Diving into Cape Cod’s Seafood Markets

By Mike Urban

Over the past several years, while researching my books on clam shacks and lobster shacks, I spent dozens of summer days driving all over Cape Cod in search of the best places for dine-in-the-rough seafood. Along the way, I passed numerous seafood markets with alluring signs advertising the fresh catches of the day.

This helped inspire me to write “The New England Seafood Markets Cookbook.” Who better to consult for the best seafood recipes than these mom-and-pop experts, who live and breathe fresh seafood every day? I set out in the spring of 2015 to visit as many of these Cape Cod fishmongers as I could find, and the experience was both educational and heartwarming.

A few of the Cape’s more charming seafood markets are housed in weather-beaten, cedar-shingled cottages, a throwback to the markets of yore. The Cape Codder in West Dennis and Chatham Pier Fish Market in Chatham come to mind, as does the clapboarded Hatch’s Fish Market in Wellfleet. These places are small and very personal in their service, with the owner often being the person who waits on you.

In the same vein are a couple of markets that are joined at the hip with dine-in-the-rough seafood shacks. The well-stocked Nauset Fish and Lobster Pool in Orleans is partnered with adjacent Sir Cricket’s and its excellent fish and chips. Further up the road in North Eastham, the Friendly Fisherman boasts a killer lobster roll in its shack along with gorgeous seafood cases in its market.

The big boy on the upper Cape—Mac’s Seafood—has retail stores in Wellfleet, Eastham, Truro, and Provincetown, as well as seafood restaurants in Wellfleet and Provincetown. Owner Mac Hay has personal relationships with all his local suppliers, creating a happy confluence of large volume, high quality and personal service. 

Overall, the Cape Cod seafood markets possess the heart, fresh taste and local quality that create a superior shopping experience. Enjoy exploring each one on your own!


Hog Wash

(Mac’s Famous Oyster Mignonette Sauce)

Mac’s Seafood, Wellfleet

1 cup jalapeño pepper, finely diced

1 cup red Fresno chili, finely diced

(Serrano pepper is a decent substitute)

1⁄2 cup cilantro, chopped

1⁄2 cup shallot, finely diced

1 lime

1-1⁄2 cups seasoned rice wine vinegar

1-1⁄2 cups unseasoned rice wine vinegar

1⁄2 tablespoon fresh ground pepper

Mac’s Seafood is world famous for its oysters. This quaint Outer Cape town, just south of Provincetown, is annual home to the raucous Wellfleet Oyster Festival. Whether you make it to the festival or not, Mac’s Hog Wash makes for a great complement to oysters of any origin or type. Try it out on a bunch of oysters from your local seafood market, and see what you think.

Remove the seeds and core from the jalapeño pepper and red Fresno chili, and dice them small. Clean the cilantro and lightly chop it. Dice the shallots, and zest and juice the lime. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl with the seasoned and unseasoned rice wine vinegars, and peppers, and let the sauce rest for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to bloom.

When the sauce is done resting, grab a spoon and splash it over freshly shucked oysters. There should be enough to cover a few dozen oysters. Store any leftover sauce in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Hog Wash only gets better with age.

Tip: Seasoned rice wine vinegar is made by adding sugar and salt (or sometimes sake) to plain white rice vinegar. Commercially produced bottles of seasoned rice wine vinegar are clearly labeled as “seasoned” and are available in most markets where regular rice wine vinegar is sold.


Smoked Fish Paté

Chatham Pier Fish Market, Chatham

1-1⁄2 pounds cream cheese, softened

1-1⁄2 pounds smoked fish

(bluefish, salmon, and trout are good choices)

1⁄8 cup lemon juice

1⁄2 cup mayonnaise

1⁄2 tablespoon Tabasco sauce

1⁄4 cup horseradish

1⁄2 tablespoon black pepper

1⁄4 cup parsley

Why pay high prices for fancy pâté when you can make your own at home with some smoked fish from your local seafood market? This recipe calls for a large party bowl of pâté, but you may always reduce each ingredient and make a smaller batch.

Soften the cream cheese by leaving it out at room temperature for an hour or two.

Place the softened cream cheese into a large bowl. Break or chop the smoked fish into small, bite-size pieces, and place the pieces in the bowl with the cream cheese. Add the lemon juice, mayonnaise, Tabasco, horseradish, black pepper, and parsley, and mix well. Refrigerate the mixture for at least two hours to allow the flavors to come together. Transfer to a serving dish, and serve at room temperature for best flavor. Serves 12.

Red Clam Sauce with Pasta

The Friendly Fisherman, North Eastham

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1-2 large cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons oregano, chopped

(dried is fine, but fresh is best)

2 tablespoons basil, chopped

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

9-10 fresh quahog clams (or 1 pint minced clams)

1 cup clam broth

1 29-ounce can crushed tomatoes,

or equivalent freshly diced

1 5-ounce can tomato paste

1 pound linguine or thin spaghetti

1 cup Romano cheese, grated

Here’s a simple clam sauce recipe from the humble, charming Friendly Fisherman seafood market and shack on the highway to Wellfleet and Provincetown. At its simplest, this sauce may be served straight up with pasta. It also makes a great base for bolder versions of seafood pasta as well. Just add whatever else you like-shrimp, fish, scallops, lobster-and enjoy a seafood-packed bowl of pasta!

