Raw Deal: Summer’s Finest Seafood and The Perfect Raw Bar
Summer at the Jersey Shore means different things to different people: Sand, surf, sun and for us, the perfect opportunity to feast on the ocean’s bounty with an impressive homemade raw bar. Lobster, crabs, clams, and oysters are all indigenous to our area and in abundant supply, so assembling an amazing raw bar is relatively simple. Here’s how:
Step One: Sourcing Your Shellfish
Many people are frightened by the prospect of serving and consuming raw shellfish, but not to worry. First off, remember that the term “raw bar” is a bit deceiving, because not everything you serve will be raw. The shrimp, lobster, and crab you serve will always need to be cooked. If you purchase your seafood from the right place, and know what to look for, your raw bar will not only be safe, but it will also be delicious.
For us, the perfect raw bar needs only four “star” ingredients: clams, oysters, lobster and shrimp. If you want to really kick it up, toss in King or Snow Crab legs, local Blue claws, or succulent Southern Stone Crab.
Clams – Northern quahogs (or hard clams) are the most likely to be found in fish markets and grocery stores and are the most commonly eaten species of clams in the U.S. They go by different names depending on their size (littlenecks, cherrystones, chowder clams). The smaller littlenecks or cherrystones are perfect raw bar size and when really chilled down, can be opened easily using a good clam knife and a little practice.
Shrimp – Remember that not all shrimp are created equal. We never EVER buy farm-raised tiger shrimp. Not only are they tasteless, but they are farmed in conditions in which they never see the ocean. While shrimp is marketed in many forms – shelled or unshelled, raw or cooked, and fresh or frozen – you should seek out U.S. caught shrimp, which come in three main varieties: white, pink and brown. All raw shrimp should smell of the ocean, with no hint of ammonia. Fresh, uncooked shrimp should be cleaned, rinsed in cold water, and drained. Cooked, shelled shrimp should be plump and firm, not soft and mushy as too often is the case. Click Here for tips on cooking the perfect shrimp. (see tips below)
Lobster – Believe it or not, NJ is one of the biggest lobster catching locations in the world. Therefore, you should have no trouble finding live lobsters that are ready to steam and chill. We prefer steaming over boiling. All you’ll need is a large covered pot filled with half an inch of water and you’re set. If you prefer, ask your fishmonger to do the steaming for you. They’ll even crack the claws and prepare the tail for easy extraction.
Oysters – Oysters grow all over the world and come in many size and shapes. There are dozens of varieties to choose from (named mainly for their place of origin) and each has its own flavor and texture profile. Providing a few varieties at your raw bar is a great way to bring out the complexity that raw oysters offer. Our favorite is the Wellfleet oyster, which comes from the pristine waters of Cape Cod and is plump, sweet, and briny. Another raw bar staple is the Blue Point, which gets its name from the town in the Great South Bay that was the center of the Long Island oyster business for many years. Kumamotos, originally cultured in Kumamoto Bay on the island of Kyushi in Japan, can now be found in North America from the Gulf of Mexico to Southern Canada (British Columbia). Finally, Malpeques, a wild oyster harvested from Malpeque Bay on Prince Edward Island are raised in very cold water and are quite soft and very salty.
Step Two: Set Up Your Station
Besides fresh seafood, you are going to need a few key items in place before you get to serving your guests the best raw bar they’ve ever had.
1. A good oyster knife and a good clam knife – These are not the same thing! An oyster knife does not have a sharp edge, just a strong blade with a curved point for prying. The clam knife has one sharp side that can be used for wedging between the shell and slicing the abductor muscle which holds the clam closed. When it comes to finding good knives, we recommend the white handled versions made by Dexter Russell. They are cheap, strong and easy to find at most stores.
2. A cooler with plenty of crushed or chipped ice on standby
3. A metal or plastic tub that can be used for ice and presentation of your spread.
4. Cut lemon and lime wedges
5. Hot sauce
6. Good cocktail sauce – see a simple recipe below.
7. Seafood forks – buy plastic at any store.
8. A few tasty side dishes: pasta, rice, and salads go well with seafood.
9. Delicious and refreshing wine. Check out our summer wine picks for ideas Click Here!
10. Plenty of hungry people to help enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Step Three: Layout and Consumption
Now that most of the hard work is done, you are ready to set up and devour your bounty. All you need to do is keep the spread out of the sun, on lots of chipped ice and in front of a group of seafood lovers. They will take care of the rest.
Tips for Preparing Shrimp
There are many ways to cook shrimp, and we’ve outlined a few of the more popular below. First, a few things to remember:
1. Most importantly, do not over-cook the shrimp! Whether you are charcoal grilling or gas grilling, broiling, pan frying or deep-frying shrimp, you do not want to cook it too long. They will turn tough and tasteless!
2. If your recipe calls for thawed shrimp, thaw in the refrigerator (overnight is best) or thaw under cold running water (this usually takes about 15 or less depending on how much you are thawing). Never thaw at room temperature or under warm/hot water. Never refreeze thawed shrimp
3. Use fresh shrimp within 24 hours after purchasing, the sooner the better. Shrimp is very perishable. Check with your seafood market to see if the shrimp is fresh or previously frozen. Most shrimp is previously frozen so you will not want to refreeze it. If you want to freeze your shrimp, buy them frozen to begin with.
To Broil Shrimp: clean and devein shrimp first and then spread the shell open until it lies flat; rinse it under cold water. Season and prepare shrimp, then broil in oven for 4-5 minutes. It is a good idea to baste the shrimp during broiling period to help prevent burnt edges.
To Pan fry or Sauté Shrimp: Be sure to thaw the shrimp first. If you don’t, they will tend to spatter too much. Then, Heat ¼ teaspoon olive oil in large skillet. Add shrimp and desired seasoning. Cook 3 to 5 minutes; do not over-cook.
To Grill Shrimp – You also want to start with raw shrimp because grilling pre-cooked shrimp will yield dried out, chewy results. Use large or extra large shrimp for grilling, or make skewers, to make the grilling process easier.
1 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1/2 lemon, juiced
Dash hot sauce
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Serve chilled.