25 Things Every Coastal Cook Should Know
1. The Only Crab Cake Recipe You'll Ever Need
You probably have most of the ingredients on hand for these simple, elegant crab cakes; just make a quick run to the seafood market for fresh lump crabmeat. Toss together a bright, seasonal salad while the crab cakes chill.
- Recipe: The Best-Ever Crab Cakes
2. How to Crack a Soft-Shell Crab
STEP ONE: Use a pair of kitchen shears to cut off the front of the crab, just behind the eyes and mouth, in one whole piece.
STEP TWO: Lift up the top shell from each corner and remove the gills.
STEP THREE: Flip the crab over and pull off the apron, or the small flap on its underside.
3. The Top Tools for Your Kitchen
Our seafood columnist, chef Barton Seaver, reveals the helpers he can't live without (clockwise, from top left).
1. Microplane Elite Series Star Grater in Black, $17
2. Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peeler in Red, $4
3. Edlund Stainless Steel Tongs, $14 (12")
4. Silicone Spatula with Classic Wood Handle in Red, $10
5. Zwilling Henckels Professional 8" Chef's Knife, $130
6. 5½" Santoku Knife, $100,
7. 5½" Fillet Knife, $100
8. Stainless Steel Waiter's Corkscrew, $35
9. R. Murphy New Haven Shucker, $16.12
10. Dexter 6½- by 3-inch Slotted Fish Turner, High Heat, $27.85
11. John Boos & Co. Maple Edge Grain Rectangular Cutting Board, $120 (large)
4a. The Difference Between
... Bay Scallops and Sea Scallops
Bay scallops are tiny and sweet, and grow in shallower water than sea scallops, which are chewier, about three times as large, and caught in deep waters off the East Coast. Both are most readily available in the fall and winter, and should be light beige or barely pink in color.
4b. The Difference Between
... Nori and Kelp
Nori has a slightly salty taste. It comes from a red species of seaweed and is often found in sushi or served in crispy, dried sheets for snacking. Kelp tastes fishier than nori and comes from a brown species of seaweed. It's often used to flavor salads and mixed-vegetable dishes.
4c. The Difference Between
... Shrimp and Prawns
Shrimp generally live in salt water, have claws on two of their legs, and are smaller than prawns, which are usually harvested from freshwater, can be quite large, and have claws on three of their legs. They're also slightly sweeter and more expensive than shrimp.
5. 3 Go-with-Anything Sauces
This tangy, spikey condiment is indispensible for seaside living. You can use bread-and-butter pickles and ketchup instead of the sriracha for a mellower version.
- Recipe: Remoulade
A classic accompaniment for steamed or boiled lobster, drawn butter is also delicious drizzled over corn or served with boiled shrimp.
- Recipe: Drawn Butter
This peel-and-eat shrimp sidekick is a coastal mainstay. Our version includes soy sauce and an optional dash of hot sauce for an extra kick.
- Recipe: Cocktail Sauce
6. An Easy, Crowd-Pleasing Appetizer (x 3!)
A crusty baguette gets party-ready with a few choice ingredients. Each crostini variation can be whipped up in 25 minutes or less.
- Crostini with Jerk Shrimp and Pineapple Chutney
- Crostini with Avocado, Crab, and Flake Salt
- Crostini with Cucumber, Smoked Salmon, and Dill
7. The Skinny On Sustainable Seafood
Chef Barton Seaver parts the sea of info with this easy advice.
Sustainability is simply not a simple concept. The details of specific products vary greatly from region to region—even from boat to boat. My best advice is not a perfect answer, but will serve you well at the fish counter: Instead of shopping with sustainability in mind, buy domestically caught or farmed seafood. Our industries are the most sustainably managed in the world, and while not every product you'll find is sustainable, the system is.
Also, be flexible. One of the biggest drivers of unsustainable seafood is inflexible demand from consumers. If the recipe calls for cod, and we walk into the store, recipe card in hand, and demand cod, then we are telling the oceans what we are willing to eat. Instead, tell your fishmonger that you're looking for a fish with qualities similar to cod, and ask, "What's the best option you've got?" In doing so, you'll end up with the highest-quality product, often at a better price, and you'll be buying what the ocean can give.
