Using handheld smoking devices that apply small amounts of hickory, mesquite, applewood and other wood smoke flavors into covered dishes, chefs are layering subtle smoky flavors in seafood such as tuna, cod, halibut, sea bass, grouper and lobster.
“It’s not like you take a Texas-style brisket and put it in a smoker for 12 hours,” Velie says.
And it’s not just seafood that’s being smoked.
Restaurants also are applying smoked flavors and aromas to a variety of meats, fruits and vegetables, and in beverages such as tea, he said. A trendy alcoholic beverage these days is a smoked Manhattan, a cocktail made with whiskey, vermouth, bitters and a maraschino cherry.
“It’s a popular flavor and aroma, it’s been around forever, and I think it’s definitely on an upsurge,” he says.
Knapp says there’s room for smoked seafood consumption to continue growing, and that a good analogy might be wine. Americans used to drink relatively little wine compared to Europeans, but as consumers developed a taste for it, wine sales grew. Per-capita wine consumption in the U.S. has tripled since the 1960s.
For comparison, Americans eat relatively little smoked seafood compared to Europeans. But if U.S. consumers develop a taste for it — as they have for wine — sales could continue going up, Knapp said.
“That would be reason to be optimistic about the future,” he said.
Ducktrap River, which is owned by Marine Harvest, a Norwegian company that is the world’s largest farmed-salmon producer, has seen sales roughly double during the past four years, to about $30 million a year, Cynewski said. The company expects the upward trend to continue.
“We’ll have to wait and see if our opinions are correct,” he said.