Cooking demonstration produces tasty results

Crab stuffies are a crabmeat version of Chef Casey Cunningham's clam stuffies. BY JACK CLEMONS
May 19, 2014

Last week we attended a cooking demo at Matt’s Fish Camp in North Bethany. The doors opened at 5 p.m. for cocktail hour and enough time to order something from the small bites menu. Within 20 minutes, every seat in the restaurant was filled, and the volume of the conversation became louder with each sip of beer or wine the attendees enjoyed.

We had a great vantage point to see into the open kitchen as the servers delivered tickets, the manager expedited dishes to diners, and the kitchen staff moved in a blur of nonstop activity. Things slowed down at 6, when Manager John Scruggs introduced himself. To kick off the event, he described the dishes Chef Casey Cunningham was planning to demonstrate and announced some of the newest local features on the menu.

The first was a set of flavored sea salts harvested from nearby Bethany Beach and flavored with smoked chipotle or jalapeno lime. These are packaged at Papa Grande’s in Fenwick, the latest addition to the growing number of Matt Haley restaurants. Hearing about the salt made me wish I’d ordered a margarita to taste the jalapeño-lime on the rim of the glass.

The second feature was a series of programs highlighting local culinary innovation, starting with artisanal-crafted spirits from Painted Stave Distilling in Smyrna. For an unforgettable cocktail, either Silver Screen vodka or Candy Manor Gin is mixed with one of Matt’s new handmade sodas: Black and White, made from fresh pepper, white balsamic, bay leaf and evaporated cane syrup; or Lemon Berry, a combination of mixed berries and lemon juice, sweetened with cane syrup.

Before we tasted the custom cocktails, we were educated and entertained by Chef Casey, who demonstrated one of the restaurant’s menu favorites, Clam Stuffies. Topneck clams (smaller than chowder clams but meatier than littleneck or middleneck) are barely steamed, just enough to open the shells without toughening the meat.

The meat was chopped, while the shells were separated, rinsed and set aside. In the same bowl that now held the chopped clams, he added the remaining ingredients. Casey showed us how he stripped kernels from fresh corncobs over a large (clean) dishtowel. The towel caught the flying kernels, making it easy to collect them and shake them into the bowl. Green onion, sliced on the bias, panko breadcrumbs, mayo and seasonings followed.

Casey demonstrated a handy technique with a lemon zester: hold it so the surface releasing the zest is on top, giving you the chance to see how much there is before pushing it off with your finger, rather than dropping it directly in the bowl as you zest.

He made roasted garlic purée by grating cloves of garlic into a skillet with a bit of olive oil, then sautéing until the garlic began to brown. The oil is reserved for seasoning fries, and the roasted garlic is smashed with a spoon and added to the bowl.

To assemble the dish, he filled the reserved shells with dollops of the clam mixture and place them on a rimmed cookie sheet. After a brief time in the oven, the tops began to brown slightly and we were ready to taste the results. The combination of mayonnaise, egg and breadcrumbs gives the cooked stuffing a light, fluffy texture that is quite different from traditional stuffed clams.

Since I’m not a big clam fan, we tried substituting pasteurized crabmeat (claw or lump but not jumbo lump) for the chopped steamed clams. The taste was slightly softer and the texture a bit lighter, but with the same fluffiness we’d enjoyed at the demo. We served these in scallop shells as individual appetizers, one to a person. If I were making them for a cocktail party, I’d look for something closer in size to the clamshells in which to bake smaller portions.

The other dish at the demo was a lobster roll, one of my favorite summer sandwiches. A simple toss of chopped lobster meat, fresh celery, celery seed, salt and mayo was transformed into a delicious salad. Our samples were served on miniature potato rolls, although the traditional version uses split-top hot dog buns.

The final treat of the evening was the surprising combination of spirits and soda. We weren’t sure how pepper and balsamic would taste in a slightly sweet carbonation - but what an unusual and refreshing flavor. The berry version was lightened with hints of lemon and paired perfectly with the vodka.

I’ve included the recipes Chef Casey shared with the group, including how to substitute crabmeat for the clams. We’ll definitely return to Matt’s Fish Camp for the seafood, and we’ll have to return for the sodas, since they’re only available on the premises - John mentioned something about avoiding explosions.

Clam Stuffies

10 topneck clams
2 ears of corn
2 green onions
1 egg
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 C panko bread crumbs
1/2 C mayonnaise
1 t roasted garlic purée
1 t fresh thyme leaves
1/2 t Old Bay

Preheat oven to 350 F. Steam the clams just until the shells open; do not overcook. Remove meat from the shells and chop into a fine dice; place in a large mixing bowl. Clean and dry the shells; set aside. Remove kernels from corncobs and add to the bowl; discard cobs. Finely slice just the greens of the green onions on the bias; add to the bowl.

Gently whisk egg in a measuring cup; add to the bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss to thoroughly combine. Arrange cleaned clamshells on a rimmed baking sheet and fill each with 1 1/2 T of the mixture in each shell. Bake until tops begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Note: You can substitute 3/4 C pasteurized crabmeat for the steamed, diced clams.

*Adapted from Casey Cunningham, Matt’s Fish Camp

Lobster Roll

meat from 2-lb steamed lobster
1 celery stalk
1 T mayonnaise
1 t celery seed
pinch of salt
iceberg lettuce leaves
split top hotdog rolls

Chop lobster meat into a half-inch dice and place in a mixing bowl. Trim the celery stalk and slice thinly on the bias; add to the bowl. Add mayonnaise, celery seed and salt; toss gently to combine. To serve, lightly toast the rolls and place 2 or 3 lettuce leaves on each. Mound lobster mixture on the lettuce. Yield: 3 or 4 servings.

*Adapted from Casey Cunningham, Matt’s Fish Camp.

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