The end of summer…a day that sadly arrives each year. Yet, autumn always has its promises….. pumpkins, red leaves, goblins, and turkey. But before that last day of summer arrived, my husband, son, and I, along with two other families, decided to have one last day in the sun. We choose New Brighton State Beach in Aptos since they allow bonfires on the beach. We planned for a full day…and evening, of beach fun.
The day could not have been any more perfect. The weather was 80 degrees, no wind, and sunshine abound. The water was beautiful and calm that day and a group of dolphins were swimming south. Dolphins are so joyous to watch! New Brighton State beach is joined by a series of other state beaches along this stretch of California coastline, such as Rio del Mar, and Seascape. You can literally walk for miles on beautiful clean white sand; I believe as far as Moss Landing…although I haven’t done so!
The kids talked and played and enjoyed the water as us parents began to prepare a feast. I had always wanted to do a clambake on the beach. The east coast crowd does clam and lobster bakes on the beach all the time. I wanted to try to do a “west coast” version of the same.
Surprisingly, it all came together quite well….just a good amount of planning and prepping at home and some muscle power once you get to the beach. Thanks to teenagers, we managed to get all our coolers, firewood, cooking pot, fire grate, and table and chairs down to the beach.
The dads were in charge of the fire and cooking and did a fine job of preparing our wonderful meal.
But before starting with our western seafood bake, we needed to get started with some appetizers. Robert is famous for finding all sorts of wonderful sausages and barbecuing them as appetizers. They are delicious sliced up and shared from a cutting board, dipped into a bit of grainy mustard, and enjoyed with a glass of wine or beer. Yum!
We began our western seafood bake with water and wine…always a good start! We then added to the pot a collection of onions and garlic, butter, fresh herbs, bay leaves, peppercorns, and salt. This would become our poaching liquid for the fish. We covered the pot and let it do its thing while my husband started grilling the corn.
Grilling corn is quite easy and so delicious! It takes on a caramelized flavor with a little smoke added. To prepare the corn, peel back the husks to just the end without detaching the husk. Remove the silk and then fold the husks back over the exposed cobs. Place the corn in a pan of water to soak for a while. This hydrates the corn where it will steam properly and not dry out on the barbecue. Before we put the corn on the barbecue, I carefully lift back the husks and drizzle the cobs with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Grilling the corn takes about 20 minutes. Rotate the corn during the cooking process and be careful that it doesn’t get too much direct heat from the flame. It can burn. Butter is not necessary with this simple yet delicious corn method.
When the corn is just about done and the pot is simmering, it is time to add the fish. For our western seafood bake, we selected little neck clams, mussels, codfish, and dungeness crab. It didn’t take long for the collection of fish to steam, release their seafood goodness into the poaching liquid, and was ready to take out and serve.
We had prepared other dishes to serve with our beach feast that day. Here is our menu:
WESTERN SEAFOOD BAKE
Crab, codfish, mussels, and clams
Grilled corn on the cob
Provencal potato salad
String bean, red onion, and kalamata olive salad
Caprese Salad with fresh basil
Sour dough bread
The meal was delicious, fun to prepare and eat, and certainly was something that none of us had ever done before. And the kids really enjoyed it too.
Of course we had to stretch out our day as long as possible and enjoy the perfect sunset, which set over the outstretched bluffs along the coastline. We added some more wood to the fire, poured another glass of wine, and gathered around the fire where we then broke out the marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate bars for the kids…and adults too!
There is something so perfect about sitting on the beach with great friends, enjoying great conversation, food, and wine…. while staring out over the blue water on a glorious day watching dolphins swimming and witnessing a magnificent sunset. It just doesn’t get any better!
It was an unforgettable summer day!
WESTERN SEAFOOD BAKE serves 10
5 cups of water
1 bottle of dry white wine
2 onions, cut into quarters and seperated
10 bay leaves
2 lemons cut into quarters
1 stick of butter
¾ cup fresh chopped herbs (thyme, parsley, sage, marjoram, summer savory, rosemary, etc.)
3 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons of peppercorns
3 lbs. little neck clams
2 lbs. of firm white fish fillets such as lingcod, truecod, black cod, cut into 2” square pieces
3 lbs. mussels
3 Dungeness crabs (pre-cooked, cracked, and cleaned by the fish monger)
Place first nine ingredients into pot over a fire and bring to a simmer. When minutes away from serving, add the clams, mussels, and fish. Cover pot and allow to steam for about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the crab. The crab only needs to be warmed up. Stir very gently and not too much, the fish will fall apart.
Use a large straining spoon to lift the fish out of the poaching liquid and onto a serving platter. Spoon some of the poaching liquid over the fish. Serve immediately.