A series on things to make, eat and imbibe this summer.
In New York, some people mark the beginning of summer as the day the MTA turns on the air conditioning in the subway cars. For me, summer starts that first Saturday when everyone flees to their summer shares and the city empties out giving the remaining few a blissful On The Beach-type moment.
But if you're one of the lucky ones who are actually on the beach, at some point you're going to need to eat. With that in mind, here’s an easy menu for a weekend at your summer share. This menu strives to meld the atmosphere of a beach weekend with the efficiency required for a communal meal in someone else's house. It doesn't require exotic or hard-to-source ingredients; prep is pretty simple; you don't even really need forks; and the flavors work well with the perfume of salt air and sunscreen. Whether you're in the Hamptons or couch-surfing in Brick Township, you're going to be making some bad decisions over the weekend. Don’t let dinner be one of them.
If you don't have a grill yet, here's which one to buy. And here's where you can brush up on basic grilling technique. Down the shore makes the perfect place to kick off the summer grilling season. The venue and camaraderie beg for hovering around the Weber with longnecks, eating outdoors, and using paper towels as napkins. Grilling is a communal experience, even as you tenaciously defend the grill from would-be advice-givers, meddlers and tong-grabbers.
Here's your menu.
Main: Grilled Shrimp
Sides: Grilled Asparagus
Booze: Gruner Veltliner or Six Points Crisp
Serve with couscous tossed with grape tomatoes, basil, mozzarella pearls and olive oil.
1 bunch Italian parsley, leaves only (about 2 cups loosely packed)
1 bunch basil, leaves only (about 2 cups packed)
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup olive oil
2 pounds large shrimp (20–30 per pound), peeled and deveined
2 lemons, cut into wedges
Decent shrimp should be relatively easy to procure in most beach destinations, or you can always haul them in a cooler from your favorite urban fishmonger and toss them in the fridge when you arrive. Don't bargain shop: you don't want to be "that one" who gave everyone food poisoning in a house with only one functioning bathroom.
Throw the parsley and basil into a food processor, then add bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Pulse until the herbs are chopped and the bread crumbs turn green. The result will be a greenish mixture with the consistency of damp sand (a theme!). If you are sweating whether your beach rental will have a food processor, you can always prep the breadcrumb mixture at home and throw it in Ziploc bags for the journey to the shore. Transfer the mix to a pie plate or wide shallow bowl, add the shrimp, and toss to coat well.
Skewer 4 or 5 shrimp using bamboo skewers. I like to use two skewers per run of shrimp, making a little shrimp ladder, because it makes it easier to turn them on the grill without the shrimp spinning or coming loose. Be sure to soak the skewers in water before adding the shrimp, it will keep them from bursting into flames over hot coals. Dredge the ladders of shrimp on both sides in the breadcrumb mixture, place on a platter, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
For best results, use a grill pan or cast iron griddle placed directly over hot coals. Brush with olive oil, add the skewers of shrimp, and cook about 2-3 minutes per side, turning once, until the shrimp are opaque and the bread crumbs have browned a bit. Serve with lemon wedges. Eat with fingers.
2 bunches asparagus
1 large shallot
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Kosher salt to taste
olive oil to taste
Grilling asparagus, like most vegetables, is drop-dead easy, especially considering the results. Everything tastes better grilled (Hear that, weird people who still boil asparagus?!?!?). Rinse your asparagus and get rid of the tough bottom of each spear by flexing the stalk until it naturally snaps an inch or so from the end. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Slice the shallot into thin disks and toss with the asparagus until everything is lightly coated.
Use a grill pan or basket to cook the asparagus, covered, until it is slightly charred and still a little firm: it should bend when you pick it up with tongs, but not fold limply in half. You still want a toothy snap when you bite into it. Asparagus probably takes slightly longer than the shrimp to cook—say, 7-10 minutes or so with some light fussing—so you can grill it before the shrimp and set it aside if there's not enough room on the grilling surface. It's fine at room temperature or even chilled with a spritz of lemon.
Communal living is best when everyone's pee smells funny.
A light, beachy menu calls for light, beachy beverages. No, nothing with a bamboo umbrella in it. I'm a sucker for Gruner Veltliner for a bunch of reasons: it's crisp, mineral, dry and super refreshing for warm summer day-drinking. It's also a tremendous value, typically clocking in at under $15 a bottle. Gruners from Zum Martin Sepp and Berger even come in liter bottles with bottle caps! Doesn't get much more Beach House than that. An ideal accompaniment for grilled seafood and veggies, eminently quaffable when you're drinking from mismatched plastic tumblers.
On the beer tip, I favor staying on the crisp side as well, and with Six Point's The Crisp it's in the name. This is a terrific summer beer for folks who love lighter Bavarian beers like pilsner or kolsch. It's got a nice clean hoppiness that isn't overwhelming, and like the Gruner, it's refreshing and versatile. I don't want to get all beer nerd on you, so suffice it to say that The Crisp comes in 16 oz. cans, so you won't have to be running back to the cooler as often while your so-called friends abscond with all of the shrimp.
Related: Mastering The Art Of Urban Grilling and Peach Honey Chamomile Ice Pops (With Bourbon!)
John Ore is available as a houseguest, inquire within.