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Bring the Seaside to Denver With These Coastal Recipes

Eight delicious dishes for an ocean-inspired backyard feast.

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When Boulder native Dave Query opened the first Jax Fish House on the Pearl Street Mall nearly 21 years ago, he wasn’t deterred by Colorado’s middle-of-the-country status. Instead, he made it his mission to bring the sea’s bounty to landlocked tables. Now, two decades and four Front Range locations later (plus an outpost in Kansas City, Missouri), Query’s web of treasured relationships with fishermen and shellfish farmers runs deep.

Each year Query takes his head chefs to the coast to meet with fishermen and dig for clams, mussels, and geoducks. They shuck and eat oysters right on the beach. Query’s philosophy: There’s simply no better way to learn about sourcing fresh seafood than pulling it from the ocean with your own hands.

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That sensibility follows Query—and his crew—back to Denver. Every summer, he and his wife, Dana, throw a seafood-themed backyard feast for which the couple grills oysters, a simple technique inspired by Acme Oyster House in New Orleans, and serves no-fuss sides such as cornbread and salad.

This year, after returning from Seattle, it was Jax head chef Sheila Lucero who put together a menu showcasing the seafood and shellfish the team hauled home. Follow the recipes here to make the meal—perfect for a late summer fête—all on your own.


Grilled Oysters

(Serves 6)

1 dozen medium West Coast oysters (such as Hama Hama or Penn Cove; the popular Kumamoto variety is too small for this recipe)
1 cup high-quality Worcestershire sauce
3 slices applewood-smoked bacon, cooked until crispy and chopped into ¼-inch pieces
1 tablespoon chives, minced rock salt, optional (for serving)

  1. Preheat the grill on high heat. Meanwhile, wash oysters by spraying with water to remove any dirt. Carefully shuck the oysters, making sure to reserve the oyster liquor. Remove any remaining shell fragments.
  2. Place oysters on the grill (shell side down), and add about 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire to each oyster. Top each one with a couple of pieces of bacon. Once the mixture starts to bubble, grill for 2 minutes longer. Pull the oysters off the grill and sprinkle with chives.
  3. Serve on a tray or platter with a bed of rock salt.

—Dave Query’s barbecued oyster recipe is inspired by Acme Oyster House in New Orleans

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Dungeness Crab–Shellfish Boil

(Serves 6)

Boil:

4  gallons water
2  cups Old Bay Seasoning, divided
¼ cup black peppercorns
3 tablespoons mustard seeds
3 tablespoons juniper berries
3 bay leaves
1 lemon, halved
2 bottles light lager-style beer (such as Coors)
6 ears corn, cut in half
1 ½ pounds baby red potatoes, cooked and cut in half
3 pounds Manila or littleneck clams
3 whole Dungeness crabs,
2  pounds each, cleaned and cut in half
1 ½ pounds andouille sausage, sliced
2 pounds shrimp, 31 to 40 size, shell on and head off
2 pounds mussels
3 cups unsalted butter, melted
2 lemons, sliced into 8 pieces

  1. Combine water, 1 ½ cups Old Bay Seasoning, peppercorns, mustard seeds, juniper berries, bay leaves, lemon, and beer in a large stock pot. Let mixture come to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Add corn and potatoes to the pot and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add clams and crab and cook for 3 to 4 additional minutes. Then add sausage, shrimp, and mussels and cook for 3 to 4 more minutes. All the clams and mussels should open; discard any that remain closed or are barely open.
  3. Pour pot out over a colander in the sink to strain out the liquid. Transfer all the items—corn, potatoes, sausage, and seafood—to a large platter. (Alternatively, you can dump the colander straight onto an outdoor picnic table covered with newspaper.) Sprinkle with the reserved Old Bay. Serve with warm butter and sliced lemon—and plenty of napkins.

