”Surf and turf” is a restaurant term referring to an entree that includes a portion of meat and a portion of seafood. Some people argue that this type of meal is simply a showy extravagance, since it usually incorporates expensive ingredients and can be the most expensive thing on a menu. Steak houses and mid-range restaurants, especially along the American coastline, frequently offer it as a main course, usually indicating that it is a surf and turf plate on the menu.
The term appears to have originated along the Atlantic Coast of the United States. The “surf” in the title clearly refers to seafood, usually lobster or another crustacean. “Turf” is any type of grass-fed land animal, but usually refers specifically to beef in the form of steak. In the late 1960s, restaurants along both coasts were using the term, often in advertisements designed to highlight the range of offerings at the restaurant. In Australia, the dish is better known as “beef and reef.”
The meat on a surf and turf plate is typically grilled and served with a rich sauce. The seafood may be boiled, grilled, fried, or baked, depending on the restaurant and the choice of seafood. Higher end restaurants may keep the portions of both relatively small, allowing the diner to have a small taste without being gluttonous, especially with lobster, which is a very rich meat. On the low end of the spectrum, restaurateurs serve larger portions of cheaper meat, which can lead to a decline in quality.
In seafood restaurants, the dish is often offered to appease meat eaters. People who prefer red meat to seafood often appreciate having this option, because they feel like their dining needs will be met. Steakhouses, on the other hand, offer the dish as a gourmet supplement for diners who do not think they will be satisfied with steak alone. Lobster or shrimp and steak are the two most common combinations, although other variations do sometimes show up on menus.
The primary setting for the dish is a restaurant, and food connoisseurs sometimes associate restaurants with “Surf'n'Turf” specials with low quality food and unseemly extravagance. Home cooks rarely make this dish, because of the additional labor required to cook two completely different meats, along with side vegetables. For large parties, an industrious cook may grill an assortment of meats, including steak and seafood, and guests can construct combination plates of their own, if they so desire.