8. The Quickest Way To Ripen An Avocado
Want guac, stat? Place avocados inside a paper bag with a banana, and leave in a sunny spot for a day. The banana will release ethylene gas, which helps ripen the avocados fast.
- Make our Mango-Habanero Guacamole
9. How to Peel and Devein a Shrimp
STEP ONE Pull or chop off the head and pull off the legs.
STEP TWO Slide your thumb under the shell from the bottom and pull the shell off in one piece.
STEP THREE Pinch the tail and pull it off.
STEP FOUR Skim a paring knife along the dark vein on the shrimp's back, making a shallow cut. Pull at the vein with the knife, starting at the top, and remove with your fingers.
10. The Perfect Wine to Pair with Seafood: Riesling
"Highly aromatic, with charming notes of apricot and ripe pear, this low-alcohol wine serves well as an aperitif or as a serious dinner wine, especially when paired with seafood dishes," says Seaver.
11. The Easiest Cocktail in Four Steps
Super Simple Dark and Stormy
The ratios here (4:3:2:1) make this classic drink an easy-to-memorize addition to your beach house bar repertoire. Prepare simple syrup by heating equal parts water and granulated sugar until sugar dissolves. Make a big batch and refrigerate for sweetening lemonade, iced tea, or cocktails.
- Recipe: Super Simple Dark and Stormy
12. The Ultimate Beach House Cooking Playlist
You need just the right tunes while you chop, grill, and stir those swizzle sticks.
- Listen to our top beachy tracks on our Spotify playlist.
13. How to Get the Most Juice From a Lime
Microwave the lime for 20 seconds, then let it cool. Roll it across the counter a couple of times with your palm, then cut and squeeze.
14. The Do's and Don'ts to Buying Fresh Fish
Do buy whole fish. It gives you the best opportunity to assess the quality, as the fins, scales, and eyes all tell a story of where the fish has been as of late, says Seaver. If you opt for fillets, look for ones that are glistening and firm, and absent of any damage or gaps in the flesh.
Don't wait too long to eat fully flavored fish, like mackerel and bluefish, which tend to spoil more rapidly. Most other seafood has a shelf life of up to five days.
Do make friends with your fishmonger. He or she will be able to tell you the best fish available that day. That personal connection can go a long way toward ensuring the tastiest purchase, he says.
Don't overlook the frozen aisle. There's an amazing array of high-quality options, Seaver says. To thaw: Pull the needed amount from the freezer at least 12 hours before use, placing it on a plate in the refrigerator.
15. How to Clean a Fish
STEP ONE Gather a bucket, a knife, and gloves, if you prefer. This can be a messy job, so do it outside.
STEP TWO Use a butter knife or scaling tool to scrape the scales from the tail toward the gills with short, quick strokes, and discarding all scales from both sides of the fish into the bucket. Rinse the fish to remove any remaining scales.
STEP THREE Insert a sharp knife into the small hole above the tail fin and make a clean cut to the jawbone. Pull out the organs and dispose of them into the bucket, then rinse the fish again.
16. The No-Fail Way to Pan-Sear Fillets
Chef Barton Seaver's foolproof plan
THE PAN: "My go-to is Staub's Cast Iron Covered Fish Pan, but any heavy-bottomed pan that can hold heat well will work."
THE METHOD: "Over high heat, get the pan very hot. Add a pat of butter, place the fish skin-side down, and cover. For thin fillets, turn the heat off; for thicker fillets, such as salmon, reduce heat to low. In 10 to 15 minutes you'll have an incredibly moist, perfectly cooked fillet."
17. The Best Fish for Grilling
Use this sliding scale, then choose fillets with skin on to maintain the structure of the fish and retain moisture.
GOOD: Robust-flavored fish like mackerel, bluefish, and striped bass. They pair well with the smoky flavors of the grill, and their high-fat content helps prevent sticking, says Seaver.
BETTER: Steak-like fish, such as swordfish, albacore tuna, wahoo, and mahi mahi. They have a dense, firm texture, making them easy to handle on the grill, and their meaty flavors are a natural match for live-fire cooking, he says.
