How to Build an Extravagant Seafood Tower

A two-tiered platter piled high with freshly shucked and steamed seafood is a showstopper. Here’s how to make one at home.

Published Sept. 29, 2021.

Last week, I did something I’ve always wanted to do: I ordered a seafood tower. 

I’ve lived in New England for more than a decade—and I’ve worked in not one, but two seafood restaurants—so this was a real straggler on my East Coast bucket list. At Row 34, the restaurant in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood where I ordered my seafood platter, the listing on the menu was simple: “Shellfish Tower, $95.”

It’s a lot to spend on a single item, but I’d argue that it’s a pretty good deal. The tower came heaped with 12 freshly shucked oysters, six freshly shucked littleneck clams, six shrimp, two crab claws, a whole steamed lobster (cut in half and served chilled), plus shrimp ceviche and homemade chips. Nestled in the middle of the lower tray were cocktail sauce, horseradish, a classic mignonette (a vinegar-and-shallot sauce for the oysters and clams), and a spicy mignonette. It was a stunner—everything I love about shrimp cocktail and oysters but bigger and more celebratory. 

seafood platter
Some shots of the seafood tower. Part of the fun is the variety of components.

“It’s a spectacular way to start a meal,” says Jeremy Sewall, the chef-owner of Row 34 (and, full disclosure, the guy who entrusted me with a cooking job when I was fresh out of a culinary program). “The whole idea is that it’s communal.”

“Communal” really is the word for it. My friends and I dove in, divvying up oysters and making sure that everyone got their share of lobster and crab. Pairing icy cold oysters and champagne is a classic, but Sewall made a strong case for getting a crisp pilsner or a floral, hoppy IPA, so that’s what we did.

But, other than cautioning against combining hot seafood and cold seafood, Sewall didn’t put too many rules on the thing. Remember: It’s meant to be celebratory, not fussy. A platter of this size can easily serve four people, but it makes a pretty special meal for two. 

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My first seafood platter will not be my last. If there’s a good seafood restaurant near you, grab a friend and go order a seafood tower. If you’d rather try your hand at it at home, you can. Sewall’s advice was the same as it was when I was a line cook at his restaurant: Plan ahead, and be organized. Below, I’ve gathered some guidelines from the forthcoming The Row 34 Cookbook and some favorite test kitchen tips.

  1. Do everything you can ahead of time: Cook, clean, and chill your shrimp and lobster. (A pair of seafood scissors makes short work of it.) Make the cocktail sauce and mignonette. Cut lemons into wedges. If your drinks aren’t already chilled, put them in the fridge overnight. 
  2. Don’t have a tiered platter? Don’t worry! Use a rimmed baking sheet or flat platter with high walls to contain the ice and seafood. 
  3. Set aside some small bowls for sauces. Small ramekins work well. 
  4. Line the baking sheet or platter with paper towels to hold everything steady and absorb water from the ice, and then cover it with crushed ice. 
  5. Be strategic when you set up the platter. Sewall recommends placing the sauces in the center. Place the steamed-and-chilled seafood at one end, with a cluster of lemons in easy reach. Shuck the oysters and clams with an oyster knife and arrange them in rows at the other end of the platter, also with their own cluster of lemon wedges.
  6. Put out cocktail forks and napkins. 
  7. When you’re ready to dive in, all that’s left to do is crack open a bottle of champagne or can of beer.  

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