Having a working fishing fleet in Barnegat Light is so important to our restaurants. But the one product that comes from the sea through our docks that’s always entirely local is scallops.
With all of our other products, we buy local whenever it’s available. It assures freshness and tends to be high quality products. But scallops are a local offering 100 percent of the time. And late/winter and spring is prime time for these delicious nuggets.
This mollusk lives on the sea floor, but unlike clams which tend to dig in, or oysters that attach to each other to form reefs, scallops move at their own free will, by clapping their shell together with a strong abductor muscle. The shooting water propels them backwards across the sea floor.
Our Atlantic Sea Scallop Fishery is one of the most important in the world. It reaches from the Mid-Atlantic up to the Canadian Maritime. Barnegat Light and Viking Village, are home to one of three major scalloping ports in New Jersey, along with Cape May and Point Pleasant. The largest landing port for scallops in the US, is New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Viking Villageis home to about 26 scallop boats, all of which are dredge boats. The Larson family own 12 of them. They drag a dredge along the ocean floor, picking up a mix of what’s down there. The dredge is dumped onto the deck of the boat and the crew shucks them onboard. Shells are tossed back into the sea, where other fish eat the membrane and other innards.
That abductor muscle is the part that we eat. These are separated into three different sizes and stored an insulated hold. Bigger boats carry as many as 20 tons of ice. Scallop trips are usually one week to 10 days. The boats are kept impeccably clean because, the scallops are now a food product. A good trip can produce 18,000 pounds of scallop meat.
Generally, the boats are after larger scallops, which are just as tender and tasty as smaller ones, and tend toward colder water. Juvenile scallops are the ones that reproduce, so by targeting larger scallops, scalloping is overall very sustainable. Juvenile scallops actually sift right out of the dredge. In 2013, the Marine Stewardship Council declared the Atlantic Sea Scallop and the approximately 350 licensed boats, as a certified sustainable fishery. Scalloping supports many local families.
Kirk Larson, a captain and manager of several boats at Viking Village, is a fifth generation scalloper. He explains that the fishery is unique in that they govern their own industry with NOAA Fisheries. They have a system where authorities can track them, to make sure they’re not in off-limit waters. Fish and game officers will arrive for a “pack out” (unloading the boat) to ensure they are within legal limits.
“We’re one of the only industries that regulates itself,” says Larson, “We do our own science and research and fund it ourselves. We have Research Set Aside (RSA) trips that we do, where all the profits of those scallops pay for scientists who accompany us on certain trips.”
He explains that they will close off certain areas to let scallop populations mature, not unlike a farmer rotating his fields. They are also allowed a certain amount of incidental bycatch, which are mostly flatfish.
“We keep what we want. We don’t want juvenile scallops, so they go overboard to grow and continue reproducing,” Larson explains, “We have ‘timed trips’ where we’re on the clock as soon as we leave the inlet and off when we get back. We can keep as much as we can hold. We get about 30 days a year to fish that way, so we make the most if it. Then there are trips where we can keep a certain number of pounds.”
When the boat arrives at the dock, the bags of meat are hauled from the hold and packed for shipping. Barnegat Light scallops are sold around the world, but we always secure our share for the menu at all of our locations as well as the fish markets here and Ship Bottom Shellfish.
Scallops have a mildly sweet flavor and a soft, fleshy texture that folks love. They’re high in protein (16-23 grams pers serving) and low in fat.
Broiled oysters, or hand-breaded and fried have been staples in our restaurants for years as their own dish or as the broiled/fried combo. And we feel scallops are what really makes our creamy seafood bisque at Mud City Crab House and Ship Bottom Shellfish. They are the perfect complement in Mud City’s Shrimp and Scallop Linguini or the Santa Cruz at the Black Whale. Shellfish fans are particular to the Blackened Scallops with Thai Mayo app. The Scallops and Bacon (pork belly) are quickly becoming a favorite at Parker’s Garage.
But most importantly, they’re the one source of local harvest we can always count on.
Nothing in New Jersey has ever come easy. Surviving in a seasonal town, dealing with extreme weather, and supporting those around you can be tough. We do it because we love it.
We’re also inspired by those who came before us. And as we open the doors of Mud City for our 20th season, we’re looking back at those who paved the way for our coastal communities.
