In many parts of the western world. Christmas means snowmen and blizzards, so steaming hot turkey seems like the right fit. Aussie Christmas is more about barbies at the beach, so the natural choice is seafood, no? And while most shellfish are boiled alive *shudder* you can still find ways to add them to your barbeque retinue. Besides, it’s about time you extended your wood fired oven beyond pot roast and pizza. So, let’s explore some seafood recipes you can try out.
Both these recipes use shellfish, but since they’re not going into boiling water, you can buy them in a can or have them pre-cleaned. Talk to your favourite butcher and see if s/he’s willing to do the nasty work for you. That way, all you have to do is prepare them, marinate, and pop them in the oven. You’ll have to do the lighting yourself though or get the men (or teens) involved. Call your firewood service ahead of time to make sure you have enough fuel. And remember, life isn’t like the movies … especially regarding wood.
Turn your flames down low
On TV, some burly man with ham-sized fists (flannel shirt optional) will go outside, grab an axe, hack some wood, and bring it indoors, ready to light a roaring fire. In real life, fuel has to be seasoned (dried) for a year or two before it can be used, so there’s no way you can chop it and use it immediately. Also, lighting the fire is harder than it looks, so get the fire going before you take your seafood out of the fridge. The longer it’s exposed before cooking, the more likely you’ll spend Christmas in the emergency room (for food poisoning).
And don’t forget wood-fired cooking is best over glowing embers rather than roaring flames, so give the fire time to simmer down before you put your food in. Now then. For our first recipe, we’re going to make Jamie Oliver’s shellfish. We recommend you ignore your diet for the festive season, but if you’re a stickler, you’ll be glad to know this is a fairly friendly option. An average adult serving has a little over 300 calories, about 10g of fat, and over 40g of protein. Carbs, salt, sugar, and fibre are 9g, 2g, half a gram, and one gram respectively.
Shell it like Jamie
This is a really quick meal – it’ll be ready in less than half an hour including prep. Use a mixed seafood platter of about 2kg (mussels, clams, scallops, prawns etc.). Your fishmonger can advise you on what kinds work well together. Use sea salt to bring out that rich marine flavour, and fresh herbs and spices of your choice. Jamie recommends black pepper, tarragon, mint, parsley, garlic, and at least two lemons. For dried spices, grind them just before use, and for herbs, pick fresh leaves from the garden and garnish before serving.
The fish should cook in its natural oils, though you can dress with extra virgin olive if you need to. The fire should be going for at least an hour – two if you plan it well. This allows time for the embers to reach just the right glow with no fire or smoke. Use a thermometer to gauge temperatures – you want it around 180°C. Sort your shellfish. If there are any open shells, throw them away to prevent potential contamination. Yank and toss the beards too. For the lemon, grate some zest into the spice mix, then halve the rest.
Butter it up Italian-style
Mix and grind your salt, dressing, lemon zest, and spices, preferably by hand using a pestle and mortar. Put your fish in a wide oven-proof tray to make a thin, even layer, then drizzle your spice mix over the fish. Place the halved lemons among the fish so their juice can season the shellfish as it cooks. Pop the tray into the oven and keep an active eye on it, because you need to rotate the dish so all the sides cook evenly. Your fish is done once the shells have popped open and the prawns are cooked through. You can test them with a skewer to be sure – they’ll have a gorgeous golden hue. Cook-time is roughly ten minutes. The dish serves six.
Plan B? How about some buttered garlic shrimp? Oven temperature is higher – about 230°C – but cook-time is faster. 10 minutes prep, five minutes oven. This recipe is a little more fast-and-loose, so you can set your own portions. Aside from the shrimp, garlic, and butter, throw some parmesan, lemon juice, parsley, and breadcrumbs on top. Cook on a tray in an even layer until the shrimp pinks and the breadcrumbs brown. Serve with linguine or fresh bread.