It's not just humans who get frisky in the summer.
As waters begin to warm, a frenzy of reproductive activity is taking place right beneath the surface. During the summer months, the creatures of the sea are working tirelessly in order to replenish our precious supply of seafood. And what better way to pay our respects to these crustaceans and bivalves than by constructing a giant fucking tower of seafood?
The reproductive qualities of shellfish are not lost on Danny Smiles, chef at Le Bremner, a seafood paradise tucked away in an Old Montreal basement. "There's an erotic vibe to a seafood platter," he says. "When people come to Le Bremner, I want them to go home and have sex. We don't want people to leave here too full or remember it as the restaurant where they didn't get laid. And if you're not getting laid after a seafood platter, that's fucked up."
Now that we've gotten the sex out of the way, we can skip to the practical part. Smiles has taken it upon himself to show us how to make a proper seafood tower; one worthy of the most lavish despots or the booziest of backyard parties. It's a way of eating that is as simple as it is indulgent, but there are a few cardinal rules you need to follow if you want to do it properly.
Ingredients First thing's first: Go out and get some decent product. "In Montreal, we're not far from Quebec shores. It's filled with whelks, lobsters, scallops, and crabs, we've got a lot of beautiful seafood here that we wanted to celebrate with seasonality," Smiles says. "Right now, we've got a bunch of lobsters and scallops from Quebec and some beautiful Trésor du large oysters, also from Quebec."
But don't be afraid to experiment with some of the stranger creatures of the sea. "I love whelks. A lot of people think of them as tough escargot but I fucking love them. They absorb so much flavour. They're intense and beautiful. I don't find them weird at all—barnacles are fucking weird."
A Strong Foundation Now, you want your temple of seafood to be as structurally sound as it is beautiful, and the cement of your tower will be ice, lots of ice. "I always start with crushed ice, and sometimes a bit of seaweed for decoration. So step one: you get your crushed ice. Some people use big ice cubes or whatever, but that's not the move. It has to be crushed ice."
You'll also want to cook your lobster in advance. "I boil the lobster for four minutes per pound, throw in the ice bath, crack the claws and then cut it down the middle so it's easy to eat."
Garnishes "Step two: you want your garnishes ready to go, especially for the oysters. You've got to have some cocktail sauce, some grated horseradish, and then you can add your hot sauce."
"I'm really enjoying this fuckin' Smoke Show hot sauce these days [Danny is referring to the author's hot sauce company] and we also make our own sauces here. I like a classic mignonette and sometimes I do a ginger one with white balsamic and a bit of black pepper.
"For the scallops and lobster, I like to have caviar and creme fraiche. I also use this Italian corned beef in a can. It's super salty and gelatinous. It's weird but it's good. I like to fill it up with things that people enjoy. You get all that shit done and then you deal with the seafood."
Technique "Technique is the toughest part. It's not that hard to open an oyster, but a lot of people don't detach the muscle or break the shell and then it's full of rock. Gross. You have to really pay attention to detail."
Also, if you're going to be building a seafood tower to the heavens, you're going to need a lot of sharp stuff. A sharp knife, some decent scissors, an oyster knife, and some good ol' fashioned elbow grease—do whatever it takes to minimize the work of your guests.
"Everything has to be properly shucked, easy to eat, clean, and appetizing. You want it to be interactive. Something that everybody gets to share and enjoy. People don't want to be cracking lobsters and getting dirty. The whole point is to enjoy. Especially if you're going out after, you don't want to smell like the ocean."
Plating "Always use a small plate and crowd it. People tend to use a lot of ice but that's stupid. It needs to look like it's overflowing, with lemons on top and some seaweed. You want to organize the chaos. Another thing people do is use big plates and square plates. What the fuck is that? Square plates are the worst. Make it nice! You should also serve it on an old-school platter, like an old steel plate or wood—something sturdy."
The Show You're finally ready to unveil your ode to Poseidon, Neptune, or whoever your sea god is. Go big. Take your tower outside where it belongs and snap a few pics for social media (preferably with the hashtag #MUNCHIES) and share your creation with the world.
"There are a lot of people who get seafood platters to impress [others]. It's like a big dick competition to show that they can afford it. But then you also have people who get the tower who just really enjoy seafood. That's what we see a lot in restaurants. It's a status thing—people love putting on a show when they go out, but that's what a restaurant is: a show. Presentation is super important."
Booze OK, so all the hard work is done. It's time for the easiest step of all: start drinking. "I'm very classic. I like a nice beer, like a nice eepa [IPA] or a classic white wine like Chablis, Muscadet, or just Champagne is nice if you're balling out."
Deep Thoughts Now that you're drinking and eating god-tier seafood, you can start reflecting on our place in the food chain and what it all means, just like Danny does.
"The underwater is the unknown. If you're in the restaurant business, you can think that you're cool and popular and good on social media and have this cool restaurant called Le Bremner in Old Montreal. But if you're alone with a snow crab, you're in trouble. When I went surfing in Sri Lanka at six in the morning and saw all these crazy things swimming in the water, it's like 'I'm just a piece of shit and I can be swallowed in a matter of seconds.' They're like aliens. That's what's amazing about the ocean."