Here in Portland we have some fantastic seafood markets, and my favorite is ABC Seafood on Powell and 65th. A family owned establishment, the store is filled with tanks of live fish, lobsters, crabs, and shellfish. I've been able to get the best prices on small steamer clams and some gorgeous shrimp. A few weeks ago I got 6 pounds of clams for less than three dollars a pound. That's half the price of New Seasons - and I know they're just as fresh. This is the kind of place where you point to a fish in a tank, a smiling man will reach in, grab it, and clobber it with a hammer and hand it to you in a bag. It does NOT get fresher than that. They also have a nice selection of fresh (and CHEAP) asian produce. I got four pounds of clams, two pounds of big beautiful shrimp, and three HUGE king oyster mushrooms.
We were planning on doing a Memorial Day BBQ, but decided what we really wanted was a clambake, or, in our case, a stovetop seafood boil. This is one of my favorite kinds of food for a crowd - steam up some potatoes, make a spicy broth of white wine and herbs (plus some requisite Old Bay) and steam up some fresh seafood before dumping it all out onto a tabletop covered with newspaper.
I steamed some red potatoes in water with a small handful of thyme, an onion cut in quarters, and a head of garlic cut across in half. These took about twenty minutes, and I took them out and drizzled them with olive oil and salt. Into the steam pot with the potato water, herbs, and aliums, I added another head of garlic, about two cups of white wine, a couple spoonfuls of Old Bay, a lemon cut in half, and a big handful of basil. This part made it - the broth had a really great herby kick - like Vietnamese broth - that went so well with the seafood. My dad likes to add a bottle of clam juice, which makes for great bread-dipping, but we weren't using the broth for this dinner (due to the whole dumping out on the newspaper business).
I added three spicy Italian chicken sausages - you could use any kind of smoked or spicy sausage, like a chorizo or smoked Italian. On top of these went the clams (I scrub them in my kitchen sink, and discard any that are open or look funny - better safe than food poisoned) and steamed these for 6 minutes before adding my shrimp - shell and talks on, which gives a much better flavor - and the dish was done after two more minutes. I strained out all of the shrimp, now bright pink, and the clams, discarding any that are still closed. They were probably dead before I cooked them, or they might have been "mudders", shells filled with sand, mud, and other inedible delights. I rescued the sausages and threw them on the grill for a quick smoky finish. We grilled some corn on the Weber, and I whipped up a quick saute of the oyster mushrooms and some adorable baby summer squash from the market, with a sliced onion, butter, the sliced mushrooms, thyme, and sherry. This was so good, so simple, and was a fun side dish.
We had some homemade pound cake and fresh market strawberries for dessert - a few hours later because we were so full!
This meal was heaven, not least because I got to share it with my family - my roommates, and some lovely visitors from North Carolina. If you guys are reading this, thank you for everything - I hope I can come visit you guys someday. Sharing food, wine, and stories with you was the PERFECT way to kick of the summer. You are in my heart for good.
The next time you want to feed a group of friends and family, consider a seafood boil. If you don't add lobsters, it's reasonably priced, quick to prepare, and results in a perfect opportunity to roll up your sleeves and dig into some great food around a shared space. And, of course, the cleanup is a snap. Just roll up the newspaper, toss out the shells, and keep the conversation going.
Eat well, and happy warm-weather weekend!