Rick Browne

The Barbecue Shell Game

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By Rick Browne, Ph.B.

Grillin’ University Professor at Large



Prawns in Orange-Ginger Sauce

Louisiana Blues

Grilled Lobster

BBQ Baked Feta Prawns

La Barraca Mussels

Grilled Swordfish Steaks

In the world of backyard barbecue cookery, there are lots of things people love to cook: steaks, ribs, pork shoulders, hot dogs, hamburgers, leg of lamb, and on and on. Even filets, steaks, and whole fish are popular entrees thrown on the grill. However, one class of seafood seems to be forgotten when it comes to outdoor cooking: shellfish. Other than shrimp and prawns, which lots of people do grill, there are many critters wearing shells that are usually consigned to the kitchen oven.

Grilled (not boiled) lobster, grilled Maryland blue crabs or Alaskan king crabs, barbecued oysters and clams, and-oh yes-shrimp and tiger prawns, all take on a wonderful flavor when cooked over charcoal or gas flames. The secret? Don’t overcook. While the shells naturally protect the meat inside, keeping it moist, overzealous cooking can quickly dry out the tender flesh.

Some tips: Shrimp and prawns are easily overdone, so cook them on a hot grill for about 2-3 minutes per side. As soon as you see the sides of the shellfish turn opaque, turn them over and cook only until the second side turns white-pink and is just beginning to char. For heaven’s sake leave the shells on! They conduct heat and they hold in the moisture.

Shrimp are also perfect for grilling in foil packets: put 1/2 dozen shrimp in the center of a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, drizzle the seafood with olive oil, add some chopped shallots, a squeeze or two of lemon, and cook over a hot grill for 10 to12 minutes. Be careful when you open the packets, as the super hot steam can easily burn you.

To grill a lobster, cut it in half lengthwise, slather lemon-butter on the exposed flesh, then grill over medium heat until the meat turns opaque and just begins to brown. Turn the lobster over and grill it for another 4 to 6 minutes, brushing the exposed flesh with butter. Remove the lobster from the grill, detach the large claws, and put them back on the grill for another 5 to 6 minutes.Grilled Lobster

Crayfish are cooked the same way-split in half lengthwise and placed directly on the grill after being brushed with butter-but they should be cooked for only 2 to 4 minutes per side, until they turn bright red.

Oysters are perhaps the easiest sea critter to cook. You can just lay them whole on a hot grill and let them cook until they open (usually 1 to 3 minutes). Remove the cooked oysters, drizzle with sauce and serve.

As another option, you can remove the top shell, drizzle butter or sauce on the raw flesh, and grill just until the butter or sauce sizzles. Sprinkle the finished oysters with fresh parsley and serve. Clams can be handled the same way but are best cooked in the whole shell; the small amount of flesh in clams easily dries out when cooked exposed in an open shell. I prefer to cook mussels on the barbecue in a cast iron pot containing water, wine and herbs. Dip chunks of French baguettes into the steaming broth after the mussels are cooked.

Though the mollusks and shellfish are prepared on a grill, the cooking method actually is a steaming process, since the flames and hot coals cause them to steam in their own juices, with their shells acting as miniature pans. Oysters, clams, and mussels have built-in “timers”-their shells are tightly closed when fresh, but they pop open when they are done cooking. Any shell that doesn’t open at all should be discarded-it is probably bad.

Soft shell crabs are a bit too fragile to be cooked directly on a barbecue, but can be grilled on a flat grill plate, or—even better—cooked in the barbecue on a cast iron pan in butter, olive oil, and spices. Do not overcook, as the meat quickly becomes tough and rubbery. A maximum cooking time of 8 to 10 minutes, will give you tender crabs that are loaded with flavor.

King crabs and Dungeness crabs are better steamed or cooked in boiling water-either on the grill, a side burner, or a separate gas burner. In a large pot of water add salt, pepper, green herbs of your choice (oregano, thyme, basil, savory, rosemary), and a couple of lemon quarters. Boil just until the crab shell turns red.

King crabs are mostly pre-cooked when you buy them, but try drizzling the legs (which you’ve cracked with the back of a large knife) with herbed-butter or oil, grilling them for 2 to 3 minutes per side to warm them up. Serve them up as a delicious entrée or appetizer.

A few points to remember: rinse all shellfish in cold water, thoroughly oil your grill before you cook shellfish, do not let cooked shellfish touch uncooked shellfish, and always wash your hands after touching any raw shellfish or mollusks. Being careful, having a clean working area, grilling the shellfish until they are properly cooked, and serving the food immediately after it’s cooked are smart ways that you can play the barbecue shell game and always come out a winner.

Australia ShrimpPrawns in Orange-Ginger Sauce

12 giant tiger prawns, shelled and de-veined (tails intact)
1/2 cup butter
1 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons sherry
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 minced green onions (tops and white parts)
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root
1 orange, thinly sliced for garnish

Combine butter, juice, sherry, zest, onions, and ginger in a saucepan and cook over medium to low heat, stirring until butter is completely melted. Cool to room temperature.

Put prawns in a one-gallon sealable plastic bag and add half of the orange sauce, seal the bag and set prawns aside to marinate for 1 hour.  Cover remainder of sauce and keep warm.

Preheat charcoal or gas barbecue to 375˚F.

Place the shrimp on an oiled grill rack about four inches above the coals or gas flame. With a brush, liberally baste the prawns with the sauce and grill for two minutes, then turn the prawns over and generously baste again, cooking for another two minutes. Most of them will be done at this point, but continue basting and turning any larger prawns until they are pink and just cooked through.