From the 1870s through the 1950s, pound fishing was central to the economy of the coast and all of New Jersey. It had originally been used by Native Americans in bays and more protected waterways. Eventually, pound fishing was done in the ocean when European immigrants took it to the next level. According to the New Jersey Courier, at one point there were 128 pound-fishing operations in New Jersey, employing some 605 fishermen.
The technique involved men driving hickory poles into the ocean floor, about a half mile off the beach. They would lace them with nets, forming fish traps or “pounds.” An over 1,000-foot stretch of net called the “wier” was built perpendicular to the shoreline. Fish swimming along the coast would encounter the nets and swim east, into the pounds were they were essentially trapped.
The men would head out on 33-foot cedar and oak skiffs. Out on the sea they’d work in unison to haul up the net. The return trip through the surf, weighted down with as much as 15 tons of fish, was equally sketchy. The boat would wait beyond the sandbar and try to time a shot after a set of waves, before the next set arrived. This was called “pigging the slats.”
Generally, the pounds were set in March and fished through November, but occasionally the season went into the winter.
In the early days, these hardy seafaring gents would row out to the pound and row back through the surf. Once they hit the beach, the skiffs were pulled by Clydesdales. They would unload the fish and pack them in ice stored from the previous winter – cut from local freshwater sources and insulated. The fish were sorted into hand-woven baskets. The occasional bigger fish was a windfall. During the summer, a good haul would always attract a crowd of onlookers. After the 1930s, the pound fishermen used outboard engines and tractors to move the boats.
From there, the fish was shipped, usually by rail to the Dock Street Market in Philly, North Jersey, and South Street Seaport in NYC.
Long Beach Island was home to seven pound operations – Long Beach Fishery, Crest Fishery, Barnegat City Fishery, Surf City Fish Company, St. Alban’s Fish Co., Ship Bottom Fishery, and Beach Haven Fishery.
The pound fisheries produced dozens of species of fish. Among them were many we still serve today like cod, flounder, tuna, squid, monk. and weakfish. They’d also net bluefish, striped bass, croakers, congor eels, whiting, herring, kingfish and sea trout, even flying fish and sun fish.
The New Jersey Maritime Museum, across the street from Parker’s Garage, is a treasure trove of information, photos and displays focusing on our coastal heritage. They also have fascinating displays of how pound fishing worked.
Deb Whitcraft, our local curator and historian, says pound fishing “played a monumental role,” in the Island’s history.
Mud City celebrates the rich seafaring history on Long Beach Island and the mainland. For as much as we appreciate the old traditions of sailing the bay, the grand hotels, and other summertime tourism draws, we have a deep respect for the hardworking men and women who put us on the map, working the bay and ocean.
Seafood is our thing. especially crabs. We’ve built our eateries on the long local tradition of food that comes from out ocean and local bays.
But since day one, we have always offered quality meat. When we opened the Old Causeway next door, we knew we wanted to offer something more. And a steakhouse was a logical direction.
All of our steaks are cooked on a wood-fired grill, burning 100 percent New Jersey oak from our wood pile out back. The grill was custom built for our the kitchen at the OC. Everyone who comes to our part of the marsh loves the smell.
Of course, it’s a lot of work to maintain the flame, but we strongly believe that the flavor of the natural wood is worth the effort, indicative of our overall philosophy of going the extra yard to separate ourselves.
Part of the success we’ve enjoyed has to do with our relationship with J Vrola, our meat purveyor out of Central Jersey.
Their story started with Constatine Vrola, who came to the US from Naples. He opened a small market called C Vrola and Sons in Jersey City, offering the freshest meats and poultry for customers. It was a family business and they survived tough times during World War II, coming out stronger on the other end.
Slowly the business morphed into larger orders to other butchers and nearby restaurants. Joseph Vrola took the reigns and reached out beyond North Jersey. In the 80s, they moved headquarters to South Amboy becoming “center of the plate specialists.”
“What we sell to Old Causeway and its sister restaurants is all black angus beef from small farms in the midwest. They’re cooperative farms. And all the steaks are hand cut at our cut shop the same day they’re delivered,” says Doug Tucker, the sales rep that we deal directly with.
