Recipes: 'The Summer Shack Cookbook' "Jasper White is a man whose love for fish simply obliterates everything else," says T. Susan Chang. "This isn't so much a cookbook as a how-to: how to grill a fish, how to shuck an oyster, how to disassemble a crab, how to clean a squid."
NPR logo Recipes: 'The Summer Shack Cookbook'

Recipes: 'The Summer Shack Cookbook'

The raw bar's bounty awaits at the Summer Shack restaurant in Cambridge, Mass. hide caption

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The raw bar's bounty awaits at the Summer Shack restaurant in Cambridge, Mass.

These recipes appear in The Summer Shack Cookbook by Jasper White, W.W. Norton 2007.

Steamers with Drawn Butter

Soft-shell clams are usually called steamers when they are sold whole for steaming and fryers or belly clams when they are sold shucked (with siphon removed) for frying. I have been eating steamers my whole life, and I adore them. When I was a kid growing up on the Jersey Shore, steamers were abundant and cheap, so we ate them often. Nowadays steamers are very expensive, especially in the summer, when the demand outstrips the supply. Up in Maine, the steamers are especially sweet and are often held in lobster tanks (without lobsters, or course), where the flowing saltwater purges most of their sand or grit. Steamers are usually harvested from sand or mud tidal flats. I prefer the "mudders," from mud flats. They have the most pungent flavor and they are not sandy. You may not have a choice at the market, but if you do, ask for mudders.

Make sure to put a bowl on the table to accommodate the shells. Serve the hot broth and drawn butter in small individual bowls. For equipment, you will need a large steamer pot or a large pot with a steamer rack and a tight-fitting lid and a Chinese wire-mesh skimmer. If not using a steamer pot, you will need a fine strainer.

3 pounds medium (1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter) steamers (soft-shell clams)

2 cups water

1 large stalk celery, thinly sliced on a diagonal

1/2 onion, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

Lemon wedges

1. Fill two large pots (or two sinks) with cold water. Gently place the clams in one pot, discarding any dead clams or clams with cracked shells. If a clam looks shriveled up, poke the siphon; if it doesn't retract into the shell, the clam is dead. Swish the clams gently in the water and let soak for a few minutes, then lift them out with a wire-mesh skimmer and place them in the other pot of cold water. Rinse out the first pot and fill it again. Swish the clams around again and let soak briefly, then transfer them to the clean pot. Swish and repeat with successive batches of clean water until the water is perfectly clear (4 or 5 soakings). Drain the clams and set them aside.

2. Set up your steamer pot. Add the water, celery, onion, and pepper, cover, and turn the heat on high. When the pot has a full head of steam, add the steamers and replace the lid. Steam (the water should be at a rolling boil) for 4 minutes. Uncover the pot and stir once gently. Cover and continue to steam until the clams are completely open and somewhat firm, 4 to 5 minutes more (5 to 6 minutes more for large steamers).

3. Meanwhile, melt the butter to make drawn butter (see below).

4. Remove the pot from the heat and gently transfer the steamers to a large bowl with the wire-mesh skimmer. Drain the broth through the spigot or strain through a fine strainer into four small bowls.

5. Serve the steamers with the bowls of broth, drawn butter, and lemon wedges.

Serves 4 as an appetizer

Drawn Butter

Drawn butter is the classic accompaniment to many plain steamed seafood dishes, such as lobster and steamers. It is surprising how many people, especially restaurant chefs, overcomplicate this simple preparation. Stir the butter often while it melts to prevent it from separating. Don't use clarified butter as a substitute — because the milk solids have been removed, it has much less flavor.

2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter per person

Kosher or sea salt

Put the butter in a small pot and place over a medium heat. Stir the butter often as it melts. Before the melted butter comes to a boil, season to taste with salt. Then keep stirring until it boils—it should be cloudy, almost emulsified. Divide among small bowls and serve at once.

Boston Baked Scrod

Scrod is one of the most famous seafood dishes in New England, and yet if you ask five people what it is, you will get at least three different answers. The term scrod, sometimes spelled schrod, is used in the fish business to market the smallest cod, 3 to 5 pounds, which is also called baby cod. But if you cook baby cod in any way other than baked or broiled with bread crumbs, then it isn't scrod. And some people contend that scrod simply means "fish of the day." Amid all the confusion, there is plenty of room to personalize this dish. My version uses baby cod or small haddock, topped with slices of ripe tomato and a buttery cracker crumb topping. The tomato certainly isn't traditional, but I like the way it brightens the flavor of the mild fish. When tomatoes are out of season, omit them.

This is a mild-flavored dish that goes well with many sides. If you want to continue the Boston theme, serve it with Coleslaw and Succotash Salad. If you want to keep it easy, a green salad and/or fresh green vegetables along with boiled new potatoes will round out the meal nicely.

For equipment, you will need a basting brush, a baking sheet, and a large metal spatula.

The buttery crumbs can be made well in advance and kept refrigerated or frozen. Pull them out an hour before you start the recipe and let them come to room temperature.

4 skin-on baby cod or small haddock fillets, about 8 ounces each

About 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 ripe medium tomatoes, thinly sliced

1 cup Buttery Crumbs (recipe follows)

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 375ºF. Brush a baking sheet with oil.

2. Place the fillets skin side down on the sheet pan. Brush the tops lightly with the oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Layer the tomato slices over the fillets, overlapping them slightly. Sprinkle each piece of fish with 1/4 cup of the crumbs and pack the crumbs lightly with cupped hands to cover the fish.

3. Place the fish in the oven and bake until the fish feels very firm and the crumbs have turned golden brown, about 12 minutes. If you're uncertain about whether the fish is cooked through, use a paring knife to peek into the center of one fillet—it should be pure white all the way through.

4. Use a large spatula to carefully transfer the baked scrod to dinner plates. The fish is very flaky and will break easily. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a main course

Buttery Crumbs

If you don't have a food processor, you can make the cracker crumbs by putting the crackers in a 2-quart zip-lock bag, sealing the bag, and crushing them with a rolling pin. These crumbs can be used for other baked dishes as well, such as Baked Plum Tomatoes Gratinée (page 244).

One 6-ounce box oyster crackers

8 sprigs fresh Italian parsley, leaves removed and coarsely chopped (3 tablespoons)

4 sprigs fresh thyme, leave removed and chopped (1 tablespoon)

1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1. Place the oyster crackers in a food processor and pulse until they are fairly fine, with pieces no larger than 1/4 inch. Transfer the crumbs to a large bowl. Add the chopped parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Drizzle in the melted butter and mix well with a rubber spatula so all the crumbs are coated with butter.

2. Transfer the crumb mixture to a tightly sealed glass jar container and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use. The crumbs can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks or frozen for up to 1 month.

Makes about 2 cups, enough for 8 portions of scrod