Sun and seafood. The combination always boosts our souls. Little wonder we travel to water-rimmed places such as Florida to jumpstart our spirits. This spring, we plan to start our warm weather entertaining out on our deck with chilled wine and seafood-based dishes inspired by our travels.
A sunny day lunch at Eaton Street Seafood Market & Restaurant in Key West filled our heads with warm weather entertaining ideas. We swooned over their version of a lobster roll sandwich, ranking it the best of our lives. Sweet, tender lobster meat barely held together with mayonnaise arrives tucked into a toasted sweet bun. Sure, this is picnic fare at Eaton Street, where diners eat from paper-lined baskets on folding chairs under an awning. However, the combination of indulgent seafood, a creamy binder sauce and buttery toast makes this handheld stunner worthy of nearly every occasion.
For easy, stand-up eating at a cocktail party, I make toasted seafood rolls from thickly sliced brioche bread and serve them cut into quarters while the toast is warm. Alternatives for the brioche include challah, egg twist bread or Pullman loaf. Open-face sandwiches, garnished with fresh dill, appeal as well.
Because lobster proves pricey and labor intensive, I think a combination of tender shrimp, sweet langoustine tails and tinned lump crab make a superb filling. This combination seafood salad also tastes great served on spears of Belgian endive or in little lettuce cups for lighter eating.
Langoustine tails, usually sold fully cooked and frozen, offer a sweetness similar to lobster and a tenderness similar to crab. Simply thaw them overnight in the refrigerator and drain before using. Pre-cooked shrimp tends to be unpleasantly rubbery. So, for the best-textured shrimp, I prefer frozen uncooked shrimp. I can thaw it at my convenience and cook it briefly so it stays tender.
Less rich, but equally delicious, seafood party fare includes crispy fish and crunchy slaw tostadas. Crisp corn tostadas, sold in plastic bags at the local tortilleria, are great for hand-held appetizers. You can assemble the tostadas at the last minute or let guests assemble their own. Another option is to serve the sauteed fish and slaw tucked in a small tortilla or warmed pita pocket.
As always, when purchasing seafood, take the time to know its provenance. Shop at stores that sell fish from suppliers that are well managed and who catch or farm fish in ways that cause little harm to habitats or other wildlife. It's better for you and better for the planet.
Fresh herbs hold the key to springtime freshness in both of these recipes. My suburban Chicago garden won't yield many herbs for at least another month. Until then, I rely on the herbs growing in the AeroGarden my son gave me. I'm happy to report that this appliance is worthy of the counter space; I've been snipping fresh dill (some days it grows 2 or 3 inches overnight), basil, thyme and parsley all winter and spring. It's supremely satisfying while the outdoor herb garden takes off.
While it's nearly impossible to guarantee sun for your springtime parties, good, freshly prepared seafood offerings make any gathering feel brighter.
CREAMY SEAFOOD ROLLS ON BUTTERED BRIOCHE
Prep: 30 minutes. Cook: 10 minutes. Makes: 5 sandwiches, or 20 appetizer-size wedges
Use all the best ingredients here: I like imported French or Irish butter for griddle-toasting the sandwiches. I also like to serve these as open-face sandwiches.
1 pound peeled, deveined, raw large shrimp, 20 to 25 to a pound
½ cup organic mayonnaise
4 small green onions, trimmed, very thinly sliced, about ½ cup
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or ¼ teaspoon dried
½ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
¼ to ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces cooked langoustine tails (thawed and drained), or roughly chopped steamed lobster
1 can (about 6 ounces) lump crab meat, drained
10 slices (each ¾ inch thick) French brioche bread (or challah, Pullman loaf or egg twist bread)
4 tablespoons butter, softened
Fresh dill for garnish
1. Fill a medium saucepan half full with water and heat to boil over high heat. Add shrimp, stir and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring once or twice, until shrimp are pink but not firm, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain. Let cool.
2. Mix mayonnaise, green onions, dill, thyme, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add cooled shrimp, langoustine tails and drained crab meat. Gently mix everything together.