All steaks are premium grass-fed and grain finish with no hormones or antibiotics. At Mud City, we have our Fliet Mignon, NY Strip, Rib Eye, and Porterhouse. Then we give you your choice of OC Steak Sauce, Red Wine Demi Glace, Chimichurri, Herb Compound Butter, Caramelized Onion & Balsamic Glaze, Black Truffle Butter, Fresh or Horesradish Cream Sauce.
We’re also pretty proud of our Signature Steaks like the OC Carpetbagger, which is a bacon-wrapped 8 oz filet mignon topped with Mushroom Madiera wine, and fresh oysters. Then there’s the Flatiron and the Black Eye, a 14 oz. rubbed down ribeye blackened and smothered in our jumbo crab and gorgonzola cream sauce with roasted sunrise peppers. And we’re also pretty proud of “Rosemary’s Strip,” a rosemary & garlic marinated 12 oz. NY strip atop sourdough crustini and bathed in our toasted mushroom cabernet sauce.
And Chef Jim Moran certainly isn’t afraid to get creative in the kitchen with steak specials.
We’ve always offered the land lovers quality steaks from Ray’s Currituck Porterhouse at the Black Whale Bar and Fish House to Mud City’s Filet Mignon and the Prime Strip and Prime Flat Iron we serve at Parker’s Garage and Oyster Saloon.
“It all starts with the roots of our business. We’re family owned and family run, just like the Magaziner and Nugents’ restaurants,” explains Vrola Sales Manager, Walter Myslinski, “We only want to put our name on the very best steaks. We want to support another family business, restaurants that provide that same kind of quality and won’t settle for anything less. It’s ideal when we have a relationship with the owners of the restaurant. It’s like their baby. We like being in direct contact with the people who own the place. We have similar philosophies.”
While Mud City doesn’t open for another few months, we are plenty busy next door at the Old Causeway Steak & Oyster House. The staff there is working with our same purveyors to get fresh seafood even through the worst of this Arctic winter. The temperatures haven’t just been cold; they’ve been brutal. The Barnegat Bay has been frozen for weeks.
“Life gets real difficult around here in this type of weather,” says Dale Parsons, fifth generation commercial bayman of Parson’s Seafood, right across the bay in Tuckerton. He’s not kidding. Life is always challenging for our fishermen and shellfish harvesters, but winter can be really tough and a winter like this is nothing short of brutal.
On a recent Saturday, Long Beach Island was literally two degrees, still feeling a whipping northwest wind.
“We literally have to get in a boat and go break up the ice,” says Ernie Panacek, who has been working at Barnegat Light’s Viking Village since 1980 and managing the operation for the last 29 years, “They want to go fish. When we’re shut down for weather, we’re going backwards. You don’t ever catch what you lost when you’re in for weather. We take advantage of the short periods of time that the boats can fish.”
While most folks were seeking refuge of a warm fire, Kevin Wark, captain and owner of the Dana Christine, of Barnegat Light, was doing his best to clear the snow and ice off his boat following the blizzard. It was time to fish again.
“We’re monkfishing and we catch some winter skates. Sometimes you just have to deal with that screaming wind,” says Wark, “Those first couple waves where you get splashed are the worst. Once you get numb, then you just kind of keep going. Sometimes the whole windshield ices over.”
In icy weather like this, captains will run a deck hose all day, flushing fresh seawater across the deck to prevent dangerous ice from forming where they’re working.
“It’s mostly day trips. Sometimes we have to leave extremely early. Whenever we get that window, we gotta go,” he explains.
Down in Tuckerton, Parsons, who sells shellfish 52 weeks of the year, wholesale and retail, was warming up after a frozen day on the water. Winter Storm Grayson was on the way and he’d just been out harvesting what he could from Tuckerton Cove.
“We took a ride out to the areas just outside of where our leases are. We probably could have chipped out a channel, but sometimes when the tide changes, it’s tricky. And you can’t get stuck in there,” explains Parsons.
When the ice prevents him from getting to his lease, Parson is able to harvest wild clams to provide for his customers.
“When it gets this cold the clams stop moving around. As the bay surface freezes, it makes the water underneath move at a higher velocity, which washes the sand from on top of the clams. When those clams become exposed, we call them ‘cut outs.’ We get out of the boat and pick them up.”
When his farmed clams are inaccessible, his customers are very happy to buy wild product.
“We get everything wild from little necks to the biggest coconut chowder clams you can imagine. There’s a market for every size of clam.”
