Bonus Audio: The magical effect of the ocean on plants
As August comes to a close, we can't help but enjoy summer seafood while we have the chance. What about seaweed? Can you grill it? And if so, why would you want to?
D: It’s the height of summer—high time to enjoy the fruits of the sea. Soon our attention will turn to meat, grilled squash and sweet potatoes. This is our last chance to take advantage of sea foods at their peak. One sea food we definitely don’t take advantage of enough is seaweed.
A. Most Americans don’t even think of sea vegetables as food.
D: Right, think about it. We call them “weeds.” Weeds are plants we have no use for.
A: The cultures that value sea vegetables, like Japanese culture, value them because they have a unique flavor and texture that land vegetables never get.
D: And when you use those flavors and textures in grilling, you get a depth of flavor that enhances the meatiness of grilled food exponentially. Sea vegetables are naturally high in glutamic acid, a protein, which is the main source of umami flavor. Umami is that delicious savory flavor that you get from roasted meat or sautéed mushrooms. It’s one of the flavors that we often associate with grilled food. So if you can reinforce the natural umami in grilled meat with some seaweed it gives you a double hit of savoriness.
A: Sea weeds are also naturally briny. And they don’t only give us the flavor of salt or sodium chloride. Sea water is loaded with all kinds of minerals like potassium, magnesium, and iodine. When salt is crystallized from sea water it usually only has one or two minerals. So if you make salt water by dissolving kosher salt in water it just tastes of sodium – salty. But seaweeds offer a full array of sea minerals so you get salt-water flavor that is very close to ocean water.
D: So you get the flavors of salt, other minerals, and umami, but you also get moisture. Wet seaweed is loaded with brine that steams when you grill it, infusing anything it touches with flavor and keeping some ingredients moist. Delicate fish tends to dry out on the grill, but wrapping it in seaweed or stuffing the cavity of whole fish with seaweed helps it stay moist.
A: By “wet” seaweed, you mean rehydrated, right? Most people will have a hard time finding fresh wet seaweed. Most often, you buy it dried then soak it water to rehydrate it.
D: Right. And that’s exactly what we did in our recipe for a clambake on the grill. Traditionally, you do a clambake on the beach. You dig a pit in the sand, line it with rocks, build a wood fire to heat the stone, and when the fire burns down, you scrape away the ashes. Then you use the hot stones for cooking, layering the pit with wet sea vegetables, clams, mussels, and lobster, and some potatoes and corn, maybe sausages. Then you cover it the whole she-bang with more seaweed and sea-soaked burlap, and the whole thing steams with briny ocean mist. In our recipe, we do the same thing but in a big roasting pan on the grill instead of a pit. We used soaked sheets of kombu for the seaweed.
A: You can get even more natural ocean flavor by taking some ground seaweed that’s easily made by grinding dried seaweed in a mini-chopper, or you can just buy powdered dulce or kelp and sprinkle it right on to the seafood and vegetables in your clam bake.
D: Exactly. You know what would be cool? What if you season sushi rice with seaweed and make nori rolls and then smoke them over seaweed. Seaweed smoke is much more subtle than wood smoke and would be delicious with rice.
A: I love that idea. It’s sort of a smoked nori stogie.
D: Nori Stogie. That’ll be the next blog.
Clam Bake on the Grill
(from Mastering the Grill)
Seaside clambakes are a New England tradition. Native Americans are said to have taught pilgrims the technique, which is an all-day undertaking. For an authentic clambake on the beach, you dig a big pit in the sand about 2 to 3 feet deep and line the pit with rocks. Then you burn plenty of wood over the rocks for 2 to 3 hours until the rocks are smoking hot (about 400ºF). After raking away the coals, layers of seaweed, potatoes, corn, small clams, mussels—and sometimes sausages or other ingredients—go directly over the hot rocks. Add some more seaweed, top with a huge sea-soaked burlap tarp and more hot rocks, and the whole she-bang steams until the food is cooked through and infused with the briny aroma of the sea. If you don’t have a beach nearby (or enough wood to burn for 3 hours), here’s the backyard method. We use a covered kettle grill as the pit and rehydrated store-bought seaweed in place of fresh seaweed. The ingredients are layered in a large roasting pan and the pan is put directly on the coals on the bottom of the grill. You could also do this on a gas grill with medium heat under the roasting pan, but we like the charcoal kettle grill because it’s closer to the original method.
