An Introduction Perfect Pairings, Part III: Fish and Seafood

An Introduction Perfect Pairings, Part III

Fish and Seafood

Welcome back!  We talked about beef and steak pairings before, and then we followed up with different types of poultry.  Definitely, go and check these out!  Once you are done, come right back here and check out pairing fish and seafood!!

Fresh Clams in Garlic Sauce - a seafood decadence!

Fresh Clams in Garlic Sauce - a seafood decadence!

            Welcome back to us talking very simply about food pairings!  We have been happy to present this information to you, and we have been thrilled that we have received word that some people are really loving this… to those people, thank you!

            To those that did not comment (but are still reading), thank you, too!

            Overall, we are appreciative of your readership and your feedback.  However, as far as pairings go, the only ones we really have left are for pork and mutton or lamb; now, we don’t think enough people eat mutton or sheep to do that pairing (let us know if you do!), and pairing pork is so complicated (since it is beyond diverse in flavor profile and options) that we would need around 100,000 words to do it.

            Hey, if you want these, definitely let us know, and we are happy to do them.

            Having gotten that out of the way, let’s move forward and talk about pairing your shellfish and your seafood!

            Seafood and Fish

            I love seafood.  I love fish, crab, lobster, clams… all of it.  If it comes from the sea, it is most definitely for me, and I know that I am not alone in this mentality.

            This is more an “under-the-sea” section than either fish or shellfish.  Each one could literally be its own book on pairings due to the overall complexity in flavor profiles, and the tendency for some people to serve different types of seafood on the same plate.  While there is technically nothing wrong with this, you will find people and chefs who will balk at the idea of serving crab and lobster on the same plate or serving a white fish and salmon on the same plate.

            Most of the time, but not all of the time, fish and seafood can be considered either white or dark; your oily fish like salmon and swordfish, or your deeply colored and denser shellfish like mussels, would be considered “dark” for the purposes of this presentation.  Your crab, shrimp, lobster, and whitefish options would be classified as “white”.  Really, you can *almost* think of this as being divided up like a white meat or a dark meat pairing, and you will find that the pairing options will be different based upon what you are serving as your main course.

            As a general rule, if you are having something very lightly flavored seafood meal (think shrimp scampi; lobster or crab served with clarified butter) you will probably want to offer stronger flavors throughout the majority of the rest of your meal.  However, if you are considering salmon, shark, or heavier seafood options, you may want to consider lighter flavor profiles with your other courses.

            Again, this is a VERY bare-bones approach to seafood and fish pairing options.  We could (if you ask) write an entire book on seafood recipes and pairing options.

            For the sake of general understanding, however, please keep reading!


            Think about the salads that you provided with chicken or with beef; you have very different flavor profiles that should be considered, and you should consider these differences when your salad is considered.

            If you are going to be serving what would be considered “dark” seafood, then you might want to go with a lighter flavor – something such as a Greek Salad or a Caesar salad will go very well when this is paired with the stronger flavored fish or seafood.  The bite of the acidic dressing mixed with the light greens go a long way to accomplishing the flavor that you want without overcoming the main course.

            Now, if you are serving a much lighter seafood, there are a number of other options,  I know a good friend of mine (who really does know food better than I do) likes to do a modified cobb salad with lean cuts of steak on it with some bleu cheese dressing.  This is not bad, and I have had it before.  I also recommend something strong; I like kale salad, spinach, or arugula.  These salads with some lighter toppings offer a strong flavor that goes well with a creamy dressing, and the overall result of this is a flavor that leaves you wanting more… and it is well offset by the following flavor of the seafood. 

            And remember... if you are using a dark green, make sure to rinse with cold water and massage the leaves to remove that pesky bitterness!


            I have been to restaurants that serve seafood as a primary option, and then for the soup they offer a clam chowder or a seafood chowder.

            I know some people think that this is the way to go to keep with the theme, but I implore you to not do this!  You want complementary flavors, or blending flavors, not a lot of dishes that taste exactly the same.

            Besides… if you are like me, and you find a truly amazing clam chowder, the follow-up seafood dish might not be as good as you hoped… at least not comparatively. 

            Anyway, serving soup to go with fish can be tricky, as some kinds of fish take on different flavors based on seasoning (retaining almost none of their natural taste), and some seafoods are light, while others are strong.

            If you are serving something with a lighter flavor, and you are looking for that lovely complement of flavor, you should consider something with a heavy flavor, and do not be afraid to go with a light protein in the soup!  French Onion Soup pairs well here, and so does a beef and barley soup.  As an addition, many Italians will not like this suggestion, but Italian Wedding Soup makes a good mix of flavors that goes well on the side!

            These strong flavored soups will go very well as starters; the flavor will be quite intense, but they will be different enough as to not ruin your seafood experience.

            If you are going to be serving a stronger flavored seafood, something that has a small amount of bite but ends up with a lighter finish is a likely better option.  A personal favorite that I have only managed to find a couple times that goes well with swordfish is a cauliflower and ginger soup, and I know a great number of people who really enjoy a corn chowder as an option. 