As he points out, everything is subject to the weather.
“We have some pretty fancy wetsuits that we buy from Brian over at Farias,” he explained.
“The ice out there is constantly moving. You might chip through it, but with the tide reversal, you might not get back. When we have gusts out of the northeast and northwest, that’s actually not bad for us. We get a soup of ice, rather than a sheet of ice.”
The crew at Barnegat Oyster Collective has been dealing with it as well.
“Although we had spent a lot time planning and preparing our farms for a drastic winter, none of us were mentally prepared for such arctic conditions. Once the freeze had really set in, all of our farm sites, from Little Egg to Mantoloking and even Barnegat Light were completely inaccessible,” says owner Matt Greg.
The only way they could check on the oysters was aerial shots from over the bay.
“We were forced to watch the ice encroach on our livelihood via drone footage. As the thaw set in, we began to pick up the pieces – shoveling out boats, clearing boat ramps, cutting channels through the frozen harbors, and finally, breaking over 20 acres of iced-in farming gear with axes,” he adds.
The sites that are adjacent to more freshwater have been more frozen than those in the saltier parts of the bay.
“Although we haven’t been able to access all our sites yet, the damage thus far has been minimal and we only suffered a few weeks of no harvest/sales. We learned a few lessons,” admits Gregg.
Clams and oysters are always a staple from the raw bar to chowder. We do monkfish specials at several of our restaurants. Monkfish generally hide on the bottom, disguising themselves from prey, swallowing it whole. They’re able to extend their stomachs to ingest fish almost as big as they are. And they’re really cute….
Wark describes monkfish is a dense white fish.
“It’s good skewered. It’s incredible to grill. It’s definitely different. I don’t think anything really compares to it because of the grain and density of the fish. That’s why people call it poor man’s lobster. Most of the it gets packaged, boxed and sent to Asia, but we do have a tail market that’s local.”
Fishing and harvesting don’t slow down, because they can’t – even in the most bitter weather.
For our first wedding at Parker’s Garage, what could have been better than some of our longtime friends from right here in Mud City?
There are days in our lives that we never forget and a wedding should be one of them, a day we can celebrate a scared union with all those we care about, a day of magic that will live in our hearts forever.
“We went to eat at Parker’s the Wednesday before Memorial Day. It was set up for the nightly dinner, and it just looked so simply elegant. And it was exactly the look we wanted. Super simple, but that great style,” say Jason Hazleton of the Mud City area of Manahawkin. He and his husband, Andrew were our first official wedding as Parker’s Garage.
Families have long come to us for years to prepare food for their celebrations at many of our incredible local venues. But when we opened Parker’s Garage last year, we knew it was an opportunity to offer a truly special private event experience.
Jason is a local historian and was drawn to the Beach Haven heritage at Parkers.
“My grandfather worked the bay his whole life. He taught me to fish, crab, work a boat and navigate the tides,” he explains, “Melanie Magaziner had mentioned that they recently took over Parker’s Garage. And when we saw what they had done, we just instantly knew. With me being a local, growing up on the bay, and Andrew being from DC, there was enough of an urban feel.”
Parker’s aims to bring a unique style to the day, with the same coastal contemporary vibe that we are known for.
“We knew we didn’t want typical round banquet tables with white tablecloths. The butcher block tables from the restaurant are actually perfect. Our centerpieces were old drawers from a wooden tool chest that was my grandfather’s,” Jason adds.
The ideal number of guests for a Parker’s Garage wedding is 150 people (though we can accommodate up to 180) and our menu options are wide open.
“We don’t have a standard wedding menu. It comes down to what you like. What does your family like? We have an open mind,” says Chef Kyle Baddorf, “We take what you like and serve it Parker’s style. We’re not going to do farm-raised salmon and fried frozen appetizers. We treat it the same way we treat our dinner service. Everything is sourced fresh to provide the best quality.”
Jason and Andrew started with Parker’s famous raw bar, then trays of New England Clam Chowder Croquets, Steak Skewers, Smashed Fingerling Potatoes, Goat Cheese with Fig Spread Bites, and Lamb Lollipops.
