Boiling Point: Cook beach food at home

Jim Hillibish

Some of these columns stir primary cravings in me, touching off old obsessions better left brain buried.

This is the way it is with the ocean. Each summer, I pine for that first breath of salt air. There’s something about the waves, perhaps a mental massage.

There are only two cures for this: Go to the beach or eat beach food at home. Beach food is unique. It’s mostly fast food, but, amazingly, has not been duplicated by McDonald’s or Wendy’s.

This stuff is often served up by characters in beach shacks fleeing various addictions or relationships and talking to everybody about them.

I always thought it was crazy that tourists go fishing. What will they do with the fish? Make sushi in their hotel rooms?

Then I found a secret from another fishing fan. Many seafood restaurants for a fee will clean and grill or fry your catch. They never advertise it, but they do it. To find them, ask somebody on the fishing pier, preferably an old guy who knows what he’s doing.

That would be the ultimate beach food, but there are others. Dill fries are a beach invention. They are french fries coated with fresh, chopped dillweed. It must be fresh. Dried dill tastes, well, weedy. You will find these mostly on northeast coasts and especially on Staten Island. (Cheese fries are so passé.)

For the carnivores, beach stands offer hot dogs more often than burgers. These can be good ones with crispy skins rolled on a cooker. Most tend toward the garlic dogs. The buns are steamed and soft, the mustard hot and your wallet empty as you buy two plus drinks for 16 bucks.

There’s a typically beach wiener you never see around here. It comes with a thin slice of fresh cucumber on top with dollops of Italian dressing. Try it on your next foot-long.

Shrimp baskets are one of the first beach foods and still the best. Just the feel of that plastic basket with the paper napkin starves me. This shrimp is fresh off the boat to the fryer in minutes. You cannot beat that.

Clam bars once were a beach stalwart. You may still find them, but they’re usually across the street from the oceanfront in respectable buildings.

Virginia Beach was famous for clams on the half shell stuffed with bleu cheese and chopped spinach.

Crabs on the East Coast are small and not eaten whole, except for the soft-shell ones. It takes a mess of them and hours of cleaning to get enough.

I’ve never forgotten the crab spaghetti we ate at a beach party on the Outer Banks. Make your usual sauce without the meat. With 10 minutes to go, add the crabmeat and simmer.

Crab and seafood quesadillas are making a beach statement. Cut in wedges, they’re easy walking-around food.

Contrary to tourists, there are no clam or crab “seasons.” They’re found year-round. Still, some of their areas may be closed after heavy rain, due to municipal sewage overflows.

Clambakes are a party in a pit, but they’ve disappeared from beaches as open fires have been outlawed. The cooking method now is the steel steamer pot with basket. Ingredients are mussels, clams, oysters, lobsters, sausage, potatoes, corn, carrots and onions.

The vegetables are layered and steamed for hours. The broth is drained from the bottom and served as a sauce.

Some markets offer neatly assembled clam bakes in net steaming bags. You buy these by the “bake.” One bake is enough for one person. Load the bags into the steamer and you’ve got it.

Google “clambake recipes” for a wide selection of clam bakes.

High gas prices should not block us from the joys of the beach. Cook up some authentic beach food, fill the dog’s plastic wading pool and invite the crowd. No matter where you live, it’s all about food.

BEACH DILLY FRIES

3 medium russett potatoes, peeled

1 quart ice water

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups cooking oil

2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced

Slice potatoes with french-fry maker and plunge in water with salt and ice. Allow to sit for a half hour.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet. When a small piece of bread sizzles, it’s

ready. Drain the potatoes and carefully load into the oil. It will spatter. Fry turning occasionally about five minutes. Drain on paper towels on a roasting rack.

Note: Some folks fry them for two minutes, remove and drain and cool and then fry them again until golden brown.

Serves 2

SEAFOOD QUESADILLAS

4 flour tortillas

1/2 pound seafood, diced (crab, shrimp, scallops, white fish, smoked oysters or combinations)

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup refried beans (canned is fine)

1/2 cup green onions, chopped with tops

1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese

Lightly sauté the seafood in butter until done, 3-4 minutes. Heat oil in a large skillet and toast the tortillas until browned. Drain on paper towels.

Heat the refried beans in microwave until loose. Spread on the tortillas.

Mix seafood, cheese and green onion with seafood. Divide seafood between two tortillas. Cover with other tortillas.

Heat in an oven until the cheese melts, 2-3 minutes. Cut into triangles and serve with lemon wedges. For a spicier version, add one or more seeded, diced jalapeno pepper

Serves 2

Send food questions to jim.hillibish@cantonrep.com