Food writer and cooking instructor Christine Rudalevige is a mother of two who recently navigated a family move from agriculturally rich central Pennsylvania to coastal Maine. Eating locally now means more fish on the dinner table. In this biweekly column, Fish on Fridays, she explores family-friendly ways to enjoy sustainable seafood.
Today, in a tryptophan induced sleep, Christine dreams about a holiday cocktail party with lots of bubbly, seafood hors d'oeuvre, and a hot red dress.
Photo by Christine Rudalevige
A Holiday Party Full of Bubbly and Seafood
Only slightly behind the unchecked family time and prepping and eating all of the turkey trimmings, napping is my third favorite staple during the five-day Thanksgiving weekend. In the time between wrapping myself in my leopard print Snuggie and landing soundly into a tryptophan coma, I come upon that lovely split second of a space where my mind can wander free.
Yesterday, I settled on a swanky champagne cocktail party in our elegantly decorated new house with me wearing a stunning red dress in a size 6. Yes, turkey is a great hallucinogen, indeed. Because in reality, I don’t have enough friends in Maine yet to fill a room, the flutes are still nestled in their boxes in the basement, the kitchen is midway through its professional makeover, and the dual-floor DIY hallway project still needs 800-square feet of hideous wall paper to be removed by yours truly.
The one slightly accurate part of my vision is that, by my calculations, since I currently stand at a healthy size 12, I’m only half-way to a size 6, right?
Nevermind my math, consider my menu.
I plan to take my guests around the world via the bubbly in their glasses, and up and down the sustainable seafood coast with my proffered nibbles. I will adhere to my strict rule for cocktail party fare: A guest should never have to put down her glass to sample the food. All of these fish appetizers will be one-handed, one-bite wonders.
We’ll start with the best French brut I can afford -- given the fact that college tuition is only three years out -- and that will be served with passed local Maine oysters on the half shell. The first tray will be pure, mostly naked, sitting on rock salt, maybe with just a splash of lemon.
The second tray will be filled with melissav’s Food52 stunner Broiled Oysters with a Sriracha Lime Butter (pictured above) as both a concession to guests that don’t do raw seafood and as a warm-up to the next round: garlicky shrimp designed to stand up next to a Spanish Cava.
I could very well run with Helen’s Spicy Shrimp (pictured above), another Food52 winner. It’s a great dish that I’ve eaten many times, but seeing as it’s got many of the same flavors as the broiled oysters, I would still use her very prep ahead-able technique, but I would swap out the Sriracha for a mixture of smoked paprika and Valencia orange juice, and use flat-leaved parsley instead of repeating the cilantro. The shells and tails of the shrimp (medium, 41-50 count, down from Helen’s extra-large count, so factor that into grill time) would be removed. And I would serve them on a passed plate with stylish toothpicks for elegant, easy pickins.
My final passed fish appetizer -- yes, I am only serving three, I’ve got my size 6 to consider, afterall -- is a riddle wrapped in an enigma. Well, not really. It’s actually a smoked bay scallop (the little ones) at the center of a hush puppy, skewered with a piece of sectioned Meyer lemon, and sprinkled with sel gris (recipe below). I adapted this recipe from one sustainable seafood chef Rick Moonen published in his book Fish Without a Doubt.
Playing by my own rules, these are bite sized, of course. But, oh, what a bite! Just when they’re thinking, what’s this Yankee doing serving me a plain old Southern fritter with this bubbly (I would suggest a sweeter sparkler here like a sparkling Riesling from Germany or Austrian sekt), the smoky surprise in the center hits you.
Whole Foods Market sells a great little package of smoked scallops from Ducktrap River of Maine, but if you have a smoker -- either the real deal or one that works on the stovetop as mine does (pictured above) -- smoking your own takes only minutes, and there is no brining necessary to get a nice pellicle to form on the outside of the scallops.
So, I’ve still got to work on the venue, the guest list, and my attire, but at least I've got the menu set for a great holiday party! If you decide to throw one before me, can I get an invite? I’ll wear my red dress. Exact size to be determined.
Smoked Bay Scallop Hush Puppies
When dropping these lightly battered pups into the hot oil, you really just want to scoop out one bay scallop and a tiny bit of batter at a time. They balloon up nicely into a single bite that way.
Makes 30-35 hush puppies
1 1/2 cups canola oil
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 large egg
2/3 cup stone ground corn meal
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 Meyer lemon, zested, fruit reserved
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 ounces (30-35 pieces) smoked bay scallops
A coarse sea salt, like sel gris
Like this post? See Christine's previous topic: Giving Thanks for the Fishes.
Christine Rudalevige is a food writer, culinary instructor at Stonewall Kitchen, and mother of two who always fits in three square meals a day -- which occasionally means making up for a skipped breakfast with an ample late-night refrigerator raid.