Jason and Andrew’s guests were offered four entrees: Berkshire Pork Chops, Top Sirloin, Seared Halibut and Spaghetti Squash as a vegetarian option,
Parker’s is also very in tune with local artisans and we work closely with vendors such as Reynold’s Floral Market, Rustic Drift, Leanna Theresa Photography, and Ann Coen Photo to cover all the details of the day. We know several wedding officiants who do a wonderful job with personalized ceremonies..
Parker’s is currently booking weddings for October and early November of 2018. We will be part of the 2018 LBI Wedding Road Show on April 22. We want your wedding to be as unique as you are and truly celebrate your love. For booking inquiries please email Brianna@parkersgaragelbi.com.
November is a pretty amazing time of year around LBI. The cool weather settles in and the marshes all around Mud City retain some color. It’s as much a time to celebrate the harvest, both land and sea, as anywhere.
And we love preparing to gather with friends and family for the upcoming holidays.
We caught up with Sean Donohue, our chef at Mud City, for a great holiday meal that anyone can make at home – Pan Seared Atlantic Halibut with Apple Cider Glaze over Sweet Potato Hash. Atlantic Halibut are bottom feeders and they are a member of the Flounder family. Think of it as our seafood take on a traditional holiday meal for autumn.
2 white corn
1 white onion
1 medium size jalapeño
2 large sweet potatoes
1 red bell pepper
2 cups Apple cider vinegar
1 cup Brown sugar
2 oz fresh ginger
Salt & pepper
Dice sweet potatoes, toss in olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.
Bake for 15 minutes at 425
Steam corn and shave kernels
Chop onion and bell pepper, mince jalapeño.
Sauté onion, bell pepper, jalapeño, corn and baked sweet potatoes. Season to your liking with salt and pepper.
Apple cider reduction
Reduce apple cider vinegar, brown sugar and ginger at low heat until syrupy consistency.
Cut the Halibut into half-pound strips and season to taste with salt and pepper on both sides.
Add a teaspoon of olive oil to a hot sauté pan. When the oil is properly heated, drop the halibut into the pan. Sautee for several minutes until the fish is three quarters cooked through. Flip the halibut and sauté for another minute.
Plate the halibut over the sweet potato hash and add apple cider glaze.
We have a pretty broad definition of community.
It includes our generous friends, the families who patronize our restaurants year after year, our hardworking staff, and the local fishermen/farmers from whom we source fresh food, and the amazing group of businesses here. All of these play a huge role in the success of our restaurants and it’s only right that we give back.
It was five years ago this month that Superstorm Sandy landed a wet haymaker right on our chin. Many people look to Superstorm Sandy as a very important event in bringing our community together. And it was. But we had already established a local network that was ready to respond when the time came. Today, we are proud to be a part of that community.
“We’re not doing all this alone. We can’t do it on our own. And we take our investment in this area very seriously,” says co-owner Melanie Magaziner, who is constantly hands on in local events and fundraisers. She is not only Troop Leader for two Girl Scout troops, but is on the board of directors for the Hunger Foundation of Southern Ocean County. She has also served on the board of David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation and the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce.
We believe we have a responsibility to be leaders in looking after those in need and also our environment. Not only do the Barnegat Bay, wetlands, Atlantic Ocean and Island provide us with the greatest source of recreation and inspiration, but they are also the engine of our economy.
With Ship Bottom Shellfish and Mud City Crab House, we always had a tie to local happenings, but opening the Black Whale in 2005, the bar enabled more of a social atmosphere. We forged an integral relationship with the surf community and our friends at Jetty, an apparel company at its core, but a local lightning rod of local awareness.
Jetty ran its first Clam Jam in 2007 and Coquina Jam in 2009. One of our eateries has been on the beach for each event in the last decade, serving up cold clams on the half or warm chowder, as well as the Alliance for A Living Ocean Longboard Classic for the past few years. And we love hosting the Team Selection Night at Old Causeway.
In 2010, we also hosted our first Crabbin’ for a Cure with Jetty, a family-style crab cake dinner where we specifically raised money for David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation, who directed the money to families battling cancer in our local area. It’s a tradition we all cherish.
We took part in an oyster pilot program in 2015 with Stockton University. Today, we are involved in the Oyster Recycling Program, an alliance of local shellfish restaurants sending our shells to local oyster farmers to create Tuckerton Reef, a recreation of the oyster reefs that were all but wiped out in our local waters. Partnering with the Jetty Rock Foundation, Long Beach Township, Stockton and our local shellfish purveyor Parsons Seafood, we are helping to purify our bay while bringing back the oyster population and the bayman way of life. We hosted the 4th of July Clambake at Parker’s Garage to raise money for this project. A screening of “The Oyster Farmers” outside at Mud City was just the icing on the cake.
