The Local Fish Report: What to Eat in July

I'm not much into bumper stickers, though there is one on my scooter that says, "Eat Me, I'm Local." I am a card-carrying member of the Cape Cod chapter of "Buy Fresh, Buy Local."

BFBL is part of a national nonprofit called FoodRoutes Network and their goal is to strengthen the market for locally grown foods. I like the idea of joining forces with other restaurant people, farmers market organizers, and shop owners who are committed to buying as much as we can from local farmers and fishermen. 

My brother Alex writes "The Local Fish Report" every month for the BFBL newsletter. They use it to keep members posted on things like when the Eastham mussels are at their peak. Which is right now. Which got me thinking about a skillet full of them simmered with a little garlic, tomato, and white wine over linguine.  I'll give you my recipe here, if you can call it that. It's the fastest way I know to turn a pound of mussels into dinner––and not just any dinner, but a dinner good enough to keep your other, well, significant.

Mussels aren't alone in Alex's July report. When I looked at it, I wondered if some people don't come to Cape Cod in the summer just to eat. I mean the beaches are nice and all, but listen to this:

  • The summer blues are back and pretty much unbeatable, flavorwise. Try it brushed with olive oil, mustard, and herbs, then grilled. In spite of its name and red-blue color, it cooks up juicy, firm, and creamy white.

  • Cape Codders have privileged access to the big blues right now, too, as the majestic bluefin tuna swims through our waters in summer. If you are going to eat bluefin, locally-harpooned fish, in-season locally is the way to go. A rich treat, we serve it straight up as sashimi or just barely torched.

  • They are fished farther out, but we're pleased to report the success of efforts to rebuilt swordfish stocks. Give it a lemony marinade before grilling.

  • The commercial striper season begins mid-July. Here's another local, summer-only favorite that's firm, flavorful, and great on the grill. Serve a fruity fresh salsa on the side.

  • Summer flounder, also known as fluke, is plentiful now too. More delicate than our other summer visitors, but still firm enough to pan-fry.

  • Backshore lobsters are plentiful too. Steam a few meaty hardshells (8-10 minutes for 1 1/2 pounders), melt some butter, and you have a classic Cape Cod summer feast.

  • Mussels from the Eastham bay side are extra plump, and can stand up to a panful of white wine tomato broth spiked with lots of garlic and red hot pepper flakes.

  • Our local oysters and littlenecks (and their big siblings the cherrystones) are also well fattened at this time of year, leading into their mid-summer spawning season. Later in July, they won't be as fat, but they'll still be just about the best oysters and clams in the world. Shuck and eat. Or top with herb butter and sizzle them on the grill.

  • And have you ever tried scallops with the roe still on? As your fishmonger to get these for you pronto, before the spawning season slims them down. Barely seared in butter with a squeeze of lemon: wow.

Linguine with Mussels in Fresh Tomato Broth

The pros don't collect Eastham mussels from right along the shore. Instead, they are dredged from boats and purged in seawater on board, and then again in our tanks, so when you get them in the market, they're pretty well clean, though you will need to pull off their "beards"––those are the protein-based byssus threads mussels make to anchor themselves to rocks. Because it's important to keep bivalves intact and healthy, we don't remove those in advance; just give the threads a swift tug against the shell to pull them off as you're prepping the mussels.

Serves 2

one pound Eastham mussels
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced shallot (about 1/2 shallot)
2 cloves garlic, minced
a pinch of hot red pepper flakes
a handful of parsley, minced
one cup white wine
one cup chopped fresh tomatoes (optional: peel them for a smoother, sweeter sauce)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 pound linguine
optional: 1/2 cup lobster or fish broth, warmed to finish the pan sauce (or you can just use pasta cooking water)
lemon for garnish

Rinse the mussels, pull off their "beards," and set them aside in a colander. Put a pot of well-salted water on for the pasta. Once you've got all your ingredients prepped, start cooking your pasta––the sauce will be done in the 10 minutes it takes to cook dried linguine.

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet (use one that has a lid, since you'll be covering the mussels to steam them), add the shallots, garlic, red pepper flakes, and mussels and "sweat" the vegetables for a minute or two––that is, let them begin to get aromatic, but don't let them sizzle and take on color.

Add the parsley, then the wine and simmer fast to let the wine reduce by half. Add the chopped tomatoes and give the pan a shake to mix them in. Cover and simmer for a few minutes to break down the tomatoes and steam the mussels open. As soon as they're open, they're done. 

Uncover the skillet, drop in the butter, and take the pan off the fire for a minute while you finish the pasta.

Drain the pasta when it's done but still al dente, reserving a half-cup of the cooking water for the sauce. Turn the hot pasta into the skillet full of mussels and sauce. Return the skillet to the fire and shake the pan to combine the pasta and sauce. Add the reserved pasta cooking water (or, if you had a little fish stock or lobster stock on hand, now's the time to add it). Let the sauce and pasta simmer together for about a minute.

Plate the pasta first––a wide, shallow pasta bowl is nice for this––then pour the mussels and sauce over it. Garnish with a wedge of lemon.

 

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