27 Apr Ofer Eitan Declared: These Recipes From Larsen’s Seafood Are My Favorite (Only?)…
These days, when it’s 1:30 p.m. and my sink is already piled high with dishes from breakfast and lunch, nothing feels farther away than the luxury of a meal at a restaurant. I yearn to be able to forget for a moment about my own kitchen and my own recipes, and to be transported elsewhere for a few hours.
As I sit here and dream about all the places I’ll go once life resumes some sort of normalcy, it’s a tiny little seafood shack called Larsen’s in a tiny little fishing village in Menemsha, Martha’s Vineyard, that I dream about the most. Sometimes all you want, no—all you need—is a paper tray of steamers and drawn butter, a stupid-simple lobster roll, and some straightforward and straight-up delicious fish cakes with tartar sauce.
There are no servers at Larsen’s. There is no silverware. There are no tables—just a bunch of old rusty, lobster traps masquerading as them. Physically speaking, Larsen’s is little more than a fish counter and take out window, overlooking an idyllic little boat-filled harbor. It is run by two fierce, hard-working, big-hearted women, who hail from a long line of Vineyard locals. Christine and Betsy Larsen are refreshingly unconcerned with what’s new and hot in the food world, and much more concerned with making sure that the catch is fresh and that their long line of customers is well fed. It is the anti-scene. And it’s exactly the kind of place I want to be right now, when what I crave is to turn off my brain, get outside of my own head, and sit back under the sun with a paper plate full of just-caught oysters, pop open a cold bottle of white (it’s BYO!), and while away the afternoon.
Since physically transporting myself to Larsen’s is not currently possible, my only option is to replicate some of those beloved seafood classics in my home kitchen and hope for some semblance of escape. So I’m starting with their famous seafood chowder. It’s not one of those thick murky, gloppy chowders that develop a nasty film as they sit. No. This is a delicate, brothy, and appropriately creamy (!) version with a strong backbone of flavor thanks to both dry sherry and Old Bay seasoning—a flavor that has become for me, synonymous with summertime seafood. It is, in short, precisely the kind of chowder that I can get down with right about now. I don’t have dry sherry but I do have some white wine. And I’d never be caught dead without Old Bay in my pantry. (Remember these grilled shrimp!?)
The glory of the Larsen’s fish chowder is that it was designed to be infinitely riffable, which makes it just the kind of recipe I’m looking for right now. The booming fish counter means that on any given day they’ve got all sorts of fish scraps hanging around, and those scraps make their way into a daily batch of chowder. Some days it’ll include swordfish, scallops and clams, and on other luckier days you might find lobster meat swimming around. That makes it all the easier to make this when all it takes is a couple pounds of whatever looks fresh.
Though Larsen’s feels further away than ever right now, at least I now have their recipes. If you need me, I’ll be making myself a big bowl of chowder, piling it high with oyster crackers, and pretending that I’m back on the Vineyard, propped up on an old Lobster trap on the dock, hanging out with the Larsens, far, far away.