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Off the Menu: Food From the Reef

Chef Bryan Caswell dishes about a seafood-oriented Thanksgiving dinner.
WebMD Magazine - Feature

Bryan Caswell roasts turkeys for Thanksgiving but not for his own family. Instead, Caswell drops them off at two fire stations in his native Houston, along with stuffing, white beans, and cornbread. He gets his own holiday dinner south of the border.

'After I make those deliveries, it's onto a plane and off to Mexico, where none of us cook," says Caswell, 39, chef and owner of Reef in Houston's Midtown. In Puerto Vallarta, he and his relatives dine on traditional Mexican coastal dishes, and that means lots of fish. It may not be a typical Thanksgiving spread -- with the exception of his mother's roasted squash topped with blueberries and shallots -- but for Caswell, it hits all the right notes. 'At Thanksgiving, the most important thing for us is not the food but being together."

Caswell has earned his time off. Since he opened the seafood-centric Reef in 2007, he has been named one of the Top 10 Best New Chefs by Food & Wine magazine and nominated twice for a James Beard Award. In 2008, Bon Appetit voted Reef the best seafood restaurant in the United States.

At Reef, fried mac and cheese and braised collards share the menu with kimchi and sweet and sour chard. His shrimp salad recipe blends some of his favorite flavors and, he says, it would fit right in on any holiday table. 'It's a perfect starter salad, light and crisp before a heavier Thanksgiving turkey dinner."

Tips From Bryan Caswell

His favorite food: "Simply grilled fish just off the boat, with a little lemon and a little salad -- that's perfect."

Where he gets his best recipe ideas: "On the last mile of a run, something will often pop into my head. But inspiration can come from anywhere; you just have to be open to it."

The one lesson he thinks every home cook should learn: "Don't overcook your seafood. It only needs a little heat to be done, just to the point where it's slightly opaque."

Steamed Shrimp and Haricot Vert Salad

Makes 4 servings


16 large shrimp, butterflied

1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter

Dash of kosher salt

Cayenne pepper (optional)

1 Tbsp Champagne or white wine vinegar

2 Tbsp water

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp sherry vinegar

1/2 Tbsp grapeseed or other neutral flavored vegetable oil      

1/2 Tbsp hazelnut oil

2 cups haricots verts, cooked, or green beans, cooked and halved lengthwise

1/4 Fresno or jalapeno chili, julienned

2-3 shallots, thinly sliced into rings

1/4 cup pea shoots or other medium sprout

1/4 cup toasted pecan halves


1. Season shrimp with kosher salt and pepper.

2. Butter a small baking dish and add vinegar and water. Add shrimp in a single layer and steam uncovered in a 250 F oven until done, about 8-10 minutes.

3. Reserve cooking liquid, warm, and set aside.

4. To make dressing, mix soy sauce and vinegar together; slowly whisk in the oils until combined.

5. Toss salad ingredients in 3-4 Tbsp of dressing, then mound in center of four plates. Add a few pecans to each.

6. Place shrimp around the outside and drizzle some of the cooking liquid on them.

Per serving: 175 calories, 8 g protein, 7 g carbohydrate, 13 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 54 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 430 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 65%.

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Reviewed on September 12, 2012

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