Cape Cod

Isn’t that gorgeous? It’s sunrise in Chatham, Massachusetts. The water was like glass and the sea was so calm the waves were barely lapping on the shore. It was pure magic.

Three things I’ve got to say about New England beaches:

  1. The beaches are LOVELY.
  2. The ocean is COLD.
  3. The seafood is GOOD.

We’ve just spent the last few days on Cape Cod, meandering up into the Cape Ann area around Ipswich, Essex, and Gloucester, and visiting friends in the Calendar Islands in Maine. I’d never been to this area of the country and it was astonishingly beautiful. The hydrangeas on Cape Cod are like nothing I have ever seen!

Cape Cod has been in the news because of the great white shark following the kayaker. We saw the seals that are drawing in the sharks — as well as the posted warnings. No worries. I wasn’t in any hurry to get in the water to begin with, to be honest with you. My Southern blood is waaaay too thin for 64° F water. Brr.

Gloucester

I have been keen on visiting Gloucester since getting in a fish fight with the tuna fishermen over my Wicked Tuna blogpost and the piece I wrote about the same subject for CNN’s Eatocracy. Folks have been fishing off Cape Ann since 1626. There’s a long, proud history of fishing. Sustainability is a hot button issue. Whole Foods Market recently stepped up it’s efforts to source only sustainable fish. Consequently, much of the fish caught off Cape Ann is no longer available in Whole Foods.

Lots of the locals aren’t happy about it, and it’s certainly not black and white. It’s just not. I can’t imagine my reaction if someone said to me, “You can’t cook or write for a living anymore. It’s no longer allowed. You have to do something else.” I’d be pretty upset. It’s what I do. Well, it’s the same thing for these fishermen.

There are still plenty of choices. I’m almost embarrassed to document the seafood we consumed in 5 days. We had seafood for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We used the Brook Dojny’s New England Clam Shack Cookbook as our guide and grazed up the coast. (She has a new book on Lobster I need to check out, too.) Yelp was quite helpful, as well.

I’ve calculated that we enjoyed: Raw Oysters, Fried Oysters, Raw Scallop Hand Rolls, Fried Scallops, Raw Clams, Steamed Clams, Fried Clams, Clam Chowder, Raw Fluke Sashimi, Fried Haddock, Grilled Swordfish, Haddock Fish Chowder, Lobster Roll(s), Steamed Lobsters, Lobster Stew, Fried Maine Shrimp, Mussels, and Jonah Crab.

Phew.

The best part was that it was all local! Our five day feast wasn’t as completely gluttonous as it sounds. We paced ourselves, ordered small portions, and skipped the fries.

Here’s a list of the places we liked the most:

Chatham Fish and Lobster Home of the best lobster roll I may have ever had.

Chatham Squire Cold beer and awesome Mussels Marinara.

Essex Seafood Incredible Fried Clams and Shrimp.

The Causeway in Gloucester. Fish Chowder that will make you a believer. It opened at 11 and we arrived at 11:05 to a packed restaurant. Good food at amazing prices.

In honor of our New England Tour, here are five easy seafood recipes inspired by our journey for you to try!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

PS If you are in the area or have plans to be, I’m heading back to Maine in late August to teach at Stonewall Kitchen. Hope to see you there!

New England Clam Chowder
Serves 6

Quahogs are the kind most often used for linguine with clam sauce or chowder. Small quahogs are called cherrystone or little necks.

2 ½ cups fish stock or bottled clam juice
40 Little Neck clams
2 slices bacon, diced
2 medium onions, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
½ cup milk
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon freshly chopped thyme
1 bay leaf
Pinch cayenne pepper
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the fish stock in a shallow pot to a boil. Add the clams and simmer until the shells open, about 2 minutes. Then, remove the clams and remove the meat. Chop the meat and set aside. Strain the remaining fish stock through a fine mesh sieve and reserve for the chowder.

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat, add bacon and cook until slightly browned. Reduce the heat to medium. Add onions and celery to the pot and cook in the bacon fat until soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.

Whisk in the flour, and cook for a few minutes, stirring, to eliminate any raw flour taste. Add the potatoes, fish stock, milk, and cream and bring to a simmer. When the potatoes are almost cooked (after 5 to 10 minutes), add the thyme, bay leaf, cayenne pepper, and clams. Simmer until clams are cooked, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

Lobster Rolls
Serves 4

Apologies for my indulgence, but I absolutely love this picture taken at the Chatham Fish and Lobster Market. They had the best lobster roll of the entire trip.

