We talk to the East End’s king of sourcing, preparing and cooking seafood.
If you ask anyone where to get the best fresh fish on the East End, odds are they’ll tell you, when it comes to quality and selection, Citarella is the place to go (and don’t miss their Asian chicken salad, rainbow cookies, frangipane cake and sushi while you’re there). Lifelong Southampton residents can assuredly say grocery shopping markedly improved when the food purveyor opened its doors in Southampton almost a decade ago. But Joe Gurrera’s Hamptons roots run a lot deeper than a decade.
In fact, Gurrera’s first store on the East End was a 12-foot-wide seafood market that opened way back in 1983, but it wasn’t until 1999 that he opened his first Hamptons Citarella location in Water Mill. Another one in East Hampton soon followed and, in 2009, he moved his Water Mill store to a larger space in Bridgehampton before opening his Southampton spot.
While Citarella offers anything and everything anyone in the family could want for meals and snacks — from fresh drip coffee, cakes and pastries to prepared foods, cold cuts, meat and fruits/veggies, they are best known for their seafood. A key way that Gurrera has achieved this is by putting great effort into cultivating relationships with local fishermen in order to provide the freshest local seafood selection to his customers.
He has built relationships with trusted fishermen up and down the East Coast and around the world giving him access to the freshest catches. “Any restaurant that tells you that they have their own boat supplying all their fish is lying because a boat can go out and catch nothing,” says Gurrera. “We deal with a large amount of boats because this way we can pick and choose whatever we need and offer the best selection.”
Some of the local fishing vessels Gurrera has had long-standing relationships with include Sea Capture, Kimberly, Megan Marie, Jason Danielle, Perception, Night Moves, Illusion and Rianda S.
But that’s not all.
In addition to Citarella, Gurrera owns Lockwood & Winant, a wholesale company at Fulton Fish Market and the hospitality seafood purveyor Meat Without Feet, which supplies some of the most prestigious restaurants in the world. Of course, Gurrera gives Citarella first priority, which is why it’s so impossible to beat the gourmet grocery stores’ selection.
“We deal with fisherman up and down the Eastern Seaboard and all over the world,” says Gurrera. If you go to Montauk, everyone known Lockwood because we have great relationships with the fishermen. We only deal with fishermen who do everything sustainable, obey quotas and all the good practices.”
Gurrera goes on to note that while they source fish from all over — salmon from Norway, branzino from Greece, tuna from South Africa, swordfish from Brazil — the Citarella East End shops are particularly special because of their proximity to Montauk. “The Hamptons has striped bass, calamari, bay scallops, black seabass, tilefish, fluke, monkfish, oysters, clams, even swordfish and tuna in September and October when the water is warmest and it’s unique to be in a position to be able to get it so quickly.”
So what does Gurrera love to eat in the summer? Not surprisingly, a lot of fish. “I’m a fish guy. I eat fish five to six times a week. I love spaghetti and clam sauce, lobster, oysters and clams on the half shell and, of course, I love grilling a whole fish.
In keeping with that, Gurrera has written a book, Joe Knows Fish, where he shares his knowledge and experience on sourcing, preparing and cooking seafood for all those intimated with cooking seafood.