In my household, seafood is something we used to only buy on special occasions: lobster on Valentine’s Day or wedding anniversaries, wild-caught salmon to celebrate a promotion or a raise at work, and shrimp cocktail when we’re having guests over for dinner. We simple had always assumed it was just too expensive to eat on a regular basis.
But recently, after a little research, I found six ways to incorporate fresh catches into our weekly grocery budget. It’s good, not only because I’m saving money, but because seafood is an important part of a lean, healthy diet (just be sure you’re taking the proper steps to avoid salmonella food poisoning when you prepare it). If you’re on a budget like me, read on and enjoy!
1. Look for Trim
There’s nothing better than smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel, unless that smoked salmon cost you upwards of $30 per pound. That’s sure to give you indigestion. But, you can save at least $7 per pound by buying trim – the leftover pieces that are trimmed off when butchers are making salmon fillets look nice.
I like Ducktrap River, but there are plenty of other brands out there. Keep in mind, the trim is closer to the skin and fins so you’ll see darker spots in this type of salmon from time to time. It has nothing to do with the quality. It’s just geography, so to speak. If you are using trim for party snacks where having the uber pink portions is an issue, just snip out those darker spots and save them for omelets, crepes, or to toss in with pasta. It also makes a killer chowder add-in.
2. Buy a Mix
Warehouse stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, and Trader Joe’s sell giant bags of mixed seafood (everything from squid to clams to cuttlefish) that weigh in at less than two bucks per pound. Considering most people pay that for only semi-lean ground beef, this is a killer deal. The bags are easily stored, even if all you have is the over-the-fridge freezer space in your kitchen.
Stumped on how to use it? Try an affordable seafood Newburg, a slammin’ paella, zesty marinated ceviche, or a simple seafood soup to serve with crusty bread. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a basic seafood casserole, either.
3. Go Canned
While canned seafood isn’t ideal for the main fish course, it’s perfect for creating gourmet appetizers, salads, and sauces. Best of all? It’s all de-boned, de-shelled and skin free, ready to use in your recipes. Try making crab cakes, a savory red clam sauce over linguine, cheesy salmon spread with cocktail crackers, or oyster chowder.
4. Ask for Frozen, Rather than Fresh
While there are certain seafood dishes I will only ever want to prepare fresh, and my chef friends will likely cringe to hear me admit this, the truth is I really don’t have a problem with frozen seafood – especially because it’s typically much cheaper than fresh. Bay scallops and peeled shrimp with the tails are great for quick, simple meals at home. They thaw quickly, look elegant as a stir fry accent, and keep things healthy and low-fat when I need a five-minute meal to avoid ordering takeout. Haddock is another frozen fish product that brings big value to the dinner table. Sauce it after steaming in a crock pot slow cooker, or batter it up for a Friday night family fish fry.
5. Fake It
More popularly known as imitation crab meat, surimi steps up to the plate when it comes to seafood dishes most families find affordable. You can use it to stuff mushroom caps, make a savory dinner party cheesecake, whip up a crab-flavored cheese ball, or try your hand at those crab Rangoon appetizers you know you always eat too many of at the Chinese buffet.
6. Make Seafood the Accent
Stretching out the protein element of any dinner menu is a sure-fire strategy for savings. One way to do that with seafood is to make it the star of the show in a way that doesn’t require a huge portion of meat per person. Think shrimp cocktail instead of a pile of them on the plate for each guest, or buy two lobster tails to make six servings of lobster mac n’ cheese. The seafood will take center stage without taking a chunk out of your checkbook balance.
As you can see, it’s possible to enjoy food from the sea frugally. These are my top strategies for bringing seafood dishes to the dinner table on budget. Please leave your tips and tricks in the comments below.