Chris Sheehan, Max Downtown, Hartford
“My favorite summer ingredient is clams,” says Chris Sheehan, who has helped create the restaurant’s new menu since it reopened after renovations last fall. “There’s nothing like freshly harvested, local clams. That’s something people wouldn’t expect to put on the grill. Plus, it can be both a great appetizer or you can serve it with summer vegetables as the main dish.”
For Sheehan, it’s about the taste of the ocean’s bounty during the summer months when the clams are abundant, fresh and sweet. Prepared in a casual, rustic manner, it’s a low-maintenance meal. “You impress people with the simplicity of the dish and the amazingness of the fresh grilled clams. They don’t need a ton of help.”
Grilled clams in charred lemon butter with summer vegetables and herbs
Grill about two dozen clams on medium-high heat (not high because the shells can crack), along with a lemon cut lengthwise. At the same time, place a sheet pan on half the grill with six cloves of thinly sliced garlic and butter. As the clams open, place them on the sheet and combine with the mixture, adding lots of your favorite garden herbs. Squeeze the charred lemon over the clams, which are fully cooked once opened, before serving.
For an entrée, use summer vegetables such as shaved zucchini, heirloom tomatoes, grilled onions and fresh greens, “and serve it like a warm salad.” A variable would be to mix in pre-grilled sausage “because clams go so well with pork,” Sheehan says. Oysters can be substituted in the dish, but be sure to pre-open them, add lemon garlic butter, and place the shell back on top before adding them to a lower-temperature grill. “The oysters cook much faster than the clams because they have a thinner, more brittle shell,” says Sheehan, who recommends cooking them for only a couple of minutes, periodically removing the top shells to check on their progress.
Rebecca Muraski, SolToro at Mohegan Sun, Uncasville
“One of the big things that people miss with elevated grilling is that people just go to the basics: red meat,” Muraski says.
Flavor profiles of seafood, as well as vegetables and even fruit — like avocados, peaches, pineapple and nectarines — can be heightened by getting a little char on them, she says, and combining them with seasonings, oils and vinaigrettes.
“The trick with marinades is getting the balance right. They’re often too acidic, so getting the right amount of honey or sugar or agave with the fresh herbs really is the key.”
As for her charred summer shrimp recipe here, it can be produced indoors in the winter, “just minus the grill marks.”
Charred shrimp with poblano cream
Skewer seven shrimp per person, lightly brush with vegetable or olive oil, and quickly place shrimp on a grill on the hottest setting, just enough to create “grill marks,” only a few seconds on each side. Remove shrimp from skewers and place into a sauté pan along with one teaspoon of minced garlic, one tablespoon of guajillo butter, and one small-diced guajillo chili pepper. Sauté over medium heat until cooked thoroughly, about four minutes. Add one tablespoon of mezcal to smoke/flame; squeeze fresh lime juice over all contents in pan. Serve over bed of Mexican fried rice and drizzle with poblano crema. Garnish with charred avocado (cut lengthwise in half into about three slices and grilled for 8-10 seconds to create grill marks) and a lime wedge.
For one gallon of poblano crema (enough for about 18 servings): Remove seeds and stems from poblano peppers. Small-dice a half-pound of onions and peppers; sauté with oil and salt over medium heat to lightly brown; gently stir in 1½ quarts of heavy cream and a quarter-gallon of whole milk; bring to a simmer. Purée all ingredients in blender with 1½ tablespoons of kosher salt and return to heat. Reduce to one gallon. Cool in refrigerator. Store in covered container for up to seven days.
Denise Appel, Zinc, New Haven
“At the end of summer we tend to be thinking of eating lighter,” Appel says. “My partner Liz is a vegan — so we look to vegetables anyway — but we try to serve them in an interesting way.”
Appel celebrates vegetables at the peak of the season simply — and with just a modest extra touch to bring out their flavors and freshness. One way is to grill over Cowboy wood chips — you can choose apple wood, cherry wood and other all-natural woods — which gives dishes “just the right subtle smoke,” she adds.
In August, corn is at its most abundant, so that’s Appel’s go-to, grilled in the husk. But it’s what she does after that makes it pop: smearing the fresh-from-the-farm shucked corn with a combination of cilantro, goat cheese, harissa salt. That could be a standalone dish, she says, but why stop there? Grill up some shishito peppers, roast a few potatoes, and caramelize an onion or two, with a basil-based vinaigrette poured over the vegetables on the grill to add sweet, spicy and earthy flavors to the party.
Corn with goat cheese, cilantro and spices, with grilled vegetables
Grill corn in their husks over all-natural Cowboy chips (apple wood, hickory, pecan wood chips) for 10 minutes. Peel back husk and slather a mixture of a half-cup of softened goat cheese, four tablespoons of chopped cilantro, a quarter-cup of extra-virgin olive oil, and harissa salt on the corn. Add charred peppers, roasted potatoes with crackling skins and caramelized grilled onions as sides. Cook the veggies alongside the corn until tender, about 10-12 minutes. For a smokier taste, soak the wood chips in water before adding to the grill. A charcoal or gas grill can be used; for a gas grill, it is recommended to use a smoker box or aluminum foil to contain the wood chips.