin, truffle, or infused oil; truffles themselves; fruit and its juices (even whiffs of protein-whitening citrus); finely cut vegetables; and, most certainly, micro greens or sprouts. For something raw, crudo also wears a lot of cooked things miniaturized. The best, though, are lightly draped with little dabs of this and maybe that.

It seems that the crudo craze started in New York City, which briefly had a crudo-only restaurant called Bar Tonno until chef/owner Scott Conant (L'Impero, New York City) pulled the plug on it after a disagreement with his partner. Conant credits David Pasternack with lighting the match when he, Mario Batali, and Joseph Bastianich opened Esca almost four years ago. Pasternack, in turn, says he got the idea for crudo five years ago after eating raw fish like scampi, orato, and branzino dressed with olive oil, lemon, and salt in Croatia, along the Dalmatian coast. "Then a few days later, I had the same things in Trieste, and later in Venice at Osteria da Fiore and Al Covo, and in Rome at La Rosetta, where they served neonati [newborn] anchovies raw the same way. When we started Esca, I put three or four crudo on the menu. The response was unbelievable, so I grew it."

Pasternack's sea of crudo runs deep: tiny Main shrimp (winter only) with extra-virgin olive oil; black bass with toasted pine nuts, extra-virgin olive oil, lemon, and salt; tilefish with preserved Meyer lemon; Spanish mackerel with raisins steeped in Muscat wine; kingfish with caperberries; Nantucket bay scallops with chervil; red surf clams with apple and pomegranate seeds; razor clams with chiles, scallions, and mint; and geoduck with shaved artichokes (or, in summer, melon).

Here's what other chefs are doing with crudo.

Scott Conant (L'Impero, New York City): "During Bar Tonno's short run, we had a base of 16 crudo on the menu. My thinking for Bar Tonno was to treat fish with the same integrity that the Japanese accord them but with Italian accompaniments. With Bar Tonno closed, I've put some of its crudo on the menu at L'Impero, such as kanpachi with ginger oil, pickled red onions, Hawaiian sea salt, and micro greens; Alaska spot prawns marinated in rosemary and olive oil, topped with Maldon sea salt, and served with blanched clams and mussels marinated in cucumber vinegar, olive oil, scallions, and their reduced cooking juices; flash-blanched lobster tails with tomato sauce, Sicilian capers, and micro basil; and tuna, topped with sea urchin/olive oil emulsion, served over cucumber/tomato salad."

Shea Gallante (Cru, New York City): "I think that the most interesting of our crudo is the plate of kanpachi, shima-aji, and hamachi with pickled radish, micro celery, and lime. While I'm also using fish like ishi-sai, sayori, kohada, kisu, suzuki, madai, aji, buri, and hiramasa, I still feel that the jack fish tasting is the most interesting because it offers guests the opportunity to compare three species of the same family. The mouthfeel, texture, flavor, richness, and fat content differ with each one. The fish are marinated à la minute with extra-virgin olive oil and a dash of lime juice. Some of our other crudo include arctic char with smoked pepper, apple, endive, and vanilla oil; while tuna with olive praline, caper espresso, and chive; and langoustine with green papaya/truffle salad and gin sauce."

Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia, Chicago): "I added crudo to the menu just over three years ago, a year after having had it in restaurants near Genoa, in San Remo, and even in Rome. Our guests can't get enough of it. These days, everyone has been exposed to sushi, and I think they see crudo as a really clean way to eat. People also love the idea that they're eating pure protein. We've been able to experiment, using different olive oils from Sicily and Liguria, and have found that we can also spice up a crudo dish depending on the intensity and variety of oil. Some of our crudo includes diced Spanish mackerel layered with diced Granny Smith apple and topped with trout and pike caviars; salt cod tartare with roasted red peppers; and yellowtail with truffle oil and caviar."

Jim Botsacos and Jake Addeo (Abboccato, New York City): "We take a seasonal approach to crudo. Now that it's winter, we're serving this trio: Nantucket bay scallops with clementine, bitter chocolate extra-virgin olive oil from Campania [olive oil infused with bitter chocolate cocoa powder and a pinch of Valrhona chocolate], sea salt, pepper, and a touch of lemon juice; Long Island fluke with blood orange, fennel tops, sea salt, pepper, and a touch each of lime juice and Ligurian extra-virgin olive oil; and sea urchin in the shell, tossed with candied Meyer lemon, Sicilian extra-virgin olive oil, a little lemon juice and zest, salt, and pepper, and topped with a Sicilian extra-virgin olive oil gelato [olive oil infused with a little water and touch of salt and whipped in a PacoJet]. These dishes emphasize winter citrus—blood orange, clementine, and Meyer lemon—in traditional flavor combinations, like chocolate and clementine, blood orange and fennel. We use the fish to complement the citrus."

Ben Jenkins (Seablue at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas): "I'm doing three crudo dishes, including a Hawaiian type ahi poke with seaweed and sambal vinaigrette, in which the cubed tuna is seasoned with Coarse Hawaiian sea salt, kukui [candlenut], shiso chiffonade, seaweed, and furikake spice [a Japanese seasoning mixture that usually contains dried bonito flakes, dried seaweed, ground sesame seeds, and salt]. The others are sliced hamachi seasoned with fleur de sel, topped with finely julienned marinated shiitake mushrooms, julienned radish, micro cilantro, and toasted black and white sesame seeds, and suzuki sashimi with fennel puree, bottarga, lemon, and argan oil."

