Latitude’s seasoned chef plates up the tips and tricks to take the intimidation out of building an easy, yet elegant, seafood tower.
Nestled between an intracoastal waterway and the open ocean of the Atlantic on Florida’s east coast, Delray Sands Resort doesn’t shy away from its oceanside location. In fact, the sea is infused in the vibe and atmosphere of the resort – most notably in its on-site seafood restaurant, Latitudes, boasting a mesmerizing ocean-inspired design.
Yet, if you can pull your gaze away from the bubble-themed design, you’ll see that the menu also pulls right from the sea, with fresh preparations like crab-encrusted Florida grouper, grilled octopus, and even a seafood bar serving up fresh oysters, scallops, and ceviche in the restaurant’s signature iced shellfish towers. “There’s nothing like watching a server deliver a tower to a guest,” says the resort’s executive chef, Luis Cardenas. “Their eyes instantly go wide.”
But seafood towers don’t have to hide behind restaurant doors. With the help of Cardenas, here’s how you can make your own intimate group of guests’ eyes go wide by serving one up at your next soiree.
The Starting Essentials: Platters & Tools
Part of why a Latitudes’s shellfish tower wows is the metal tower presentation, but any tiered appetizer or dessert stand and big platters or shallow bowls will suffice – as long as there is some kind of raised lip on the edges to keep the ice in place. As for the seafood itself, while you can de-shell the crab or lobster in advance, it can make for a fun hands-on activity for your guests. For that reason, you’ll need crackers and picks and tiny forks for oysters. “It also can’t hurt to supply individual bowls of lemon water for rinsing sticky fingers, discard bowls for shells, and plenty of napkins,” adds Cardenas.
Selecting Your Seafood
You likely won’t have already existing connections with local fishmongers, like Cardenas does, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get access to the freshest seafood possible. If you live close enough to the ocean, head to a local seafood market – thanks to overnight services, most good markets get deliveries as many as five days a week. Opt for live crabs and lobsters at places like these.
If shopping at your local grocer’s seafood counter, don’t be afraid to ask questions, like where the shellfish came from and when it arrived at the store. Pro tip: Look for seafood that says “Frozen-at-Sea” (FAS) – it means they were flash-frozen at extremely low temperatures in as little as three seconds of being caught, and, when thawed, is almost indistinguishable from fresh shellfish.
As for what purchase? While you’ll be at the mercy of what you can get most fresh, an ideal seafood tower will have a mix of raw and cooked shellfish to give you a range of flavors. Cardenas’s classic lineup consists of raw oysters and clams and cooked shrimp, crab, and lobster, accompanied with sauces like cocktail, horseradish, and citrus mignonette.
Preparing the Seafood: In Advance or Same Day?
If you’re serving oysters and clams, always shuck them right before your guests arrive to ensure they’re at their peak freshness. As for shrimp, crab, and lobster, these you can steam in advance – Cardenas suggests up to one day in advance and, once headed to your fridge to chill, always store in shallow airtight containers.
Building the Tower
An hour before assembling, store your vessel (whether a platter or tower) in the freezer to chill it – this will help limit the speed at which your ice melts once added to the tower. If using bowls, which tend to be deeper vessels, place a bar towel at the bottom – this will help soak up the water as the ice melts, so your seafood doesn’t end up swimming in a pool.
Once everything is chilled, evenly distribute your crushed ice on your platters (Cardenas also suggests buying an extra bag or two of crushed ice, in case you need to “refresh” the display at any point). If using a tower, the traditional approach is to place your larger and similar items (like cooked lobster and crab legs) on the bottom tier, then work upward with the smaller items on top (raw oysters and clams, chilled shrimp). If using a platter or multiple bowls, simply group the above like items together. But make sure to leave a little “breathing room” between the items – you’ll be using these open spaces to stud your display with your assortment of sauces in ramekins and raw lemon slices. From there, get ready to wow with your restaurant-worthy tower.
Where to Stay Delray Sands Resort