The holidays are a time to go all out and that especially applies to the food. One of our favorite ways to dial up the celebratory mood is with a shellfish tower that brims with the finest selections from the sea. Put one in your feast and it’ll instantly be your star and centerpiece.
Although a lavish array of seafood is a surefire hit at pretty much any special meal, a shellfish tower is an especially winning choice for a new year’s celebration since it pairs so well with the festive mood and customary sparkling wine. With a little prep, it’s also super easy to put together, especially when you get all of the ingredients delivered from FreshDirect.
Tools you’ll need
You can purchase a tiered seafood tower for a stunning presentation. However, an ordinary platter or tray will also work so long as it has a lipped edge to keep the contents from spilling off. It’s a good idea to chill the tray in advance so that everything stays cool longer once served.
Additionally, make sure you have plenty of crushed ice for placing beneath the seafood, ramekins for holding sauces, and serving utensils. If using lobster or crab, you’ll need crackers for the shells. For raw oysters and clams, make sure you have the appropriate shucking knives.
Selecting Your Seafood
It’s always a good idea to seek out well-sourced seafood, but a shellfish tower is where quality and freshness really, really, really count. Since everything will either be served raw or very simply cooked without seasonings to hide behind, all the attention is on the ingredients. You can count on FreshDirect to deliver in this regard, of course: we work directly with fisherman partners that we trust to source responsibly, bringing seafood from the dock to your door in the shortest time possible.
Ideally, you want to get your seafood the same day that you’ll be serving it. Although you can focus on just one item, like oysters or shrimp for shrimp cocktail, choosing at least three or four to mix will really make your tower sumptuous.
Whole lobsters will really add some dramatic flair to a tower, or you can opt for just the tails, which have the most meat. Cook them a couple hours before serving, then chill in the refrigerator. For a tutorial on how to cook a lobster, check out this video from our seafood team:
Gently-poached and chilled shrimp will always be a crowdpleaser, especially when served with cocktail sauce. You can cook them without the shells for easy eating, although leaving them on makes them especially flavorful. Large ones like our super colossal shrimp from Madagascar are especially show-stopping.
There are many different varieties of oysters out there and each one has its own unique taste—you can mix and match a few or just stick to one you really like. Either way, you’ll want to shuck them shortly before serving using a good, pointy-tipped shucking knife.
To open them, place an oyster in the center of a clean towel on a hard surface, flat side up. Keep the shell steady with your non-dominant hand, using the towel to protect your fingers. Using your other hand, insert an oyster knife into the hinge and wiggle until the shell cracks open. Slide the knife along the underside of the top shell, severing the muscle that connects to the meat. Open and brush off any debris before serving.
You can steam and chill your clams if you like, but if you get some good fresh ones, like our wild, local littlenecks or cherrystones, they practically beg to be enjoyed raw in order to showcase their briny ocean flavor—you’ll just need to shuck them, which requires a thin, small knife with a rounded tip that’s different from the one used for oysters.
Raw scallops have a sweetness that’s more vivd than their cooked counterparts, especially good, freshly-caught ones like our bay scallops from off the coast of Massachusetts. They’ll be a sophisticated addition to your tower and will absolutely dazzle.
Ahhh, crab legs—so sweet, tender and meaty. Their elongated shape will add lots of drama to the spread. We offer pre-cooked snow crab legs and wild king crab legs that can be steamed or eaten chilled with zero prep.
There are few pleasures quite like digging into a heap of steamed mussels. Add our organic iceberg mussels from Newfoundland to your tower and you’ll have a guaranteed hit.
Although the focus is obviously on the seafood, you’ll still want to have a few options for dressing up your fresh catch. Lemon wedges, cocktail sauce, horseradish, hot sauce and shallot mignonette are the classic accompaniments, although you can certainly get creative too! We like to mix things up with a flavored aioli-type sauce (like Sir Kensington’s special sauce) or some Haven’s Kitchen romesco.
Putting Your Shellfish Tower Together
For any steamed or cooked items, prepare them a few hours ahead of time and chill in the fridge. For raw items like oysters, prep or shuck just before serving.
Fill each tier of your tower with a layer of crushed ice. Nestle any ramekins with sauce in the ice, then arrange your seafood and some lemon wedges around them. Toast your creation with a glass of bubbly and let your guests dig in!