Superstorm Sandy, of course, changed the face of our community forever. But in many ways, we have come back stronger than we were before the storm. Again, we teamed up with Jetty, Waves for Water, Stafford Teachers and Residents Together, and all the good people who were willing to gut homes, raise money, feed our neighbors and clean the bay. Mud City became an important meeting spot and we were happy to provide food for a community Thanksgiving Dinner as well as important fundraisers like, “East Coast Rising” and “Rock for Sandy.”
In 2015, we hopped on board as a supporter of the local mini documentary series, “Just Beneath the Surface,” which spotlights the magic of Long Beach Island and the mainland, packing the house for the premiere of the pilot (we may have been a little partial) in 2016 and episode one last May.
Sandy helped us realize our ability to mobilize and raise funds to make our community stronger. In 2016, we ran the first Eskimo Outreach, our clambake version of a winter carnival designed specifically to aid one of our longtime employees who was struggling with cancer. We used her spirt to continue the tradition last winter and were able to help her family and others close to us. And in September, when hurricanes had ravaged the Southeast US and Caribbean, we payed forward all the support we got by holding a Rum-Raiser outside Parker’s Garage, raising over $20,000 for Waves for Water’s Caribbean Hurricane Relief Initiative.
“If the community’s not strong, our businesses aren’t strong,” adds Melanie Magaziner.
What’s better than a fat tuna steak just barely grilled on either side?
Well, you might say Tuna Crackers or a nice cut of Yellowfin on a sandwich with wasabi mayo. It’s certainly open to debate.
Having the best and freshest fish is of upmost importance to us, across all of our restaurants and every type of fish, though tuna is perhaps the most important. It’s a trophy species for recreational anglers but also a main target of the longline boats that fish out of Viking Village and Lighthouse Marina in Barnegat Light.
As if September and October aren’t magical enough around Long Beach Island, it’s when we see the most pelagic fish come into the docks of Barnegat Light.
“Our local longliners bring in yellow fin, and big eye and Bluefin. Sometimes it’s as much as 25,000 pounds,” says Robbie Robinson of Cassidy’s Fish Market at Viking Village.
Robbie is the wholesaler for all of our restaurants. The best fish for our restaurants are usually the 40-60 pounders. Eateries in Philly and New York tend to like the bigger guys.
Viking Village is one of only a few commercial fishing docks in the Mid-Atlantic, an outpost that goes back to the first Scandinavian settlers on Long Beach Island. We don’t get all of our fish locally year-round, but when the bite is on, we’re all about it. Among the local longline fleet are the F/V Monica, Frances Ann, Showboat, Eaglet and the Alexandria Dawn. Captains usually go out for 5-14 days at a time. It’s a balance to fill the boat but get the fish back so it’s still the freshest possible.
What we call “local” are fish caught out at the Hudson Canyon, 80 miles offshore, which is a lot closer than fishing grounds like the Grand Banks. Dropping down to over 10,000 feet deep, it’s a pool of nutrients fed by the Gulf Stream full of food for tuna. Fish caught in the cooler pockets tend to be of better quality.
Longliners put out 25-miles of line with 700 baited hooks, let it set for 6-10 hours, and then haul it in. The fish that are caught are butchered onboard, bled and packed with ice in the hold as soon as possible. The crew will run five “sets” to fill the ice hold before steaming back to the dock. In terms of product, the handling is as important as the catching.
When the boat is “packed out” the tuna are loaded onto the dock and graded. Tuna grading is something of a science and Viking Village’s Chris Sprague is a veteran. He takes core samples and judges the fish based on the hue and fat content.
“It’s about quality, color and clarity,” says Robinson.
Our Grilled Tuna at Mud City is a longtime favorite, marinated in our house sesame ginger soy. The seared tuna has always been a crowd pleaser at The Black Whale, Mud City and Ship Bottom Shellfish. Our Old Causeway friends love it Sesame Seared with sliced avocado, pineapple, soy glaze, over a soba noodle salad. Beach Haven folks love Rich’s Tuna Spring Rolls at the Black Whale.
