I have a special sort of relationship with seafood. Growing up in Kansas, fish of any sort was a rare occurrence on our table, except perhaps on special occasions. What made these occasions special was usually just our proximity, at long last, to good seafood. In my food-loving family, we’d go seriously out of our way for the right bite. This handful of fishy memories explains it all:
I was a picky eater growing up, and had it in my mind that I didn’t like fish (because I’d never really had it much). For a period of time, one of my brothers was living in Key West, and the first time we traveled down to see him was a serious "fish awakening" for me. I was young, maybe 8 years old. My brother took us to a little restaurant by the water; I remember it being a tiny little wooden shack of a place with big windows that looked out onto a dock.
There was no one else there when we sat down, and the waiter came over and said, “The catch of the day won’t be ready for 20 minutes, but it’s Mahi-Mahi." When we asked about the wait, he pointed to a boat on the dock and said, “They’re just bringing it in now, and we have to clean it."
That sealed the deal: Everyone ordered Mahi Mahi. Except me, who naturally ordered chicken tenders. When the fish came out, my mom encouraged me to try a bite. I was hesitant at first, but it was amazing. So soft and silky and buttery. I asked for another bite immediately. Delighted that I may like fish after all, my mom gave me her plate and ordered another for herself. The chicken tenders mysteriously disappeared from the table, and I didn’t care one bit.
Back in Kansas, I told my grandma about the fish excitedly. I dragged her to the local grocery store—I wanted her to taste what I had at the little fish shack. Her tiny, rural grocery store had no fresh fish, but I was so adamant about the whole thing, that she gave into my pleas to buy something from the freezer case. We took it home and cooked it up together. I was already a bit dismayed by the smell as it cooked — our Florida fish had smelled like nothing but salt and butter, and this smelled . . . not great. We each took a bite, and she looked at me.
“This is NOT what I’m talking about, Grandma."
Of course, she already knew, and we ate baked potatoes for dinner that night.
* * *
My dad traveled for work, and every now and then those travels would take him to the Pacific Northwest. In these cases, he’d splurge on a side of wild salmon that he’d carry onto the plane home in dry ice.
Back in her kitchen, my mom would treat it so gingerly, as if it were edible gold — and to us, it was. My favorite thing she’d make were fat salmon sandwiches: a smear of aioli on the base of a crusty ciabatta roll, lightly dressed arugula, the perfectly seared salmon, and a fat slice of tomato.
When I was in culinary school, I spent a summer living and working on Block Island, Rhode Island. It was there that I had my first lobster roll, and attended my first lobster boil. It was the end of summer staff party, and I’d never seen anything like it.
When I arrived at the party, there was no food. I’d never been to an event without a table of munchies set out before the main event. Everyone was saving themselves for the lobster; the whole thing felt like a beautiful ceremony. We waited, then we took our seats, then the lobsters were paraded out.
I’ll never forget it.
It was simultaneously simple and grand. I stuck out like a sore thumb, gawking and trying to watch how everyone tackled theirs. Eventually, folks started jumping in and offering competing lessons on the “right” way to do it. I landed on my own method, which involved dunking each piece fully in butter instead of their recommended delicate dip.
* * *
Every year when the end of summer sneaks up on me, I begin to crave seafood. I think of that summer on Block Island, when it was still warm, but the temperature was just starting to drop. The breezes were cooler and the sun set a bit faster. Even though I’m able to get great seafood pretty much whenever I want now, I still hold it in this special place in my heart. And when I really want to treat something as special, naturally I make it into a pie.
[caption id="attachment_14923464" align="alignnone" width="620"] Photos by Julia Gartland[/caption]
I’ve been making this seafood pot pie in September for the last several years. When I first started making it, it was an individual pie that I’d eat alone on the first almost-cold night. But the past few years, I’ve made it for a crowd. It’s double crusted and made on a sheet pan, so the bottom crust has no problem getting crispy despite the creamy, rich filling inside.
On the one hand, it’s pretty humble. On the other, it’s something so special. If you’re mourning the loss of summer, this pie can help you grieve. If you’re looking for a special occasion, this pie is one in itself. And if you’re a Midwestern kid who doesn’t know how to handle a lobster boil — this still has plenty of butter to get you through it all.
Goodbye to Summer Seafood Pot Pie
Serves 6 generously
- 2 pieces bacon, diced
- 1 sweet onion, diced
- 1 head fennel, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 2 cups fish stock
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 cups corn kernels
- 1 cup peas
- 1/2 pound cooked lobster meat
- 1/2 pound lump crab meat
- 1 pound small shrimp (I used 36/45), peeled and deveined
- 1/3 cup fresh chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped dill
- 1 pinch salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 recipe your favorite double crust pie dough (mine is 2x)
- Egg wash (an egg beaten with some water or cream)