In a large pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil, then add the garlic and herbs. Turn the heat down and simmer until the garlic is softened but not burned.

To prepare the sauce using quahogs, steam them open in a covered pot with two cups or so of water in the bottom, and reserve the water (this is now your clam broth). Shuck the clams and mince the meat in a food processor. If you’re using minced clams, add them to the pot with the simmering garlic and herbs, along with the cup of clam juice. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, and let it all simmer slowly for at least one hour.

Near the end of the simmering, bring a large pot of water to boil, and cook the pasta al dente, then strain and divide into serving bowls. Ladle the sauce on top of each serving, and sprinkle each with the Romano cheese. Serves 5-6.

Tips: crushed red pepper flakes go great on top of this. You may also add more or less broth to make the clam sauce thicker or thinner.


Smoky Monkfish and Mussels Marinara

Mac’s Seafood, Wellfleet

1⁄4 cup olive oil

1 sweet onion (one cup, chopped fine)

1 small shallot (2 tablespoons, minced)

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons smoked pimentón

(sweet paprika from Spain)

2–3 sprigs fresh thyme

(or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)

1 cup white wine

2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, in their juices

18 littleneck clams

18 mussels

2-1⁄4 pounds monkfish fillets

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1⁄2 cup fresh parsley, minced

Crusty country bread, toasted

1⁄2 cup muhammara (roasted red pepper dip), optional

This has to be one of the tastiest, most exotic seafood stews you’ll encounter on Cape Cod or anywhere in New England. The combination of monkfish (otherwise known as poor man’s lobster), clams, and mussels with a spicy, tomato-based stew is irresistible and makes a great feast for family and friends.

Warm the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or stew pot over medium heat. Add the minced onion, shallot, and garlic, and sauté gently for a minute or two until aromatic (don’t let the aromatics brown, or they’ll taste bitter). Stir in the red pepper flakes, the pimentón, and the thyme. Add the wine and simmer for just a minute, then add the tomatoes—juice and all—to form a stew. Break up the tomatoes if you’re using the whole variety.

While the stew simmers for a few minutes longer, scrub the clams and mussels in cold water to remove any sand and grit. If the mussels have beards, firmly pull them against the shell to cut them off. Trim the membranes off the monkfish fillets, cut them into big, thick medallions or chunks, and salt and pepper them generously.

Drop the clams into the pot first, to be followed by the monkfish. To build flavor with the monkfish, heat a skillet on the stove top, drizzle in a little olive oil, and sear the monkfish on one side, to get it nice and caramelized before you add it to the pot. (You may skip the searing, if you wish.)

Once the clams just begin to open, lay in the monkfish pieces and poke them down gently into the bubbling stew. Simmer for just a few minutes, then add the mussels. Keep things simmering until all the shellfish are open (discard any that don’t open) and the monkfish is cooked up white and firm. Serve in big, wide bowls with minced parsley and toasty sliced bread on top. Serves 6.

Optional: Slather some muhammara on the bread slices before placing the bread on top of the stew.

Chatham Pier Crab Cakes

Chatham Pier Fish Market, Chatham

6 pounds crabmeat

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons Grey Poupon Dijon mustard

1 cup diced onion

1/2 cup diced celery

1/4 cup diced red bell pepper

1 teaspoon diced fresh garlic

1/4 cup dry parsley flakes

3 cups panko or breadcrumbs


6 eggs

1-1/2 cups of water

3 cups dried panko

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) salted butter

These crab cakes from Chatham Pier are a bit more exotic than most, with an egg wash, Dijon mustard, diced bell pepper, and parsley flakes. And they’re chock full of tasty crabmeat, the key ingredient for any good crab cake recipe.

Mix all of the ingredients, except the eggs, water, panko, and butter in a large mixing bowl, adding the crabmeat last, to make sure the crabmeat stays intact. Using your clean hands, form the mixture into 15 flat, round cakes about 3 inches in diameter and 3/4 inch thick. Set aside.

Make an egg wash by combining the eggs and water in a shallow dish, and whisking thoroughly. Dip the formed cakes gently into the egg wash, then coat each one on all sides with panko or breadcrumbs. Let the cakes stand and firm up in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Melt the butter in a large skillet, and sauté the cakes in batches on both sides until a golden amber color is achieved, about 3 minutes per side. Serve warm. Makes 15 cakes.

