All Sizzle, No Swindle in this Seashell Game

Harvey Cedars, the fish stew in the Michael’s Genuine Food cookbook, named for summer vacation.

Nothing is better to really enjoy summer – the way it is supposed to taste and smell — than seashells by the seashore.  We always love a good shellfish on the grill, and with Michael’s return from his annual family trip to Long Beach Island, NJ, we figured it was time to check in for his reflections.

Here’s what you need to know now, up and down the seaboard and especially on our favorite coast, bayside at Amara at Paraiso. Visit us on Sundays from 4-10pm for the weekly vacation we call the Sunset Beach Party.  This week we’re breaking out the Lynx Grill for the first time upstairs at the Paraiso Beach Club, serving oysters both au naturel on the half shell with turmeric mignonette and also hot off the grill with vinaigrette and farofa — the toasted cassava flour we love as a breadcrumb alternative.  It’s all about soaking up the juices and that summer feeling, before it’s gone!

SHOPPING

Fresh is king — Ask how long they’ve been in the case. Shellfish should absolutely smell briny and of the ocean, but not a persistent stagnant odor. You’ll know when they’ve turned.
Seasonal vs. Sustainable — You want great tasting ingredients either grown in the best conditions possible or wild caught in season.  Farmed isn’t a bad word where oysters are concerned. Duxbury, MA’s Island Creek Oyster Co. is a great example of an operation doing it right.  Closer to home, a special holiday on our radar this time of year is Florida lobster season.  Look for Chef Michael Paley at Amara at Paraiso to run some specials in the weeks to come to highlight this local specialty, Florida Keys-sourced from our longtime fishmonger and friend George Figueroa of Trigger Seafood.
Fresh or Frozen?  Both can work — all shrimp are flashed at some point in the harvest process, so again is more about the quality of the ingredient, who you are buying it from, and how long it’s taken to get to you since harvest.
Get little more than you need — Inevitably some won’t open nor pass muster.
Clean! — Where there’s shellfish there is sand, among other gritty, grimy things that need to be removed especially if you’re cooking inside a shell. Scrub with coarse steel wool or a stiff brush under cool running water. If the mussels have beards, pull them off. Pat dry.
Sourcing isn’t just about procuring the goods — If you don’t know, ask a good source. I trust Ed Levine for the diligently researched ins and outs of everything, and clams are no exception.  It’s always a smart idea to read up before digging in.

Fresno chile paste on the Lynx Grill – also a preparation at Amara.

GRILLING

Shell on — In most cases this is the best idea, especially if you’re going straight to the grate. Provides protection to the delicate flesh, as well as even cooking.
We like the juice – Try to conserve the natural liquor when shucking oysters. Better yet, pay for the convenience and have the professionals do it for you. Whole Foods does them by the dozen over ice.
Marinate — Shelled shrimp take very well to just olive oil, salt and pepper — or something thicker like the Fresno chile paste we use at Amara.
Crack the large ones — If you’re going big, with Prawns, Langoustine or Lobster, they’re going to grill best cracked in half. Start with cut side down to seal in the juices, then flip to finish. Baste with butter and herbs to develop flavor through caramelization.
Less is more — Always, but especially where cook time is concerned. Remember everything continues to cook for a period of time after you remove it from the heating element, shellfish especially due to their high water content. So pull them off a little earlier than you think.

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