The Block Island Times

Sand and sea and stars: The beauty of a cookout on the beach

By Ian Hagerty | Jul 06, 2013
Photo by: Scott Cooper Friends Ian Hagerty, at left, and his friend Keith  Gritman start cooking the meal.

You’re sitting down, eating some wonderful fresh seafood and sharing it with your best friends. Now imagine the same scenario on a serene, mostly empty beach with the sunset quickly approaching. This is a situation where even a poor man can feel on top of the world, and it’s only fair that everyone can enjoy such a beautiful experience. Personally, I can’t think of a better way to have spent my Summer Solstice this year.

It was just after 8 p.m., after quite a long day at work when I headed to the beach with my girlfriend Lauren and friends Scott, Liz, and Keith. The girls and Scott were lucky enough to drive a classic VW Beetle to the beach, but I was happy just the same about the thought of the dinner that awaited us. As we started to walk down onto the beach at Dorry’s Cove, there was another group having dinner. They brought the full spread, tables and all, but the attitude was the same; they just wanted to relax and dine with a view and a malleable seat for their feet. As we walked by, everyone exchanged a pleasant hello as we all shared a feeling of camaraderie, eating and sharing just as life should always be. However, comrades or not, we made our way much further down the beach. There is nothing quite as good as your own section of the beach to hang out on.

Low and behold, a fire pit was already set up in the area we planned to cook. Whether it was destiny or not, we sure got the fire started faster than we normally would have. However, in my relaxed summer mindset, I did not bring enough paper to get the fire started. Lucky for me I could improvise, as I had a couple extra pieces of paper from my reporter’s notepad. It felt a little bit irresponsible, but I knew I wouldn’t need to take too many notes to remember fish on the beach, an activity so significant.

With the fire crackling slowly, we sat watching the sunset, waiting until there were only coals. Among us there was some speculation we might see a green flash at sunset, due to the beam of light traveling upward, in our line of view, from the sun. A green flash is a rare optical phenomenon in which, just as the sun rises or sets, a green beam of light can be seen for just a millisecond shooting up from and to the sides of the sunset. We were all on our toes excited at the possibility, but unfortunately it wasn’t going to happen that evening. A cloud moved in the way.

After our distraction had passed, the fire had died down just enough for us to cook. Earlier in the day I had prepared several dishes. I marinated shrimp in hot sauce, oil, Cajun seasoning and butter. Fresh scallops didn’t seem to need much, so I just added some butter and garlic and a generous amount of black pepper. Frankly, they could have been eaten raw and plain, but I do love to add flavor. On the other hand, the littlenecks we had were fine just as they were, good and salty. I also decided to make a little bit of experimental salmon, with thyme, a bit of chopped peperoncini and red onion.

We had a small sheet pan about a foot-and-a-half long that we positioned on top of a rock and a log. Luckily my friend Scott was on the ball enough to remember that the log should be dipped into the water, so it wouldn’t burn. I put some butter and oil on the pan, and within seconds it was hot enough to throw on the shrimp and scallops, as well as some asparagus and cherry tomatoes. We didn’t do anything special to the vegetables but they were bound to taste good collecting the juices from the cooking fish. With the littlenecks, we simply put them in a foil container with a top, placed them close to the coals, and just let them steam. The salmon would come later.

Within minutes the scallops and shrimp were ready and we dove at them. The scallops were perfect, just slightly warm in the center and still slightly translucent; they were buttery and sweet. The shrimp were just spicy enough to make you want a sip of your drink, properly Cajun. Lauren and Liz held the plates while all of us stuffed our faces. It wasn’t a very dignified appetizer, but that’s half the point of eating on the beach. You can always wash off in the water.

Next came the littlenecks. We barely let them cook at all. As I took the necks out of their foil, I replaced them with the salmon, and set it on the pan. It was something interesting: half-cooked, warm necks on the half shell. I was skeptical at first, but they proved to be very tasty. They were almost like a cooked littleneck, but a little bit saltier.

At this point the sun was finally behind the cloud that was obstructing our view of it. Darkness was upon us. With just enough light from the bright moon that had been present for quite some time already, we opened up the salmon. It was cooked just as I like it, fairer pink in the middle than the sides. The flavors were interesting and seemed to blend together well, but I think it was missing something. Scott suggested maple syrup and it’s definitely something I’ll have to try in the future. Something sugary would have helped.

Now coals were burning down low and we all made the simultaneous, unconscious decision to leave. We made trips down to the water with various containers to hold water and bit-by-bit we put the fire out. We cleaned up any trash we had and headed back to the cars.

I’d consider our trip to the beach a success. None of our food had fallen in the sand, and the fire started up easily. Those two factors don’t always come together. This time, they did though, and we all strolled off the beach full to the brim and happy. We didn’t have a kitchen to clean up, just one pan and a spatula. The ocean provided us with plenty of dry aged driftwood, perfect for making coals quickly. Everything went swimmingly, and I was with a group of some of my best friends in the world. What more could you ask for on your Summer Solstice?

You must receive a fire permit to cook on the beach. Fire permits are issued daily, depending on weather, by the fire department and are free.

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