BEST: Orange-flesh fish, such as salmon and arctic char. Farmed salmon has a wonderful integration of fat, making it possibly the easiest fish to grill, says Seaver. It also pairs well with many different ingredients and sauces.
18. The Beach House Pantry Staples to Stock
Chef Barton Seaver throws open his cabinet doors to reveal these beach house essentials.
Canned Fire-Roasted Tomatoes: "I keep cans of Hunt's fire-roasted diced tomatoes on hand for quick sauces, slow-braised ratatouilles, and hearty vinaigrettes."
Allspice & Black Pepper: "This combination, when ground fresh together, gives foods a floral hint of the exotic."
Smoked Sweet Paprika: "Best used along with oil or butter, La Chinata's spice lends incredible richness of flavor."
Hot Sauce: "When I want the rich flavor of chiles, Tapatío is my go-to—a traditional red hot sauce."
Pepper Sauce: "For most dishes, I use Texas Pete sauce. Its acidity complements delicate seafood better than a highly flavored sauce."
Canned Tuna: "There was ne'er a more simple lunch than a can of quality U.S. albacore tuna— I like Henry & Lisa Lovejoy's Ecofish Tuna—eaten straight from the can with a healthy dose of hot sauce."
Tinned Anchovies: "You may think you don't love anchovies, but when sautéed with olive oil and fresh vegetables, their individual personality disappears into an incredibly satisfying and complex favor."
Pancake Mix: "It sure is awful nice to treat yourself to something in the morning."
Vinegars: "I like O vinegars: Other than salt, acid is the essential component of great cooking. Don't skimp on quality."
Olive Oil: "Buy in bulk. Use with abandon."
19. How to Shuck an Oyster
STEP ONE: Scrub the oysters and chill over ice.
STEP TWO: Wrap a kitchen towel around your nondominant hand and hold the oyster with the curved side down and the hinge (the part connecting the top and bottom shells) toward you. With the other hand, carefully slide an oyster knife into the hinge and twist it to pop open the shell.
STEP THREE: Pull off the top shell, and slide the knife blade under the oyster to detach the meat (being careful to reserve the liquid). Serve immediately in the bottom shell.
20. The Most Versatile Side Dish
Grilled Corn (With Wow-Em Toppings)
Preheat grill to medium heat (300° to 350°). Coat 8 ears shucked corn with cooking spray; grill 8 minutes, turning to char on all sides.
- Recipe: Cajun Butter
- Recipe: Chipotle Lime Butter
- Recipe: Pesto
21. An Elegant & Easy Lunch
This colorful, no-cook dish combines chilled seafood (take your pick of shrimp, lobster, fish, etc.) is impressive, refreshing, and ready in 15 minutes.
- Recipe: Citrusy Seafood Salad
22. The Most Surprising Double-Duty Tool
A Turkey Fryer
"It makes a great lobster pot! The Kamp Kitchen 30 qt. Turkey Fryer ($60) is big enough to accommodate the largest gatherings, and I can keep the whole process outside," Seaver says. "It's well-suited for a layered clambake-style preparation with seaweed, potatoes, and lobsters."
23. The Most Graceful Way to Eat Lobster
"Throw grace out the window," says Seaver. "You're on the coast eating lobster: Enjoy!"
24. How to Crack a Lobster
STEP ONE Hold the lobster in two hands with its back down, and bend it away from you to crack the tail away from the body.
STEP TWO Crack open the upper body from the bottom to remove the meat.
STEP THREE Remove the flippers from the tail, and use a small fork to get any meat out of them. Slide a fork into the shell where the flippers were, and push the tail meat out the other side in one piece.
STEP FOUR Twist off the claws and crack them using a nutcracker or pliers to extract the meat. Pull off the legs, and use a small fork to extract the meat, or suck it out from the top.
25. A Dessert That Makes Guests Ask for Seconds
Whip up this Foolproof Key Lime Pie for an easy dessert your guests are sure to enjoy.
- Recipe: Foolproof Key Lime Pie