            Most people are not terribly picky about their bread where seafood is concerned.  However, I truly believe that is because most people simply do not know any better!

            Regardless “white” or “dark”, strong flavors or weak flavors, there is a certain texture, and a certain “je ne sais quoi” that does offer its own suggestion of the best bread to serve with your seafood.

            I know that most of the people I know that have been urged to pick, me included, do prefer a sourdough bread to be served along with seafood dishes.  If this is either not available, or the call of the sea demands something else, I would strongly recommend a boule.  The heartiness of a boule bread just… works.


            There is not much more Italian than the classic Seven Fish Soup, meaning that seafood is deeply ingrained in the overall culture of Italy.  When this is considered, it makes sense that an Italian dish would top the list of appetizers to serve along with would be Italian.

            The first thing that I recommend in any case in a bruschetta.  I do love bruschetta, and the light flavor and crispiness that it offers goes so well with almost any seafood it is uncanny.  It is almost like the Italians just knew that this was going to go with their signature seafood dishes.  And this one will go with any kind of fish or seafood.

            If you are serving a heavier seafood, a spinach and artichoke dip to be serve with a choice of dipper goes very well.  If you are serving something lighter and need a little more substance, you could still use the spinach and artichoke dip, and make sure you use a fried food for your dipper.  Conversely, you could go with a classic favorite – stuffed mushrooms.

            Personally, I have done all of the above with the same meal… and while I loved it, it did ruin my seafood experience.  Hence, I do not recommend it.

            Main Course. 

            When the main course is seafood, there are a number of different factors to consider when you are pairing your starch or your veggies.  In many cases, due to the nature of the seafood, you have a massive number of options that are available to you, there are specific options that you might want to consider.


            In most cases, I think we can agree that potatoes are a good option with most seafoods.  I know that when I have lobster, I absolutely love a side of garlic spiced mashed potatoes.  Shrimp scampi is wonderful when served over rice, or when served with a side of pasta.  If you want to mix it up, you can easily do a risotto, orzo, or quinoa either in place of or in combination with the rice if that is your selection.  Also, if you have ever had stuffed clams or stuffed shrimp, you know that stuffing also makes a good selection with the right type of seafood.


            Unlike your starch, your vegetable is going to matter quite bit more with your seafood than you might like to expect.  If you are serving something that is lighter in taste, you are probably going to want to consider something earthy to go along with it.  If you are serving something that offers a stronger flavor, then a wise decision would be to have either a lighter flavor vegetable, or in the classic case of salmon and capers, a flavor profile that sees a difference between your vegetable and your under-the-sea protein.

            When serving lobster or crab, slow roasted carrots are a fantastic choice.  Additionally, if you want to keep the earthy taste, there is asparagus as an option, and there are Brussel sprouts.  These options work equally as well with almost any lighter seafood.

            If your seafood is going to be very strong, heavy, or oily, offering a fresh presentation may be the best option.  For example, I love green beans.  I have found that fresh and lightly seared green beans go great with salmon and swordfish, and so does roasted cabbage.  I also would take a steamed squash blend of summer squash and zucchini.  Either way, if you think about these general rules, your entrée pairing is sure to be a raging success.


            Dessert is probably the easiest thing to pair with seafood.  Regardless of the overall flavor of your seafood, there are some guaranteed good flavors that will go wonderfully as a dessert.  Lemon and lime flavors are a classic favorite, and with good reason.  If you have ever had a lobster feast followed by a Key Lime pie, or crab cakes followed by Lemon Meringue Pie or whip, then you know these are winners!  However, if your meal was heavy, unlike with the tastes that you experience with chicken and beef, you might want to follow up with a stronger dessert.

            Chocolate, butter cakes, banana foster… these desserts go well to overcome the strong flavor left behind from a seafood meal while not ruining the experience, and still offering a fantastic post-dinner experience.

            For almost any seafood, you can also go with tropical flavored desserts.  There was one place I went to in San Diego many years ago that served a mango-coconut whip that was to die for (and it paired absolutely perfectly with mahi mahi)!

            In the end, with desserts and seafood, base it on overall tastes.  This is a point where most people find it hard to go wrong.  If you have an idea, do not be afraid to try it.

            You just might be absolutely thrilled with it!

            Wine Pairing. 

            When pairing wine and seafood, think of your white and dark meats, your beef versus your poultry.  In this case, at its core, you will need to identify if your dish shares more properties with beef or with poultry within its flavor profile.  After that, you can revert to the sections involving these specific flavors and plan your wine pairing accordingly.

            Beer Pairing. 

            Does anyone want a classic fish and chips with a cold beer? 

            Yeah, every once in a while this is a wonderful flavor combination, but if you want to focus more on what you are going to try with something a little more upscale, this is also going to be like the wine selections; match the flavors to the same way you would with beef , as it is listed in our other article.

           That is all we have today!

            This is a longer post than we usually do, and that is because of the sheer complexity that is present with this type of a pairing.

            Again, unless we get feedback telling us to YES PLEASE write about pork and lamb, our pairing series is now complete.

            Thanks for joining, and make sure to come back Friday to see what we have for you then!