The Fourth of July is a holiday steeped in food traditions. Summer is in full swing, we love to eat outside and the grills already have been broken out, but no one is yet tired of grilling. What we love to grill includes all of the American classics, like steaks, burgers, hot dogs, baked beans -- you know the list by heart, right?
Well, it doesn't have to be, if you are willing to break a few culinary traditions. We live amid an abundance of seafood, and there is nothing wrong with giving your Fourth of July menu a salty spin. Shrimp and oyster might top the list of favorites, and they are as versatile as any food can be. You still can use the grill if you want, but it isn't mandatory.
Even our Creole influenced classics, such as jambalaya or etoufee, would be fine for the Fourth. They do not have to be served piping hot, but dare to be a little different.
Here are a few ideas that probably would work best made in the home kitchen, and if your friends are gathered nearby, they will be well received.
Cooking seafood then transporting it some distance probably is not a good idea. Anything fried or sautéed tends to degrade in flavor and texture if nor served right away. If you are cooking at the beach, make sure to bring plenty of ice to keep your seafood fresh and healthy.
This recipe is pretty straightforward. Make sure to serve the slider just as soon as the oysters are cooked. Never let them sit around and get soggy.
FRIED OYSTER SLIDER
Pistolettes or small buns of your choice
1 to 2 oysters per slider
Panko bread crumbs
1 to 2 eggs
Farmer's market ripe red tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Fill a pan only half way full of clean canola oil and heat to 375 degrees. Drain the oysters and freeze the resulting oyster liquor for later use. Place the panko in a large bowl, then whisk the eggs, adding a few teaspoons of cold milk to thin it out a bit, and place in a separate bowl. Season aggressively.
Slice the tomatoes and keep them handy.
If you are going to use it -- and it is highly recommended -- make the coleslaw in advance (see recipe below) and keep refrigerated. Warm coleslaw is never appreciated. Toast the bread, but make sure it is at the last minute. Timing is everything.
Add a few oysters to the egg wash, drain, then toss in the panko, drop carefully in the hot oil and fry for exactly 1 minute. Remove and drain on paper towels. Slather mayo on the bun, add two fried oysters, top with optional coleslaw and sliced tomato. Now serve at once. Some may want a little hot sauce to go along with it.
3 to 4 cups shredded cabbage (add carrot if you like)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup best quality mayo
1 to 2 pinches celery seed
Salt and pepper
Combine and mix well. Taste and season as required. Please refrigerate.
Hardly anything pairs as wonderfully as fresh Mississippi shrimp and ripe summer time tomatoes. Serve as a cold or warm salad, a taco, or toss with pasta. The tomatoes and shrimp can be roasted together, but you run the chance of overcooking the shrimp, so it is best to cook separately.
SHRIMP AND ROASTED FRESH TOMATOES
1 pound large shelled shrimp
1 pound ripe small tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Rough chopped fresh basil
Slice the tomatoes into bite sizes, toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, and basil. Place on a sheet pan and run under a quick oven (375 to 400 degrees) for 5 to 8 minutes. The tomatoes should be bursting hot, but not charred. Remove and set aside.
Do exactly the same to the shrimp, but don't place in the oven; instead, toss in a very hot sauté pan until done, never more than 2 minutes. Now combine and toss well.
An all-time favorite is to serve with pasta, but any of the other suggestions work quite well.
SIMPLE GRILLED SHRIMP SALAD
1 pound large peeled shrimp
Salt and pepper
2 to 3 sliced tomatoes
1 sliced cucumber
3 to 4 cups roughly chopped lettuce or greens of your choice
Toss the shrimp in olive oil (remember, a good oil will be green), season with lots of freshly ground black pepper and a few pinches of salt.
Heat a large sauté pan smoking hot and cook the shrimp in small batches. Never overcrowd the pan, and do not cook longer than 2 minutes. If the pan builds up a residue of oil and moisture from the shrimp, wipe it clean and start over.
When cooked, do not drain, but toss with the salad ingredients and serve chilled. Add a few drops of balsamic vinegar if you like.
Fresh crab meat is so delicious it requires little else to be just about perfect. Make sure to pick it before serving; some people really do not like to find little pieces of shell in their crab.
Serve a slice of lemon with each plate and let your guests season their own to their liking. If you insist, add a little mayo and lemon juice to the crab, but don't overdo it.
FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AND CRAB
2 to 3 green, firm tomatoes
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 cups crab meat
Slice the tomatoes less than 1/2-inch thick. Combine the egg and buttermilk, and mix well. Combine the flour and cornmeal and place in a wide plate. Dredge the slices of tomato in the liquid, then the flour and cornmeal mixture. Fry in hot oil, which should be not more than halfway up the slices of tomato, at about 360 degrees until golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towels. Stack 2 to 3 slices of fried green tomato, and top with the crab.
Julian Brunt, who comes from a family with deep Southern roots, writes the Coast Cooking column that appears in Wednesday's Sun Herald and for a blog at sunherald.com. He is a food writer and photographer with regular columns also in magazines.