Tips for Steamin’ Seafood
The guide to eating in or dining out on the Piedmont lakes. The establishments listed here have water access on site or very nearby. Or we really, really like what they're sellin'!
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Whether you’re cooking in the galley of your boat or the one at home, nothing beats the simplicity and fresh taste of steamed seafood. To get some tips for great steamin’ Pilot talked with a number of local cooks and chefs, who all have their own techniques. You can apply your own twist to these ideas and impress your friends and family with a great-tasting meal.
First, be sure you the seafood you buy is good and fresh. As always, local markets near the water’s edge will have the freshest products at the best price. Or, of course, there are plenty of opportunities to catch your own. It’s a short drive to the coast, after all.
Techniques recommended depend on what you’re cooking. For shrimp, use a medium-duty pot and don’t add liquid. Cover and steam the shrimp at low-to-medium heat, which will bring out the natural juices. This will provide enough steam and ensure the shrimp are flavorful. After the liquid has been drawn out a bit, turn the temperature to high and cook as quickly as possible. As soon as the shrimp turn pink, they’re getting close. You’ll want them medium-rare to medium for the best flavor, but don’t let them cook too long.
If you want to add spices, such as the ever-popular Cajun seasoning, also add a little beer. In this case, start at high temperature and cook quickly. Don’t add enough liquid to let them boil. Anytime you boil shrimp, it will be tough.
For blue crabs, use a roasting pan and place the crabs belly-down in the pan. Be sure to start with live crabs, and add some Old Bay seasoning and a small amount of water and cover the pan. After the crabs turn red, cook another two or three minutes, but no more than five, then pull a claw off and see if it’s done. The exact cooking time will depend on the number and size of the crabs.
For clams and oysters, use a light-gauge pot and about ½-inch of water. Cooking will bring out the natural juices and supply enough liquid for steaming. Put a clean white towel on top of the shellfish, then cover. The towel will help hold in the steam. Shake the pot lightly every now and then to rearrange the oysters or clams, and when you see the ones on top begin to on top begin to open, take them off the heat.
Oyster-lovers will tell you that oysters don’t have to be cooked until they open. You can cook what are called heat-shucking oysters that are done enough to kill any bacteria, but still have to be shucked. Or you can cook them until they open. Your doctor will tell you to cook them well-done, which means at least until they open, to eliminate the chance of driving the porcelain bus later. They’re good either way.
Clams are naturally salty, but oysters sometimes don’t taste salty enough. You can soak the oysters in ocean water for two-to-six-hours to make them saltier, but don’t leave them longer than that or the salt water will kill them, and that’s not good. Like the crabs, it’s important to start with live oysters and clams.
Also, prior to cooking, you’ll want to wash the oysters. A simple garden hose takes care of most of the mud, but you’ll need to toss them around to get them as clean as possible. Most seafood restaurants and some markets have spinning cages that work really well.
Your find oysters in a pretty mucky environments, which is why it’s a job to get them clean. Clams, on the other hand, live buried in the sandy bottom of the ocean floor. They accumulate grit, sand and dirt because they do not fully close their shells. Live clams need to be purged of the sand and grit prior to cooking.
To purge clams, submerge them in a saltwater solution of 1/3-cup of salt mixed with 1-gallon of water for 30 minutes, after which the water should be changed. Do that two or three times.
Alternatively, the clams can be left in a large amount of water overnight.
Steaming works best with shellfish, but a few species of fish can also be cooked successfully this way. A thick, oily fish like salmon is best. Grouper is ok, but flounder and snapper are too soft. Add a little Madeira or a dry white wine to cover a third to half of the fish and cook just past medium rare to medium. Flake the fish gently with a fork to be sure it’s done all the way through, remove from pan and enjoy.
Try one or all of these waterfront or water-access restaurants next time you're, you know, hungry ...
As a service to our readers, we’re went to great trouble and expense to track down noted chef, Billy Boudreaux. We held his feet to the steamer until he shared his favorite recipe:
Billy Boudreaux’s Cajun Steamed Shrimp
What you'll need:
3 pounds of shrimp with heads on
– for better flavor and presentation
Small amount of beer– for the shrimp
Copious quantity of beer – for the cook
Cajun blackening spices
How to do it:
Cook at high temperature, stirring occasionally. Watch the pot closely. When shrimp turns pink, take out one shrimp and cut into it to test doneness in the center.
Cooking time varies from two to five minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp. Serve hot with drawn butter or cold with cocktail sauce and a wedge of lemon.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!