There are so many reasons to love a New England summer – longer days, warmer evenings, all the seafood, and an abundance of incredible produce to harvest and enjoy at its prime. Conveniently, these also happen to be all the ingredients you need for a seafood boil, a seasonal tradition and rite of passage around these parts.
Ingredients vary to include clams, lobster, and vegetables like corn and potatoes, and preparation changes depending on your region. But the one thing all seafood boils have in common is the ability to bring people together – which is exactly what Select Oyster Bar’s Michael Serpa set out to do when he prepared a five-star feast for the hard-working crew at Siena Farms. Instead of dragging out the big boiling pot, he opted to grill and reimagined the traditional fare into new, elevated dishes. And the result was one unforgettable meal.
Siena Farms is a regular at the Copley Square Market, and has small shops in the South End and the Boston Public Market that sell sustainable produce from local growers. But it's their family-farm in Sudbury that's sowing the seeds for a strong culinary community.
Siena's been cultivating 50 acres of protected farmland for 12 years, which has allowed them to grow over 100 varieties of vegetables that are harvested for their shops, their CSA (500+ members strong), and for local chef's like Serpa.
Serpa opened Select Oyster Bar in 2015. It quickly garnered regional and local praise with it's casual Mediterranean fare and focus on serving the highest quality of seafood. The raw bar features a rotation of local oysters and shellfish, while the rest of the menu showcases a variety of top notch seafood dishes that are matched with fresh seasonal produce – a pairing that is always at the forefront of Serpa's culinary mind. He sources his fish from local proprietors, and his produce from local farms – both of which he deems invaluable to his thriving business.
Serpa is cool but classy, and has attitude in spades. And when it comes to his culinary background, his work at Select is only the tip of the iceberg. He's been at it since he could see the top of the stove (on his tip toes) and has laid deep roots in Boston, taking over the kitchen at Neptune Oyster in 2008 before opening Select. When he's not cooking, he cycles, and is a regular participant in the Pan Mass Challenge to benefit the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and recently joined the Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry. Living with a local state of mind and giving back to the community are important to Serpa – as he demonstrates with lunch on the farm.
On the menu:
- Grilled Maine lobster
- Siena Farms heirloom tomatoes with olive oil and fresh herbs
- Wellfleet clam ceviche with roasted Siena Farms garlic dressing
- Grilled sweet corn from Verrill Farm in Concord
- Smoked Bluefish and Siena Farms new potato salad
Serpa believes that summer cooking should be quick, easy and fun. And grilling is a great method for achieving that. “I try to grill a lot in the summer because we don’t have a grill at Select,” he says. “And I like to work on my tan, of course.”
Starting with a hot grill is important, and Serpa recommends charcoal over gas. “It’s better for seafood, adds a smoky flavor,” he tells us. But the real linchpin to effortless grilling is to precook.
Serpa recommends cooking corn in salted, boiling water for 2-3 minutes...
… and 6-7 minutes for the lobster (depending on the size).
“So when you are going to grill them it is much faster and much easier to manage, rather than having to cook the lobsters through and managing the fire and heat.”
Prepping ahead goes a long way, especially with the side dishes. Serpa prepared the potato salad and Wellfleet clam ceviche the night before, and plated before serving the meal, which gave him more time to tend to the grill.
But don’t forget to skip the recipes in favor of the flavor. It’s summertime after all, and produce is at its prime.
“So, say you have something super ripe, like tomatoes in your garden, and some cucumbers, hot peppers and herbs [like I have at home],” Serpa tells us.
“I would just make a salad with those and throw it on some grilled fish with some nice olive oil.”
And this tactic paid off – it was all smiles when dishes featuring their own harvest from the farm made it to the table.
But let's not forget about the real star of the meal, the lobster.
Sunflowers from Siena, a carefully chosen local craft beer, and an ice cold Rosé finished a table that beckoned back to the New England summer tradition.
We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day.
Select Oyster Bar — 50 Gloucester St, Boston, 857-239-8064, selectboston.com
Siena Farms — 113 Haynes Rd., Sudbury, 978-261-5363, sienafarms.com