Reporting Jay Lloyd
A funny thing happened “On the Way to Cape May”: That shore vacation for Mom or whoever does the cooking in your house became a working vacation. You rented a house with a kitchen instead of a hotel with service, fluffy towels and a handy restaurant and bar. You did it because feeding a family three meals a day in restaurants burns up money that could otherwise be used for amusements, attractions, boat rides and t-shirts, but all that prepping and cooking can be time consuming and more like work than vacation. Unless, of course, we use some strategy and advance planning. Here’s how. – Jay Lloyd
Three KYW friends and significant others headed for a shore weekend in efficiency motel units a block from the beach. We planned a special do-it-yourself lobster dinner. There wasn’t a pot big enough to boil one lobster, much less six. Fortunately, the motel manager lent us a pair of pots that did just fine.
Shore houses will often come with a printed kitchen inventory. You can see at a glance in advance what you’ll have to work with and figure out what you’ll need to bring, especially for one pot meals. Count on bringing your own Dutch oven, clay pot or steamer, if you use them.
The inventory will usually show an assortment of chefs, slicing and paring knives. But they won’t cut butter and haven’t been sharpened since they were bought at a flea market before the great tidal wave of 1964. Bring your own cutlery.
Serving bowls may be in short supply. Either bring a couple or serve from the pot.
Condiments: There will probably be salt and pepper, only because previous guests left them behind. But any other spices and sauces that your crew needs should be brought along. You don’t want to spend beach time in a supermarket check-out line.
AHEAD OF THE GAME
You can take of lot of pressure off the shore house cook by bringing some meals that have already been cooked at home. The week before packing the car, cook up spaghetti sauce, meatballs and sausage. Throw a stew in the oven and conjure up some chili.
For lunches, roast a turkey breast and a brisket or top round. Don’t slice them until needed for sandwiches. That way, when you arrive, half the work is already done.
Rather than schlepping enough pancake mix, eggs, bacon, sausage and French toast ingredients to open up a short-order cookery, breakfast is a good time to eat out. It’s reasonable, breakfast spots are everywhere and everyone gets what they want. If the kids aren’t thrilled about interrupting a day of boogie boarding for something as silly as lunch, you’ll probably be popping slices from a boardwalk pizzeria on at least a few days. So, don’t over pack with luncheon items.
THE HOME COOKED SHORE MEAL
If your shore rental is anywhere within striking distance of Cape May, you’ll rarely find fresher seafood than right off the boat at the Lobster House Fish Market. Take advantage of it. Best buys are scallops, flounder and even live lobster. Alternate between prepared dinners from home and fresh fin food from the Atlantic fishery. Don’t know how to cook fish? Keep reading. We’ll get there.
On a boat I sailed from Spain to the Madeira and Canary Islands it was agreed that the crew member coming off watch at dinner time would do the cooking. Unfortunately, our sail trimmer announced that the boat’s cat wouldn’t eat his swill, but he offered to do the nightly clean-up. The offer was accepted. After a shore house or boat galley meal, give the cook a rest. Decide in advance who will do the clean-up — as long as it’s not “Cookie.”
EASY SHORE HOUSE COOKERY
Now, about making that restaurant quality seafood. The first thing you need is confidence. You really can do it! Most home cooks think live lobster is the toughest challenge – after all, it’s alive. But cooking lobster is probably the easiest. Simply boil up one or two pots of water with about a tablespoon of salt per quart. Don’t crowd the crustaceans. Plunge them head first into the boiling briny. For a 1-1/4 pound lobster, cook for 10 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Add a minute or 2 for each additional 1/4 pound. Remove from the water and that’s it. Serve with melted butter and lemon. Use nut crackers to open the claws.
Fish can be the greatest confidence-buster, but it shouldn’t be. I use a simple method that works every time with filets: Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Dust the skin side of the fish with flour. On the stovetop, place the filets, floured side down, on an oven-proof, non-stick heated pan. While cooking for 2 to 3 minutes depending on thickness, grind some pepper and sprinkle salt and paprika on the fish. Top it with a generous pat of butter. Then place in the oven and bake 10 minutes for each inch of thickness. Serve with lemon.