Gas: Preheated on medium, for indirect grilling (350°F)
3 or 4 burner grill – middle burner(s) on medium-low
Clean oiled grate
Charcoal: Indirect heat – medium ash
Split charcoal bed (about 2 dozen coals per side), single layer of coals in center
20 replacement coals
Tools & Equipment
• Large roasting pan such as a turkey roaster (heavy-duty if disposable)
• Heat-resistant grill mitts (preferably heat-proof silicone)
• Long-handled tongs
• Metal nutcrackers and lobster forks
• 40” x 15” piece of burlap (See Tip)
• 2 cups wood chunks or chips (preferably oak), soaked in water for 1 hour
Prep: 30 minutes
Grill: 1 to 1 1/2 hours
Makes 10 to 12 servings
3 pounds small red-skinned or white potatoes, scrubbed
2 onions, peeled and cut lengthwise into eighths, leaving the root end intact
8 ears fresh corn, shucked and halved crosswise
12 ounces cured Portuguese linguiça or Spanish chorizo, sliced 1/2-inch thick
3 dozen littleneck or small cherrystone clams
3 dozen mussels, scrubbed and debearded (see Tip)
1 tablespoon crab boil seasoning (such as Old Bay) or sea salt
1 small bunch parsley
6 live lobsters (1 to 1 1/2 pounds each)
2 sticks butter, melted
2 lemons, cut into wedges
3 ounces dried kombu (kelp) seaweed
1. Heat the grill as directed above.
2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Remove from the heat and add the kombu, letting it soak until softened, about 5 minutes.
3. Put a thick layer of seaweed over the bottom of a large roasting pan such as a turkey roaster (heavy-duty if disposable). Put the potatoes in a single layer over the seaweed. Sprinkle the potatoes with crab boil seasoning then add layers of onions, corn, sausage, clams, and mussels in that order, sprinkling some crab oil seasoning and a few parsley sprigs between each layer. Pour about 1 cup of the seaweed soaking liquid over all of the ingredients. Arrange the remaining seaweed over the top. Soak the burlap in the remaining soaking liquid until saturated, 5 minutes. Fold the burlap to make a double thickness then drape it over the seaweed, tucking the edges inside the roasting pan to cover the ingredients.
4. Rake a single layer of hot coals over the center of the grill, leaving the remaining hot coals banked on opposite sides. Put half of the soaked wood chunks or chips over the coals on the sides. When the wood begins to smolder, put the roasting pan over the coals in the middle of the grill, cover the grill and let cook with the vents open until the potatoes are tender and the clams and mussels have opened, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Test the potatoes by lifting the cover off a cover, digging down with tongs, and poking the potatoes with a knife or fork. Add the replacement coals and remaining wood to both sides of the grill when the old ones begin to die out. If your grill has a temperature gauge it should stay around 350°F.
5. About 30 minutes before serving, bring two large pots of salted water to a boil. Add two lobsters at a time to each pot. Cover and cook until the shells are bright red, 8 to 12 minutes per batch. Remove and cover loosely with foil to keep warm.
6. Remove the roasting pan from the grill and transfer to a large trivet for serving. Or transfer the ingredients to a large serving platter. Discard the seaweed, parsley, and any clams or mussels that do not open. Pour any juices from the bottom of the pan over the clam bake. Sprinkle with a bit more crab boil seasoning. Cut the cooked lobsters in half lengthwise and arrange on top. Or allow guests to share the lobsters. Serve with the melted butter for drizzling or dipping, and lemon wedges for squeezing.
• Look for dried kombu seaweed in an Asian grocery store or large supermarket.
• Soaking mussels in salt water helps to rid them of any lingering sand. Mix 1/2 cup of salt in about a gallon of water in a large bowl. Add the mussels and let soak for 1 hour. Then scrub the mussels with a stiff brush under running water and yank off the moss-like “beard,” using pliers if necessary.
• For the burlap, an old coffee sack works well. Ask for one at your local coffee shop. Some hardware stores also carry burlap.