Photographs and styling by MICHELLE GIORLA
After ending my self-imposed 20-year exile/odyssey in the Rocky Mountains the first place I needed to go was the ocean. The shore entices and seduces, attacking and attaching itself one sense at a time.
Before the ocean enters your vision the scent of marsh and salt invades your nostrils, then the percussive beat of the waves pounds into your brain not unlike a march nor’easter. Finally, the ocean is exposed to your eyes, seemingly with no beginning or end, her great expanse simultaneously welcoming and threatening. The ocean water is the cradle of life.
Twenty years after my return to the Jersey shore, I still heed the call of the ocean; she is my muse. She provides a bounty of ingredients and when I choose to listen, how to prepare them. The breaking waves herald the new day and all the hope and fortune it portends. At night as the last crimson embers of daylight are extinguished by its great expanse, bringing both darkness and peace rewarding or consoling you for experiencing another day.
The culinary riches relinquished by the sea are among my most prominent food memories. My mom, preparing a bubbling cauldron of cioppino laden with lobsters, clams, and shrimp, the aroma building and filling the house with anticipation of the feast ahead. My grandfather snacking on a tin of sardines with a sleeve of saltine crackers and a frigid bottle of Rolling Rock. A car ride in the summer could mean a trip to Gaskin’s Fish Market—which meant flounder, each filet the size of a dinner plate—fried as we watched the waves assault the sea wall protecting the narrow stretch of road from Long Branch to Sandy Hook. Or even better, a trip to Moby’s Lobster Deck restaurant in the shadows of the Twin Lights to feast on buckets of soft-shell steamer clams dipped in enough melted butter to make a French chef blush. For me the long hot endless summer days meant and still means seafood.
The Parkway has taken me from the central shore towns of my youth to the end of the road. The store and restaurant names are different yet eerily familiar as are the kids poking at the lobster tank or begging for ice cream before dinner earnestly swearing it won’t ruin their appetite.
The memories of meals past and the sensory buffet that is the Jersey shore have once again revitalized my desire to cook. Sole Veronique is a classic French dish every first-year culinary student was forced to prepare that I’ve never seen on a menu anywhere. Peeling grapes is as torturous as it sounds but is essential to the tender softly poached fillets swimming in the butter and wine-laden sauce with grapes bobbing like buoys in the bay.
Scallops, the crown jewel of Cape May. It’s hard to recall cooking them any way other than searing to golden brown; okay I did go through a butter poaching phase a few years back but I’m over that, kind of. Lately I have been craving them fried. Harkening back to fried seafood platters of my youth that made me the shape I am today; I find a poetic symmetry in encasing the scallop jewel in a crispy breadcrumb shell.
Simple is sometimes better. No stroll down memory lane would be complete without clams or mussels. I have fond visions of newspaper-covered tables strewn with buckets of mussels and clams, both hard- and soft-shell varieties, with cups of broth that taste the way the ocean breeze smells. Baseball bat-sized loaves of bread that only exist in Jersey are crudely torn apart to mop up any juices or broth lest it be wasted.
This month, revisit dishes from summers past, present, and hopefully future: Manhattan Clam Chowder, Flounder Veronique, Fried Scallops with Amish Coleslaw, Mussels in Lemongrass, Ginger and Coconut Milk Broth, and Garlicky Clams.
This summer visit your favorite restaurant, buy the good wine, relive old memories, and create new ones. The ocean currents are constantly shifting and moving our coastline as the sands of time shift, erode, and replenish the Jersey shore towns we call home.
Amish Slaw and Fried Scallops
- ½ cup shredded carrots
- 1 medium head cabbage, cored and shredded
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- ¾ cup white sugar
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1-1/2 tsp celery seed
- 1 tsp German mustard
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup cider vinegar
In a non-reactive saucepan, mix sugar, vinegar, salt, celery seed, and oil. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 2 minutes. Let cool. Mix with carrots, cabbage, and onion. Chill 2 hours or overnight.
- 2 lbs. large scallops
- 1 box fish fry coating
Dredge scallops in a fry mix. In a cast iron pan, heat 4 cups of oil to 350 degrees. Fry scallops for 3 minutes. Turn and cook for 2 minutes, then remove with tongs or a slotted spoon. Drain on a paper towel. Serve with Amish slaw and cocktail or tartar sauce.
Manhattan Clam Chowder
- ½ lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
- 1 each red and green pepper, diced
- 1 white onion, diced
- 4 ribs celery, diced
- ¼ cup garlic, chopped
- 1 26-oz can diced tomatoes
- 3 Tbsp flour
- 3 cups chopped clams with juice
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 3 Tbsp chopped thyme
- ½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ Tbsp black pepper
- 1 tsp allspice
- Salt to taste
- 1 Pt. clam juice
In a soup pot, heat oil, then add onions and sweat for 3 minutes. Add peppers, celery, and garlic. Sweat for 5 minutes. Add the flour and mix well. Add clam juice, tomatoes, herbs, and spices. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add potatoes and cook for 25 minutes.
Add clams and simmer for 15 minutes. Adjust seasonings and enjoy.
Bucatini and Clams
- 2 dz. little neck clams
- 15 cloves garlic minced
- 1 lb. butter
- 1 cup Pinot Grigio
- ¼ cup shaved Parmesan for garnish
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 lb. bucatini pasta, cooked
In a sauté pan, heat oil and then add the clams and white wine. Cover and steam for 3 minutes.
Add garlic, whisk in butter slowly to create sauce. Mix in pasta.
Garnish with Parmesan and parsley and serve with crusty bread.
Mussels in Green Curry Coconut Milk Broth
- 2 lbs. mussels
- 3 cups coconut milk
- 3 Tbsp minced lemongrass
- 1 Tbsp minced garlic
- 2 Tbsp minced ginger
- 2 tsp green curry paste
- 3 lime leaves
- 4 Tbsp vegetable oil
In a sauté pan, heat oil, then add garlic, lemongrass, and ginger. Stir well but do not brown.
Add curry paste and lime leaves, then add mussels and coconut milk. Cover and cook for 4 minutes.
Remove mussels to bowls. Reduce liquid by 1/3.
Pour over mussels and enjoy.
- 1 lb. flounder
- 8 oz melted butter
- 8 oz whole butter, cubed and dusted with 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- 3 shallots, minced
- 1 cup Sancerre wine
- ½ cup white grape juice
- 24 green seedless grapes peeled and cut in half
Season filets with salt and pepper. Roll filets into small packages and brush with melted butter.
Bake at 350 for 10 minutes and remove to a plate. In a saucepan, add wine and shallots; reduce by half.
Add grape juice and reduce by 1/3. Add dusted butter slowly, whisking each piece in until incorporated. Add grape halves, warm, and serve
over flounder. ■