—Pictured, above right: Pulling a Dungeness crab from the boiling pot

—Shellfish on the beach; a freshly shucked Nisqually Sweet from Washington is suited to slurping outright or cooking on the grill

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Heirloom Tomato and Watermelon Salad

(Serves 6)

1 small seedless watermelon, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 cups heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes (or halved cherry tomatoes)
1 cup basil leaves, torn into small pieces
½ cup mint leaves, torn into small pieces
1 shallot, finely diced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup Pedro Ximénez sherry vinegar
¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 ounce foraged wild greens (miner’s lettuce, wood sorrel, etc.*)

  1. Place cut watermelon and tomato in a large bowl. Add herbs, shallot, oil, and vinegar and lightly toss. Season with cracked pepper and add greens. Toss gently and serve.

*If wild greens are unavailable, substitute arugula, watercress, or mâche.

—Pictured above, left: Dana Query forages for wild greens in the Pacific Northwest. The leaves she collected eventually made their way into the aforementioned salad. Photo credit: Pacific Northwest trip photography; courtesy of Dana Faulk Query


Skillet Cornbread

(Serves 6)

Dry Ingredients:
1 ½ cups flour
1 cup cornmeal
½ cup sugar
1 ½ tablespoons baking powder
¼  teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients:
¼ pound butter, melted
1  cup buttermilk
¾ cup milk
2  eggs

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  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Spray six three- to five-inch cast-iron skillets* with pan spray and place in the oven to preheat.
  2. Put all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk thoroughly.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix all the wet ingredients together and whisk thoroughly.
  4. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry and whisk until the mixture is fully incorporated.
  5. Pull hot skillets out of the oven and ladle mixture into skillets, filling about 2/3 full. Place cornbread in the oven and bake for 25 minutes or until golden.

*You can substitute a single 10-inch cast-iron pan.

—Pictured, above right: Hot-from-the-oven skillet cornbread allows the main dishes to stand out


Honey Butter

¾ pound unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
½ pound honey

  1. In a stand mixer (or using a hand mixer), place softened butter and honey in a bowl. Using the paddle attachment, whip the butter and honey on medium-high speed for about 10 minutes. The butter should be light and spreadable.
  2. Set butter aside and serve with warm cornbread.

Tip: Use any leftover honey butter on toast, English muffins, pancakes, or corn on the cob.


Grilled Palisade Peaches and Lavender Ice Cream

9 Colorado peaches, washed, cut in half, and pits removed
½  cup extra-virgin olive oil
½  cup basil, cut into thin strips
¼  cup mint, cut into thin strips
½  ounce vodka
1  lemon, zested
6  scoops lavender ice cream; fresh lavender flowers (for garnish)

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  1. Preheat the grill to medium – high heat.
  2. Place cut peaches in a large bowl and gently toss with olive oil.
  3. Lay peaches on the grill and cook about 2 minutes per side. Once peaches have grill marks and are warmed through, remove from the grill and toss with the rest of the ingredients (except the ice cream and flowers).
  4. Place grilled peach mixture on a large platter. Add scoops of lavender ice cream to the peaches. Garnish with fresh lavender flowers or basil and serve immediately.

—Pictured: Grilled Palisade peaches combine with lavender ice cream to top off the feast.


Peg leg

(Makes 1 cocktail)

1 ½ ounces Cruzan rum
1  ounce fresh ruby red grapefruit juice
½ ounce fresh lime juice
1  ounce cinnamon simple syrup (recipe below)

  1. Mix all ingredients together in a shaker and pour over crushed ice. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge.

Cinnamon Simple Syrup

(Makes 2 cups)

1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ cups water
3 sticks cinnamon

  1. Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and stir to dissolve sugar. Add cinnamon sticks and simmer for 20 minutes. Cool and store with cinnamon sticks in syrup.

—This page, from top: Set the scene with newsprint-covered tables and Mason jars of refreshingly rummy Peg Leg cocktails; Dave and Dana Query

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