The Seafood Tower

If you want to a bit of Las Vegas for the holidays, “The Seafood Tower” is a great place to start.

Today it is easy to buy great seafood at your local market. Many items, like crab are always sold pre-cooked so all you have to do is thaw them out and serve. Even though there may be items in the seafood case “pre-thawed” – they arrived frozen. So ask the seafood seller to get you frozen crab out of the back and thaw them yourself at home. This way you are guaranteed to have a fresher product.

For crab, thaw them overnight in the refrigerator and then using cooking shears score the legs so they can be easily broken, For some of the bigger ones you might need to crack them with the back of a chef’s knife. For king crab I cut the legs into pencil shaped lengths so you can just push them out and dip them in clarified butter.

For the shrimp, I prefer to purchase Texas gulf shrimp frozen in an ice block that are 21/25’s (21 to 25 shrimp per pound). This isn’t always possible, so as an alternative I buy the IQF (individual quick frozen) variety with shells on. I take the shears again and insert it down the back of the shrimp, make one cut, and then place them under running cool water to remove the vein. To cook them, I heat a sheet pan under the broiler (450F) for 5 minutes and then lay them in a single layer on the pan. Put them back under the broiler for about 2 minutes, remove them and flip them over, and then put the pan back under the broiler for 1 minute more. Immediately remove the shrimp and drop them in an ice bath and remove the shells. This method works the best for me to provide shrimp that aren’t watered down or overcooked. You may need to experiment on the timing with the shrimp you have depending on their size.

For the lobster, if possible purchase live whole lobsters. If you can’t find them, then frozen tails will work. There are a lot of ways to cook a lobster – one of my favorites being grilled on the half shell with butter and garlic – but for the seafood tower I like to steam them. Boiling lobster is best left if you are doing a lot of lobster. For just a few for something like this presentation – steaming provides a less watered down lobster and is easier. Plus clean up is a snap.

The rule of thumb is that you need a pot with at least 2 to 3 inches of boiling water (rolling boil) and then a steamer basket above it. Drop in the lobster and cook 8 minutes for the first pound and then 3 minutes for each additional pound. So for a 1 1/2 pound lobster, something like 8 to 10 minutes. Take them out, pull off the tails, and plunge them into an ice bath. For service, cut the tails in half with a chef’s knife. For the claws, break them open with hammer so people can just pull out the meat.

If oysters are in season these are also great to include. Basically, when you buy your seafood – look at what looks fresh and would be good cold. Then add it to the list.

To make the tower you can use two plates separated by an inverted glass, or you can use a stand like this one that I found for $10 at an estate sale. Seafood will stack better on crushed ice, but that is sometimes hard to find. When you purchase your seafood, ask the fishmonger to see if they will bag up an extra container of ice for you. In Texas, the easiest way to get ice for a seafood tower is Sonic Drive-In where you can buy a bag of “Sonic Ice” for about $2.

Scoop the ice in the trays and then put them in the freezer. Arrange the seafood on the trays right before serving along with lemon wedges. If everything is cold (including the trays) this will last quite a long time on the buffet. For the lobster, you can serve clarified butter on the side, but most of this seafood will go well with a spicy cocktail sauce. This is one of the few sauces that I don’t try to make at home because I prefer Crosse & Blackwell’s Seafood Sauce with an extra shot of horseradish in the middle to make it a bit spicier.

Make sure you have a bowl ready for shells and plenty of napkins. Also, have extra seafood in the fridge so you can refresh the tower as people eat. They will consume more than you think!

#seafood #tower #crab #shrimp #lobster

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Dan McCoy

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