SEAFOOD CRAVINGS SHOULDN’T GO OUT WITH THE SUMMER TIDE

Lili Sorrento, manager of C&C Lobster Pound and Chowda House in Dracut, shows off a 7-pound lobster., VALLEY DISPATCH/JENNIFER AMY MYERS
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BY JENNIFER AMY MYERS, Valley Dispatch Staff

The all-too-short New England summer has once again begun its migration toward the equator, leaving us all yearning for the day so many months away when we can once again satisfy our jones for lobster, steamers, mussels, and any creature of the sea that can be battered and fried to that perfect golden brown that not even the strongest of us can resist.

Wait a minute, where is it written that just because the calendar pages have turned we have to stop eating seafood? Don’t forget about your local fish market, they are open all year round with fresh fish and cooking suggestions.

Afraid of cooking fish at home? Don’t be; it’s easier than you think.

“It’s not hard at all,” said Jeff Finnegan, owner of The Lobster’s Den in Methuen. “Pretty much any fish can be put on a pan in the oven, covered in bread or cracker crumbs and herbs and basically flavored any way you like. The lemon dill sauce we carry has become really popular.”

Lili Sorrento, manager of C&C Lobster Pound and Chowda House in Dracut’s Bridgewood Plaza, says the biggest mistake people make at home is overcooking fish.

“You never want to overcook it, because then it just gets dry and rubbery,” Sorrento said. “And never reheat seafood in the microwave. It loses all of its crispiness and then no one wants to eat it.”

Steamers and lobsters are most popular in the summer, but don’t tell that to Charlie, the 7-pound lobster living in the impeccably clean and spacious salt-water lobster pool at C&C Lobster Pound and Chowda House.

“We have a range of lobster available from 1 to about 7 pounds,” Sorrento said, playing with the friendly crustaceans. “I play around with them all day. They are pretty happy, have a lot of room to move around and we are constantly checking the pH level.”

Conceding that business slows considerably once the summer ends, Sorrento does her best to fill special orders and keep the restaurant’s menu updated.

“We have people coming in looking for catfish, seabass or halibut, the kind of stuff we don’t have on a daily basis,” she said. “I just get on the phone to my distributors and can usually get what they want here within a day or two. We also put together great party platters for holiday parties or special occasions with minilobster rolls on them that are very popular.”

The restaurant has also recently added sautés to its menu, including a bayou shrimp sauté smothered in a Cajun cream sauce, tomatoes and bourbon, and served over rice or pasta.

Although there has been a steep price increase for clams, scallops and even haddock, Finnegan offers a still relatively little-known fish that has suddenly become the hottest fish on the block, popping up on nearly every restaurant menu over the past year — tilapia.

Tilapia, a mild white fish commonly substituted for flounder or haddock, has become the sixth most popular seafood consumed in the United States, according to the American Tilapia Association.

“It is a cheap alternative that people are looking for and it’s a really nice mild white fish,” Finnegan said.

You can savor your seafood with these recipes:

Baked Tilapia with Tomatoes

and Olives (serves 6)

What you need:

* 6 Tilapia filets

* 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

* 4 sprigs fresh thyme

* 3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

* 1/2 cup coarsely chopped green olives

* 1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes

* 2 garlic cloves, minced

* 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion

* 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

What to do:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees

2. Lightly oil a shallow baking dish large enough to hold the filets in one layer.

3. In a bowl stir together the oil, thyme, tomatoes, olives, red pepper flakes, garlic, onion, and lime juice.

4. In the prepared baking dish arrange the filets, skin sides down, season them with salt and spoon the tomato mixture over them.

5. Bake the fish, uncovered, in the middle of the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it flakes.

Source: American Tilapia Association.


Lili’s Famous Steamers

What you need:

* 1 lb. of clean steamer clams (discard any that are open)

* 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

* 4 cloves of garlic, minced (use more or less garlic to your taste)

* 2 cans of your favorite beer

What to do:

1. Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat.

2. Toss in the garlic, steamers and beer.

3. Cook until the steamers open. Discard any that do not open.

4. Drain the steamers in a colander over a large bowl to collect the yummy broth.

5. Serve in a bowl of broth, using a good piece of crusty bread to sop up the broth.

Recipe courtesy of Lili Sorrento, manager of C&C Lobster Pound and Chowda House in Dracut.