We grill or blacken tuna to order, but when we have an affinity for rare or raw – sashimi style or poke. Among the most sought after plates this summer was the Tuna Crackers at Parker’s Garage – raw yellowfin on a Lavash cracker with avocado, sesame and citrus mayo. We discovered Hawaiian poke on our first trips to the Islands. At the Old Causeway, we serve it Hanalei-style over won ton chips. At Shellfish, we can’t seem to make enough of the Poke Nachos over warm tortillas with spicy mayo.
You can decide what’s your favorite, but fresh tuna is always a great call, across the board.
There are several types of fare that truly define summer at the New Jersey Shore. Of course there are the tomatoes that came into season a few weeks ago, sweet and juicy all over the state. There’s boardwalk pizza, favorite ice cream parlors, and the smell of peppers and onions on the grill. But at least as far as seafood is concerned, that most fleeting and delicious plate is the softshell crab.
“Of all our dishes, this is the one I look most forward to in our restaurants. It’s not really something we can serve in the off season. So it represents pure summer and its pure deliciousness,” says co-owner Mel Magaziner.
While some folks think it’s a different species all together, the softshell we eat is the blue claw, that iconic species found from New England down to South America. Take a look. They’re the same, one just has a softer exoskeleton.
The soft shell is a result of the crab’s growth cycle. Since the internal body grows faster than its shell, it essentially has to grow a new one. Known as a “shedder,” the crab cracks the exoskeleton and slowly backs out of the old shell. The crab pumps water into its body and the new shell begins to form. Within three to four days, the shell is completely hard.
This is what makes the softshell such a fleeting delicacy. Soft shell crabs are best as soon as they molt. They’re not often caught in traps because they stop eating during the molting process. That would explain why you don’t randomly get a softy in the trap off your dock. We get our crabs from shedder boxes, often right here on our bay.
The Blue Claw is the only crab that is eaten during the molting process in North America, which makes is that much more special. There are well-known shedder delicacies in Asia. Their Spider Rolls and Chu-chee dishes served in Japanese and Thai restaurants hold up very well with our local blue claws.
Cleaning blue claws should be done as close to cooking them as possible. They aren’t going to pinch at this state, so they’re easy to handle. Actually, you want to be delicate with them. To clean the softy, cut off the front quarter inch of the top shell with scissors. Then lift up the points on either end of the crab. You’ll notice they come up nice and easy. Cut out the gills on each side. Then on the bottom of the crab, you can very easily pull off the apron.
At most of our restaurants, we generally serve them fried or sautéed. Fried, they go into a light batter and into the deep fryer. With lemon, tarter or cocktail sauce, a piece of jersey corn and some coleslaw, this might be one of the most time honored East Coast seafood traditions ever.
When we sauté them, it’s in a bit of garlic, butter and white wine. We do have some variation among our chefs, Rich Schobel at the Black Whale uses some secret herbs. And at Mud City, you can get them over pasta, which some folks go crazy for.
Sautéed is generally for that most hardcore of seafood lovers. There’s nothing between you and that tender-shelled crab. This is what the purists come for.
Either way, they also make for an amazing sandwich with romaine lettuce and Jersey tomato, as the crab’s juices are soaked up by the bun. Occasionally, Ship Bottom Shellfish likes to serve up the particularly tender ones we get in June as its own sautéed appetizer.
At our newest establishment, Parker’s Garage, Chef Kyle has been experimenting with the softies. This summer, he’s been serving up a softshell summer succotash special, fried softshell with pancetta and an Old Bay aioli.
Across the board, let’s just say we don’t have many left at the end of the night.
So while local blue claw crabs can frequently be fickle this time of year, 2015 is off to a historically bad start. Our crabber is blaming the ultra freeze of jan/feb on massive death tolls throughout the local bays. In early spring dredging he said that large amount of dead crabs under the mud were all he was finding. Hopefully the warmer weather will start to show signs of life but the baymen are less than optimistic.
What does this mean for us? Unfortunately it means sourcing crabs from down south (North Carolina and Maryland). Which will ultimately lead to less product at a higher price. But hang tight, Mother Nature tends to throw curve balls so hopefully we’ll see a change in the near future!
One lonely crab out of 30 pots this past week –