3. Spread softened butter over one side of each slice of bread.
4. Heat a large nonstick griddle over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles furiously. Reduce heat under griddle to very low. Add 4 slices of the bread, buttered side up, leaving space between slices. Cook on low until bread starts to turn golden, about 1 minute. Flip bread so it is buttered side down and cook until golden, about 1 minute.
5. Top half of the bread slices with about 1 cup of the seafood mixture spreading it evenly over the bread. Flip another piece of bread on top with the buttered side up to make a sandwich. Let sit on the griddle another minute to crisp the bread to a beautiful brown. Then transfer to a cutting board. Repeat to make all sandwiches.
6. Serve sandwiches cut on the diagonal into 4 pieces. Secure with wooden picks if desired. Arrange on a platter and garnish with chopped fresh dill and dill sprigs. Serve.
Nutrition information per serving: 649 calories, 35 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 314 mg cholesterol, 44 g carbohydrates, 5 g sugar, 40 g protein, 1,162 mg sodium, 3 g fiber
CRISPY FISH AND SLAW TOSTADAS
Prep: 30 minutes. Cook: 10 minutes. Makes: 8 to 10 tostadas (or 16 small tacos)
Look for crisp tostada shells made by local tortillerias. Alternatives include serving the fish and slaw on lettuce cups or as small sandwiches in toasted pita pockets.
If you like, you can also make these into mini tacos: Wrap 16 small (4-inch diameter) corn tortillas in a damp cloth, then put them into a covered casserole dish or a food-safe plastic bag (do not seal bag). Microwave on high until hot and steamy, about 1 minute. Leave in the covered container until needed so tortillas stay pliable. Fill warm tortillas with fish, slaw and spicy mayo. Wrap in foil to keep warm.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon malt vinegar (or cider vinegar)
½ teaspoon each: salt, Worcestershire sauce, hot red pepper sauce, Dijon mustard
¼ medium head green cabbage (8 to 10 ounces), very finely shredded, about 3 cups
¼ small head radicchio, finely shredded, about 1/2 cup (or red cabbage)
2 green onions, trimmed, very thinly sliced
2 to 3 cups baby kale, arugula or lettuce
¼ cup mayonnaise
4 teaspoons hot red pepper sauce
8 to 10 corn tostadas, each about 6 inches in diameter, see Note
¾ to 1 pound boneless skinless fish fillets, such as tilapia, catfish or snapper
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ freshly ground pepper
Expeller pressed canola oil, safflower oil or sunflower oil
Chopped fresh herbs such as dill, cilantro, parsley or a combination
1. For the slaw, mix the olive oil, vinegar, salt, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and mustard in a large bowl. Add cabbage, radicchio and onions. Toss well to coat. (You can refrigerate slaw for a couple of hours before serving.) Stir in baby kale just before serving.
2. For spicy mayo, mix mayonnaise and hot pepper sauce in a small bowl until smooth.
3. Heat oven to 200 degrees. Have a rack set over a baking sheet in the oven. Put slaw and spicy mayo near the work surface. Arrange the tostadas on a large serving platter.
4. For fish, pat fillets dry. Mix flour, salt and pepper in shallow dish. Dredge fish fillet in flour mixture to coat lightly; shake off excess flour.
5. Heat ⅛ inch of oil in a large nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add coated fish fillets in a single, uncrowded layer. Cook over medium-low heat until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip and brown the other side, 2 minutes more. Transfer to the oven on the wire rack set over the pan. Repeat to brown all the fish fillets.
6. To assemble, pile some of the slaw onto each tostada. Top with large chunks of the sauteed fish. Drizzle with spicy mayo. Sprinkle with herbs and serve right away.
Note: To make your own tostadas, let 8 to 10 corn tortillas sit out a room temperature in a single layer to dry for a couple of hours. Heat ¼-inch safflower, sunflower or expeller-pressed canola oil in a medium-size skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Slip in one tortilla and turn to coat with oil, fry until the bubbles subside and the tortilla is crisp and golden on both sides, about 2 minutes total. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate until cool. Store in a covered tin for up to several hours.
Nutrition information per serving: 209 calories, 12 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 15 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 11 g protein, 440 mg sodium, 2 g fiber