Haddock au Gratin

Cape Codder Seafood Market, West Yarmouth


1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons onion, chopped

3 cups light cream

Pinch of salt

Cornstarch slurry (follow instructions on the box)

2 cups light yellow shredded cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon cooking sherry


1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crumbled finely

1 pound haddock

(cod or any other white fish may be substituted)

Lemon juice (optional)

This old-time seafood market on Route 28 in the heart of touristy Cape Cod has weathered lots of ups and downs. One of the consistently favorite dishes they’ve made over the years in their prepared foods section is this belly-warming rendition of baked haddock, with a rich, creamy, crunchy au gratin coating.

To make the au gratin sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan, and sauté the onion in the butter over medium heat. Add the cream and salt, bring the mixture to steaming without boiling, and slowly stir in the cornstarch slurry until the sauce thickens. Turn off the heat and add the cheese and sherry, stirring constantly until thoroughly mixed and thickened. (It’s good to make the sauce thick, as the fish will release its juices while it cooks, giving the sauce a nice consistency.)

To make the crumb coating, melt the stick of butter in another saucepan, and mix in the Ritz crumbs. Set aside, or do this ahead of time. Keep any extra buttered crumbs in the freezer for another time.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pour and spread half the cheese sauce into a baking pan, and place the fillets on top of the layers of sauce. Spread the rest of the cheese sauce over the fish fillets, and top it with the buttered crumb mix. You may wish to squeeze some lemon juice on top before baking.

Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the fillets are golden brown on top.

Variation: Add scallops, shrimp, and/or lobster meat to make the dish a seafood au gratin.


Lemon Soy Grilled Swordfish

Nauset Fish and Lobster Pool, Orleans


4 garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup white wine

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon poultry seasoning

Salt and pepper to taste

1 pound swordfish fillets

Lemon slices and parsley for garnish

This swordfish marinade is easy to make and brings out new dimensions from this flavorful fish.

Place all the ingredients except the fillets, lemon slices, and parsley in a shallow baking dish and mix well. Place the fillets in the mix, flipping them over once or twice for a thorough coating, then refrigerate for 1 hour. Grill the fillets over high heat for 5 to 6 minutes per side. Remove from the grill and let stand for a few minutes to let the cooking finish. Garnish with lemon slices on the side and parsley sprigs on the top. Serves 2.

Sweet and Spicy Sriracha Glazed Salmon

Nauset Fish and Lobster Pool, Orleans

1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sriracha (more or less, to taste)

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1 pound wild king salmon fillet, cut into two pieces

1-1/2 teaspoons sesame oil

The spicy, flavorful sriracha of Thai origin livens up this dish’s sauce, which is a great complement to fresh, wild king salmon fillets.

In a one-gallon Ziplock bag, combine the soy sauce, honey, rice vinegar, sriracha, ginger, and garlic. Put the salmon in the bag, zip the bag shut, and shake lightly until the two fillets are coated. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, to let the flavors soak into the fillets.

Heat the sesame oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Brown the salmon pieces in the skillet, about 2 minutes per side. Pour the remaining marinade into the pan over the salmon, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook until the salmon is cooked through, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Serves 2.

Bay Scallops Provencal

Nauset Fish and Lobster Pool, Orleans

1 pound bay scallops

Salt and pepper

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided

1/2 cup chopped shallots

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1/3 cup white wine

1 lemon

Bay scallops are a seasonal specialty on Cape Cod and the islands, and are only available fresh from late fall through winter. This simple recipe brings out the essence of these delicacies, and their mild flavor pairs well with simple vegetable, potato, or rice sides, or with a salad with vinaigrette dressing.

Sprinkle the scallops lightly with salt and pepper. Toss them in the flour, and shake off the excess.

In a large sauté pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter until sizzling. Add the scallops in one layer, until each browns lightly on one side. Turn the scallops and brown on the other side.

Add the shallots, garlic, and parsley, and melt in the remaining butter. Sauté for 2 minutes, then add the wine. Serve hot with lemon slices. Serves 2 to 3.

Baked Bluefish for the Grill or Oven

The Friendly Fisherman, North Eastham

1 skinned bluefish fillet,
approximately 6-8 ounces


1/2 onion, diced

1/2 green pepper, diced

1/2 red pepper, diced

Salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste

One of the keys to cooking up really good bluefish is to get it as fresh as possible. Short of catching the bluefish yourself, your local seafood market is the best bet for getting the freshest possible fillets. This recipe, from the Friendly Fisherman on the outer reaches of Cape Cod, calls for wrapping the bluefish in aluminum foil with a bunch of fresh, chopped vegetables for a meal in a packet.

Place the bluefish fillet in foil large enough to seal it up completely. Spread the mayonnaise over the entire fillet. Add the onion and pepper. Sprinkle the salt, pepper, and lemon juice over the top. Seal the foil loosely, creating a packet. Place the packet on a medium-high grill for 25 minutes, or bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. The fish will be light in color, flaky, and fork-tender when done. Serves 1 (create more individual packets for additional servings). 

NESeafoodMrktCookbookRecipes reprinted with permission from “The New England Seafood Markets Cookbook” (Countryman Press), by Mike Urban, $19.95.

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