Josh Capon (Lure, New York City): "Crudo wasn't something we intended to do, since our plan was to be like an upscale clam shack. But everyone seems to like sushi, eating raw fish is sexy, and it's easy to share. We're always getting repeat orders from tables once they've passed around one crudo plate. And the quality and variety of fish that's available these days is magnificent. We've done coho salmon with soy/basil tea, which is basil-infused soy sauce, orange juice, and rice wine vinegar. The salmon is alternated with slices of Sichuan peppercorns, crushed red pepper flakes, and kosher salt. Some others we do are cubed arctic char with trout roe, creamy horseradish, and dill; yellowtail with lemon/jalapeño/green apple puree and baby mint; and black sea bass carpaccio with plum wine vinegar gelée, ginger, and jicama."

Michael Psilakis (Onera, New York City): "At Onera, I want to bring Greek dining into the 21st century. And since raw fish is catching on all over, I thought I'd try to present it with traditional Greek flavors. Crudo easily fits in as part of the meze course, which is served in Greece as little bites or snacks before the meal. One is yellowtail sashimi with roasted orange vinaigrette, leek confit, chopped herb-brined green olives, and sea salt. Another is scallops lightly cured in lemon juice, grapeseed oil, shallots, garlic, thyme, dill, dried oregano, salt, and pepper topped with tsatsiki [pureed shallots, garlic, and rice wine vinegar added to strained yogurt and peeled diced English cucumber] and julienned fennel confit and vinaigrette-dressed fennel tops. Third is marlin with quince 'salad' [finely diced caramelized quince, shallots, capers, grapeseed oil, salt, pepper, and thyme] and pulverized toasted pine nuts."

Michael Kornick (Belly Italiano, Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa, Palm Springs, CA): "Crudo dishes are quite simple and pure, and any chef can make them his own by playing with different olive oils, sea salts, and flavors such as citrus. So far at Belly, they've proven to be very popular. All fish is thinly sliced 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick and then drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. The plate is dressed with flavored olive oil, usually basil, or preserved lemon emulsion, or a squeeze of citrus juice. The plate and fish are sprinkled with herbs, micro greens, citrus, and vegetables such as fennel and radish. It's as easy as that."

Found In Translation

Found in translation With so many Japanese fish names starting to appear on purveyors' lists and crudo menus, the following glossary, incorporating Latin names, common English names, and family affiliations, should help clarify what's being delivered to chef and diner alike. Where possible, the English names follow those adopted by the American Fisheries Society.

  • Aji: Horse mackerel, Trachurus trachurus, family Carangidae (Jacks and popanos). "Aji" is often attached to names of other carangid fish, e.g., shima-aji (white trevally, Pseudocaranx dentex).
  • Burl: Several species of amberjack, mainly yellowtail amberjack, Seriola lalandi, and Japanese amberjack, S. quinqueradiata, family Carangidae.
  • Hamachi: Alternate, more popular, name for buri (S. lalandi), especially younger fish.
  • Hiramasa: Another alternate name for buri (S. lalandi).
  • Hirame: General Japanese name for larger flounders, particularly bastard halibut, Paralichthys olivaceus, family Paralichthydae (large-tooth flounders). Close North American relatives include summer flounder or fluke, P. dentatus, and California halibut, P. californicus.
  • Ishidai: Striped knifejaw, Oplegnathus fasciatus, family Oplegnathidae (knifejaws).
  • Kanpachi: Greater amberjack, Seriola dumerili (Carangidae), a close relative of buri.
  • Kisu: Japanese sillago, Sillago japonica, or Silver sillago, S. sihama, family Sillaginidae (smelt-whitings).
  • Kohada: Dotted gizzard shad or konoshiro, Konosirus punctatus, family Clupeidae (herrings, shads, sardines, menhadens).
  • Madal: Red sea bream, Pagrus major, family Sparidae (porgies).
  • Sayori: Several species of halfbeak, including common halfbeak, Hyporhamphus unifasciatus, and Japanese halfbeak, H. sajori, family Hemiramphidae (halfbeaks)
  • Suzuki: Japanese sea perch (Japanese sea bass), Lateolabrax japonicus, family Lateolabracidae. Sometimes used in a generic way for other sea basses.
  • Tai: Red bream or squirefish (but usually sold as New Zealand "snapper"), Chrysophrys auratus, family Sparidae (porgies). Not a snapper but a bream nearly identical to madai.

Many potential sashimi/crudo fish come from Hawaii, where market names are a mixture of Polynesian and Japanese.
* Ahi: Common name for both yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) and bigeye tuna (T. oesus), family Scombridae (mackerels, tunas, bonitos).
* Aku: Skipjack tuna, Katsuwonus pelamis, family Scombridae (mackerels, tunas, bonitos).
* Hebi: Shortbill spearfish, Tetrapturus angustirostris, family Istiophoridae (billfishes).
* Kajiki: Pacific blue marlin, Makaira mazara, family Istiophoridae (billfishes).
* Monchong: Sickle pomfret, Tetrapturus audax, family Istiophoridae (billfishes).
* Nairagi: Striped marlin, Tetrapturus audax, family Istiophoridae (billfishes).
* Onaga: Yellowstripe or flame snapper, Etelis coruscans, family Lutjanidae (snappers).
* Ono: Wahoo, Acanthocybium solandri, family Scombridae (mackerels, tunas, bonitos).
* Opah: Moonfish, Lampris guttatus, family Lampridae (opah).
* Tombo: Albacore, Thunnus alalunga, family Scombridae (mackerels, tunas, bonitos).

NOTE: Of aji, ají, and ahi
Aji, with the j pronounced as in English, is a Japanese name for horse mackerel. Pronounced Spanish-style (ah-HEE), it refers to several varieties of South American chiles. And then there's ahi (AH-hee), the Hawaiian name for two species of tuna, yellowfin (Thunnus albacares) and bigeye (T. obesus). Although these last peak in availability in different months and can easily be told apart as whole fish, they're close enough in size, meat color, and flavor to be treated as one in the market.