Remove the prawns from the heat immediately, as they will get tough if overcooked.

Serve prawns on a warm platter over spinach leaves, with the remaining sauce as a dip for the prawns. Garnish with thin orange slices.

Serves 4 to 6

Blue Crab
Louisiana Blues

12 medium Florida soft-shell blue crabs
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup dry bread crumbs

Remove gills, eyes, mouthparts, and tail section of fresh crabs, or thaw frozen crabs. Rinse in cold water; drain. Combine the eggs, milk and salt in a wide flat bowl. Combine the flour and crumbs in another wide, flat bowl. Additional spices such as cayenne pepper and garlic may also be added.

Dip the crabs into the egg mixture and roll them in the flour/crumb mixture. For heavier breading, let the crabs sit for several minutes and repeat the dipping-rolling procedure.

Place the crabs in a heavy frying pan containing 1/8 to 1/4 inch of extra virgin olive oil. Put the pan on a hot grill and fry the crabs at moderate heat. When they are brown on one side, turn them carefully and brown on the other side. Cooking time is approximately 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the crabs on absorbent paper and then serve on warm platter.

Serves 4 to 6
Grilled Lobster

4 two-pound Maine lobsters, live
1 pound salted butter
4 cloves garlic, mashed
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 shallots, minced
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
Juice of 1/2 medium orange
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon
Salt & pepper to taste
Fresh lemon wedges

Sauté the shallots and garlic in a saucepan for five minutes or until soft. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the lobster and lemon wedges), and heat until butter is melted.  Set aside and keep warm, stirring occasionally.

Line a grill with aluminum foil and prepare a medium-hot fire.

Split the lobster by placing it on its back, sever the spinal cord by inserting a sharp knife between tail and body, then split the lobster in half lengthwise.  Remove stomach and intestinal vein.  Crack the claws and sprinkle the meat with salt & pepper. Paint the lobster with the melted butter mixture and place it on grill, flesh side down. Cook the lobster until there is a light char on the meat. Turn, baste with butter and continue to grill until meat is firm.

Remove the lobster from the grill and paint it with melted butter. Remove the claws from the lobster and wrap the body in foil. Put claws back on the grill for 5 to 6 minutes more. Remove and serve with the split lobsters.

Serves 2 to 4


BBQ Baked Feta Prawns

Shrimp in Pot
24 ounces shelled prawns (defrosted if frozen)
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
6-7 medium plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
10 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
3/4 teaspoon black pepper

Combine olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and thyme as a marinade and pour over the prawns in a shallow dish. Cover and refrigerate for 1/2 an hour or so.

Pre-heat the oven to maximum!

Mix the remaining ingredients. Divide the prawns and the marinade into 4 or 5 individual shallow, fireproof dishes.

Sprinkle the remaining ingredients over the prawns. Bake in the oven until sizzling.

Serve immediately with plenty of crusty French bread to mop up the juices.

Serves 4 to 6

La Barraca Mussels 

Feel free to use different varieties of mussels in this recipe; you can even throw in your favorite clams as well. Just follow the process described below: clean, check for live shellfish, then add to the pot. Serve this dish with a fresh baguette to sop up the sauce.

Spain Mussels
2 pounds mussels
1 clove garlic, minced
4 shallots, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup minced celery
1/4 cup chopped carrot
5 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne paper
3/4 cup fresh cream
1 lemon, cut into quarters, for garnish

Scrub and rinse the mussels well; remove the beards. If any shells are cracked, discard them. If shells are slightly open, tap them on the counter firmly; if they close, go ahead and use them, if they stay open, discard them.

Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to 425˚F.

Place a Dutch oven or deep cast-iron skillet over the hottest part of the grill and sauté the garlic, shallots, and thyme in the olive oil and butter until transparent, about 5 minutes. Do not let them brown. Add the wine, water, celery, carrots, parsley, bay leaf, black and cayenne peppers, and the mussels. Pour in the cream. Cover the pan and cook, shaking frequently, for about 4 minutes, until the shells open.

Remove from heat and serve the mussels and sauce immediately on a large platter, garnished with lemon and fresh parsley.

Serves 4 to 6


Grilled Swordfish Steaks

Grilled Swordfish
4 (3/4” thick, 7 to 8 oz.) swordfish steaks

1/3 cup olive oil
Juice of 3 limes (or 2 large lemons)
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded
2 peeled garlic cloves
1/4 cup loosely-packed fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk

Herb Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves
8 large fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the olive oil, lime juice, jalapeño, garlic, cilantro, pepper, ginger, and coconut milk in a food processor and pulse to combine into a smooth liquid. Rub the swordfish steaks with the marinade, place in sealable plastic bags and marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

Heat barbecue grill (or oven) to 375˚ F for direct heating.

Make the vinaigrette by mixing the vinegar and mustard in the bowl of the food processor. Pulse briefly, then add the herbs, pulsing until the herbs are coarsely chopped, then add the olive oil very slowly while the processor is running, processing until the mixture emulsifies into a smooth blend. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Grill the swordfish until the steak has good grill marks on both sides and the interior of the steaks is cooked medium and still is moist, approximately 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Remove the swordfish steaks from the grill, plate, drizzle with vinaigrette and serve with grilled vegetables and steamed fragrant rice.
Serves 4 to 6

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