Magazine article Sunset

Feast at the Beach: Crabs, Clams, Cod, Corn-All in One Pot. How to Throw an Old-Fashioned Seafood Boil, West Coast-Style

Magazine article Sunset

Feast at the Beach: Crabs, Clams, Cod, Corn-All in One Pot. How to Throw an Old-Fashioned Seafood Boil, West Coast-Style

Article excerpt

FOR ALL OF THE WEST'S great outdoor traditions, clambakes and lobster boils have typically been the other coast's domain. But the Northwest's craggy coastline always reminded Portland chef Jason French of Maine, where he spent summers as a child. "Summer was all about cookouts on the beach," says French, who owns Ned Ludd restaurant. "Such freedom, running wild, with this huge ocean in front of us."

Once he had kids of his own, French was inspired to resurrect the tradition here using the local bounty So he and chef John Gorham, a fellow East Coast transplant and owner of Portland's Toro Bravo restaurant group, packed up their families and their 20-quart pots and headed to the coast.

Today, Gorham and French are crisscrossing kindling for a fire on Oregon's Rockaway Beach, while their wives, kids, and friends collect driftwood to build a camp. Once the fire gets going, the method is easy: Add a few inches of seawater to a pot, layer seafood and vegetables (tied up in cheesecloth pouches) in order of longest-to-shortest cooking time, and boil away.

"Think of it as a stack of Japanese bamboo steamers, only a lot more rustic," Gorham says.

"In Maine, we did this in 50-gallon trash cans," adds French. "That was rustic."

After about half an hour, the chefs hoist the pot from the fire, open the steamy pouches, and pour the crabs, cod, clams, and vegetables onto a newspaper-lined table. Though the boil is simple, Gorham and French give it their own spin with the homemade condiments: a tartar sauce with lots of pickles and an herb-laden salsa verde.

Each person builds his or her plate, customizing along the way--extra clams for one, no onions for another--and settles down on a blanket. After finishing off a cake topped with campfire-cooked fruit, everyone rinses off their sticky fingers in the waves. "As much as I love a Maine lobster bake," says French, "I'd say the food is a lot better with John and me cooking."


Everything you need to throw your own party on the beach


French and Gorham clean and cut vegetables and fruit ahead of time, packing the components for each dish in separate containers. "You don't want the adventure of the day to be ruined because you didn't prep," says French.


For cooking, they use a 20-quart canning pot. You'll also need: cheese-cloth, kitchen scissors, tongs, barbecue mitts, a propane lighter, a cutting board, a chef's knife, a dutch oven, wooden spoon, and serving dishes and tools.


Check that your beach allows fires. The chefs built theirs in a pit, using a grate with legs (Stansport camp grill, from $22;, but a charcoal grill grate set on bricks will also work.



For an element of surprise, Jason French spreads basil puree on the plate, rather than tossing it with the other ingredients. This also helps keep the salad crisp.

3/4 cup plus 5 to 6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 qt. loosely packed fresh basil leaves (4 oz.)
About 1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, divided
5 or 6 Persian cucumbers or 1 1/2 English
cucumbers, cut into chunks
5 small heads Little Gem * lettuce or 3 hearts
of romaine, torn into pieces
About 2 tbsp. lemon juice
10 oz. fresh goat cheese

1. Put 3/4 cup oil in a blender, add a few
basil leaves, and pulse to blend. Continue
pulsing as you add more leaves and
1 small ice cube (it helps move the leaves
around); blend until mixture is smooth.
Season with about 1 tsp. salt.

2. Put cucumbers and lettuce in a large
bowl, add 5 to 6 tbsp. oil and the lemon
juice, and toss to coat evenly. Season
with about 1/4 tsp. salt and toss again.

3. Spread basil puree on plates or a large
platter, top with greens and cucumbers,
and crumble goat cheese on top. Serve
right away. … 
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