4 whole lobsters, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds each
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 rib celery, finely minced
4 top-split hot dog rolls
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Choose a pot large enough to hold all the lobsters comfortably; do not crowd them. (A 4- to 5-gallon pot can handle 6 to 8 pounds of lobster.) Put 2 inches of seawater or salted water in the bottom of a large kettle. Set a steaming rack inside the pot and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Just before cooking snip away the rubber bands. Add the live lobsters one at a time, cover the pot, and start timing. Halfway through, lift the lid (careful—the steam is hot) and shift the lobsters around so they cook evenly.

If the lobster weighs
1 pound – steam for 10 minutes
1-1/4 pounds – steam for 12 minutes
1-1/2 pounds – steam for 14 minutes
1-3/4 pounds – steam for 16 minutes
2 pounds – steam for 18 minutes

Meanwhile, prepare an ice-water bath. Remove lobsters from pot and immediately transfer to ice-water bath until chilled.

Twist claws with their knuckles from the body. Separate knuckles from claws. Crack knuckles open; remove meat and set aside. Grasp “thumb” and bend it back to snap it off. Crack claw in half; remove meat and set aside. Pull of legs. Twist tail from the joint where it meets the body. Pull off tail fins. Bend tail backward to crack off end of shell. Use your fingers to push tail meat out opposite side; remove with fork and set aside. Discard any remaining lobster.

Roughly chop lobster meat into about 1/2-inch pieces. Place in a large bowl, along with mayonnaise, lemon juice, and celery; season with salt and pepper. Place a large skillet over medium heat. Butter hot dog rolls and place on the griddle or in skillet. Toast until golden on each side; transfer each roll to a serving plate. Divide lobster mixture between the 4 rolls. Serve immediately.

Steamers
Serves 4 to 6

The photo above is what are referred to as “steamers”. They are soft-shell clams found in the sand along the shoreline. The first time I had steamers was a few years ago at Barnacle Billy’s in Perkins Cove, Maine. It was a revelation. The briny minerality of the seafood combined with the hot melted butter is intoxicating.

1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 gallon cold water
5 pounds steamer clams
1 quart hot water
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Bread, for serving

Combine the cornstarch and about 1 tablespoon of the water in a large bowl to make a slurry. Add remaining 1/2 gallon of water. Add clams and stir to submerge. Refrigerate so the clams will purge their sand, about 20 minutes. Lift the clams out of the water, leaving the sand on the bottom of the bowl.

Meanwhile, bring the quart of hot water to a rolling boil in a large pot over high heat. (A pasta pot with a metal insert works great.) Carefully add the clams so as not to break their shells. Cover and cook until the clams are firm, but not overcooked, about 10 minutes. Remove clams and place in a large bowl.

Ladle some of the cooking liquid from the top of the pot so as to leave the sand on the bottom of the pot into a small bowl. Combine the lemon juice and melted butter. Set both aside.

To eat the clams using your hands, remove the clam from the shell. Peel the outer, dark skin from the “foot”. Holding the clam by the now-clean foot swish the clam in the small bowl of cooking water to further remove any sand or sediment. (This gives a whole new meaning to rinse and repeat.) Dip the clam in melted lemon butter. Eat so that butter and clam juice drips on bread. Lick your fingers and enjoy.

Clam Shack Clams
Serves 2

The clams are the ones on the left in the photo above and the shrimp are on the right. I had never had Maine shrimp before and loved them. They were delicious and sweet. In terms of a recipe, I am fairly certain the coating and use of evaporated milk is the same.

1 cup fine yellow corn meal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
11/2 pounds shucked whole steamer clams
1 12 ounce container evaporated milk
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups canola oil, for deep-frying
lemon wedges, for serving

Combine the corn meal, flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper in a large bowl. Set aside. Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels or newspaper. Set aside.

Place a sieve over a bowl. Place the clams in the sieve to drain. (Reserve juice for another use.) Place the evaporated milk in a large bowl and season with additional salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large heavy deep pot until it reaches 375°F. Add the drained the clams to the evaporated milk. Using a wire-mesh skimmer or a slotted spoon, clift up a small batch allowing the excess milk to drip back into bowl, then drop the clams into the flour mix and toss it to evenly coat.

Add to the oil and fry in batches until golden brown and crisp, 30–40 seconds. Drain on prepared baking sheet. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with lemon. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

photos by Virginia Willis except the one of me, which was taken by Lisa Ekus.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

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