Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Crustacean Celebration: Beach Cioppino


There's nothing like a trip to the beach in the spring when oysters, Dungeness crabs and clams of many kinds are all in season at the same time. Plus the hordes of tourists and vacationers haven't yet descended on our shores, unaware as they are of the sometimes stellar weather that can occur at that time of year.

We recently returned from just such a trip, a week where there was only one day that was too rainy to get the dogs out on the beach and most days came with a sunset included. We also took advantage of the opportunity to get our seafood on, indulging in oysters fresh and fried, clams steamed and stirred into pasta and at least three dinners that featured the crazy deliciousness of crab from Kelly Laviolette (left) of Kelly's Brighton Marina in Rockaway.

We made not one but two trips to Kelly's, loading up on his fresher-than-fresh seafood cooked and steamed in his outdoor kitchen. He fishes them snapping and grasping out of the tank with his custom-designed tool (right) which he swears will someday fund his retirement. The creatures in his tanks are nothing like the tame ones you see in the city with their sluggish, barely-moving inhabitants. Filled with a constant circulating rush of clear Nehalem Bay water, Kelly said he can tell when the tide is in or out by the activity of the crabs in the tank, sensitive as they are to the changing oxygen levels in the water.

If you go there for crab, whether you sit on the deck that surrounds the bait-and-tackle shop, sipping a beverage and overlooking the beautiful bay, or take it home for your own uses, make sure to ask for his signature "crab butter" (left). It's the shell of your freshly shucked crab, still holding the crabby fat and a good portion of melted butter, with the crab heart on a crab claw skewer. Eat the crab heart before or after, but definitely pick up the shell, tip it back and drink in the crabby goodness…pure pleasure!

One of the standout meals we made after a trip to Kelly's place, and Dave's request for his birthday dinner that night, was a fantastic cioppino accented with odds and ends from the produce we'd brought with us. Simple and sensational, all it required was a salad and a loaf of bread, plus a terrific pinot gris my brother had supplied, to make this a highlight of the week.

Beach Cioppino

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped fine
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 med. carrots, chopped in dice
1 large green pepper, chopped in dice
1 spring onion or leek, halved and cut into 1/2” slices
1/2 fennel bulb, chopped
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried basil
1/8 tsp. cayenne
2 c. water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 whole Dungeness crabs, meat picked out
2 c. dry white wine
2 lbs. steamer clams, scrubbed
1⁄2 bunch parsley, chopped

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes. Add carrots, celery, green pepper, spring onion and fennel and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 cups water, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, basil, and cayenne and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours.

Transfer seafood to pot with sauce, and add crabmeat, cover, and simmer for 10–15 minutes.

Pour wine in a skillet over high heat. Add clams, cover and cook until shells open, about 5 minutes. (Discard any clams that don't open.) Add clams and broth to pot; adjust seasonings. Ladle soup into large bowls, garnish with parsley and serve.

This year's Crustacean Celebration also features a fabulous Crab and Corn Chowder and Crab Niçoise. Read last season's series starting with And They're Off!, and the previous year's series kicking off with a Hot Artichoke and Crab Dip (with links to other posts in the series).

1 comment:

Seattle Pastry Girl said...

This looks and sounds so incredibly delicious.