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As summer approaches and beach vacations consume our thoughts, nothing sounds better than a refreshing seafood tower…and you can create a veritable vacation on a platter in a few easy steps. We talked with Executive Chef John Clary of Dominick’s Steakhouse to find out what goes into a seafood tower, how to build it and what to know about having enjoying the ICONIC seafood experience with a DIY tower at home.
I met with Clary recently to get the scoop on how this fresh shellfish meets raw bar comes together in a DIY seafood tower video, and I always say, “If I can do it, so can you.” So, dig into your ice maker, and let’s go.
Fulton Fish Market
To get started, you’ll need your tower. If you want to present like your favorite luxe seafood restaurant, get a rustic tiered metal tower to hold your ice and shellfish. A tiered desert stand or stack of cake stands can also fit most shellfish for your raw bar assortment, making sure the actual dish is deep enough to hold the ice.
You can also make your own seafood tower with bowls according to the Fulton Fish Market. For the base of the tower, use a large, shallow bowl such as a pasta serving dish. Place a bar towel in the bottom of the bowl to soak up the water as the ice melt. Nest a smaller shallow bowl or cake stand with rimmed edge in the center and fill that with ice to make a second tier.
If you order seafood from Lobstergram, you can not only get a fully prepped tower, but the aluminum tower (reusable, of course) comes with it.
Once you’ve secured your DIY seafood tower, clean it thoroughly before using it and scoop ice onto each level. Clary suggested flaked ice for the best results…it’s easier to design your tower as the flaked ice is like the “oasis” in a floral design, and it holds the seafood in place.
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A classic DIY seafood tower features steamed and raw shellfish artfully displayed on ice. For extra panache, you can add caviar, mussels, clams or smoked salmon. Where does it all come from? Your best choice is to work with your local fish monger or gourmet grocer that has fresh seafood flown in daily, like Fulton Fish Market, Vital Choice Seafood or Pike Place Fish Market.
• Dungeness Crab Cocktail
• One Pound Live Maine Lobster
• Six Jumbo Shrimp
• Jumbo Stone Crab Claw (Available September through March)
• Fresh Alaskan King Crab Legs
• Oysters from the East Coast, like Blue Points
• Oysters from the West Coast, Samish Pearl
• Dipping Sauces
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— Prepare sauces the day before serving your DIY seafood tower
— Steam live main lobster, crab claws, crab legs for eight minutes. Then put in ice bath.
— You can add and steam clams and mussels. Remove them as soon as they open, roughly three minutes. Discard any clams or mussels that DO NOT open.
— Split the lobster in half and clean. Detach the knuckle and claw so meat to releases easily.
— Boil shrimp in crab boil seasoning, and then shell and devein shrimp.
— Put Dungeness crab pieces in a separate bowl.
— Shuck the oysters just before serving at the peak of freshness.
— You can make your tower one hour prior to serving. Keep refrigerated and on ice.
BUILD YOUR TOWER
Gather your items in one place, and it’s time to start building. Much like creating a charcuterie board—all the rage these days—you’ll take the same care to build your seafood tower. It’s all about aesthetics and clever presentation, so let your creativity go!
— Scoop ice onto your levels or into your bowls.
— Place your bowl of Dungeness crab pieces in the center of the ice or on the top level.
— Put steamed items near each other and create some space from your raw items. You can put steamed on top and raw on the bottom.
— Place lobster halves vertically into the ice on either side of your center bowl.
— Place shrimp directly on ice, three on each side.
— Insert your crab claws in a row towards the back of your tower for a hierarchy of
— Insert Stone crab claws into the ice.
— Oysters can be placed in the ice in front.
— Insert crab crackers into ice
— Cut a lemon in half and pierce with cocktail forks; insert into ice
— Garnish with green herbs or edible flowers
— Provide a bowl to discard shells.
— Take a photo for your Instagram account
GET THE RIGHT TOOLS
While you (or your local fishmonger) might be doing a lot of the prep work in advance for your guests, be sure to set out the right tools to help them enjoy the seafood tower experience. Williams Sonoma has a great offering of seafood tools for prepping and enjoying.
Crackers are used to crack shells; a cocktail fork is used to pull the meat out of the lobster and crab legs. Oysters can be tilted into your mouth or use an oyster fork.
• Seafood picks for pre-cracked crab legs or claws
• Crab crackers
• Oyster knife
• Lobster hammer
• Tiny forks for oysters
• Appetizer plates
• Individual finger bowls with lemon water
• Discard bowls for shells
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HOW TO EAT
Now, it’s time to enjoy your creation with friends or a special someone. Pair with champagne or sparkling wine light enough as to not overwhelm the flavor of the seafood on your tower.
Many like melted, clarified butter for dipping—a butter warmer is perfect for the experience. Eat oysters with champagne minuet, made with salt, pepper, shallots and champagne. Its vinegary taste accompanies the oysters well. Serve a trio of sauces: creamy mustard, classic cocktail sauce and horse radish.
WHEN IT’S OVER
Once it is served, seafood doesn’t stay fresh for a long time. In fact, Clary says it begins going bad about 30 minutes after your tower comes out of the refrigerator, starting with the pieces sticking out of the ice. So, it’s best to consume it right away, enjoying every bite and don’t save leftovers. Also, make sure to wash your DIY seafood tower and tools very well in hot, soapy water and dry thoroughly before storing. I hope you have fun!