When people think of dockside dining in Massachusetts, they imagine buttery toasted lobster rolls, steaming bowls of creamy fish chowder, and porcelain scallops piled with bread crumbs. All this is right, and some of it is in my cookbook, In Cod We Trust , but there is so much more to the Bay State coast. Portuguese, Sicilian, Finnish, and English recipes can all appear on the same Massachusetts sideboard these days. My favorite example of this evolution was watching a young visitor recently trying her first fried clam. She tasted one, then reached for the Portuguese red pepper sauce pimenta moida on the table. “Wow,” she said after dipping a crispy clam in the sauce, “they’re really good with this!” That’s the new Massachusetts — Portuguese red pepper sauce, indispensable in New Bedford, beside the tartar sauce at the clam shack.
CLAMS BULHAO PATO
Serves 6 as a first course
Bulhao Pato was a 19th-century Lisbon poet, but everyone seems to remember only his clam recipe. If his verse were as simple and succinct as his clams, it, too, might be famous. Clams Bulhao Pato has exactly what is needed to make shellfish wonderful — a little garlic, a little hot chili, a little lemon juice, and cilantro. It is clam poetry.
48 littleneck or mahogany clams (about 5 pounds)
Salt, to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons minced garlic
3 or 4 dried hot chilies, crumbled, or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more, to taste
1 small bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
Scrub the clams under running water, place them in a large bowl of salted water, and set aside for 30 minutes to help eliminate some of the sand. Drain.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the garlic and chilies or red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, until soft and fragrant, taking care not to burn the garlic. Add clams, cover skillet, adjust heat to medium, and cook, checking the clams occasionally, until they are all open, about 10 minutes (smaller clams take longer to open). Add the lemon juice, replace the cover, and set the skillet off heat for about a minute, shaking a few times to distribute the juices. Divide the clams and liquid among heated serving bowls, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve at once.
CHILLED FRESH CORN AND COCONUT SOUP
Native fresh corn, coconut milk, lime, and fresh basil as a chilled soup make an ethereal summer dish, whether packed in a thermos for a picnic on Tom Nevers Beach or served in a sherry glass to start an elegant Edgartown dinner. Organic frozen corn could be substituted, and is often better than fresh corn that has been trucked hundreds of miles, but a Nantucketer should head to Bartlett’s Farm in early August for the first native corn and beefy leaves of local basil. The other ingredients here recall the days of South Seas whaling trips, when Nantucket pantries were well stocked in coconuts and limes.
3 cups fresh corn kernels, plus ½ cup, for garnish
1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk
½ habanero pepper, optional
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Juice from 3 limes, plus wedges, for garnish
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup chopped fresh basil
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the 3 cups of corn, the coconut milk, habanero, if using, and 2½ cups of water to a boil. Adjust the heat to low and simmer until corn is tender, about 20 minutes.
In a blender or with an immersion blender, puree mixture (work carefully and in batches if using a blender). If you want velvety soup, with no texture from the corn, press through a sieve and discard solids. Season with salt and black pepper. Chill soup at least 3 hours. Stir in lime juice.
With the rack in the center position, heat the oven to 450 degrees. In a medium bowl, toss the ½ cup corn in the oil and salt and black pepper to taste, and roast until toasted light brown, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
Pack the soup in a thermos for transport, or serve immediately; garnish with roasted corn kernels, basil, and a squeeze of lime.
FRIED COD SQUARES WITH WHIPPED POTATO, GARLIC, AND OLIVE OIL DRESSING
Serves 4 as an entree or 6 as an appetizer
Discovered between the pages of a Provincetown cookbook, this Mediterranean-born recipe deserves a place on the coast of Massachusetts, with its long history of cod fisheries.
Greek skordalia, a garlicky-potato sauce bound with velvety olive oil, floats like a cloud upon a golden square of fried Massachusetts (or Icelandic or Norwegian, if that’s what’s available) cod. The combination of warm, crispy fried cod and garlicky whipped potatoes makes magic. Serve these right from the frying pan with guests standing in your kitchen, chilled wine very close.
1 tablespoon plus 1 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges, for serving
1½ pounds fresh cod
Grapeseed or safflower oil, for frying
1 cup rice flour
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
In a small saute pan, warm the 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add garlic and soften very gently, but do not brown. Set aside.
Cook potatoes in salted water until very tender. Drain potatoes and mash with a fork. You should have 2 cups mashed potatoes. Pour in the remaining 1 cup olive oil, beating the potatoes at the same time, by hand or in a mixer. Mix in 2 tablespoons lemon juice and the garlic in oil, and add salt and pepper to taste. Beat or whip until mixture resembles a light mayonnaise, about 5 minutes. (You can’t do this too long.) Set aside.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Set wire baking racks on cookie sheets. Meanwhile, rinse cod and pat dry. Cut into strips approximately 3 inches long and 2 inches wide. Heat a large skillet to medium-high. Add grapeseed or safflower oil to ½-inch depth and heat to barely smoking. Put rice flour into a shallow bowl or glass baking dish. Roll fish pieces in flour and put into the hot oil. Cook 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown on each side. Remove to racks and keep warm in the oven until all the fish is cooked.
To serve, place a heavy dollop of garlic-potato sauce over each piece of warm cod. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice. Garnish with chopped parsley and lemon wedges.