The Boat House waterfront dining restaurant in Tiverton is a fine place for enjoying seafood with a view. For the past 2 1/2 years, executive chef Marissa Lo has been building on the restaurant's seafood game, bringing it up a notch. In fact, her Mediterranean Swordfish Burger received the most votes in the Newport Burger Bender's non-beef burger category. The competition was stiff with 36 restaurants participating with a total of 48 burgers in three categories.
That's why we invited her to chat about food and prepare her winning patty for a Small Bites cooking video.
The burger starts with fresh ground swordfish, Narragansett Creamery Sea Salty Feta, house-pickled onions, frisée, and a Kalamata and red pepper aioli, served on a toasted brioche bun.
“My goal was to deliver all the flavor and textural components that make a burger satisfying while showcasing locally sourced seafood,” she said.
Lo is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University with a decade of experience working with local seafood as a chef at Legal Sea Foods in many of their Massachusetts restaurants, including Chestnut Hill, Hingham, Framingham, Harborside, and opening the new Braintree site. She grew up in Cranston and graduated from Cranston East. She was just 19 when she started at Legal Sea Foods in Warwick.
Legal provided not just her seafood education but also a wine education, working with the late Sandy Block who directed the wine service for the chain. For Lo, the pandemic, which shut down the Boat House for two months, had some positives for her and the restaurant.
"It allowed us to reset," she said. "It was like an opening."
This gave her the chance to own the menu.
"I saw it as an opportunity," Lo added.
But it has also been a challenge to find new efficiencies for operating, from menu development to execution. It demands cross utilizing everything in the kitchen, she said. That's how she came to develop her swordfish burger.
"It's a great way to use leftover swordfish after I cut up the steaks," she said.
Lo's signature is to serve a menu that reflects coastal New England with local sourcing of seafood. She said all of her scallops come off the fishing boat Karen Elizabeth, which fishes the Atlantic from Point Judith. All the restaurant's squid also comes from Point Judith.
Among Boat House's specialties are fish and chips and baked stuffed lobsters. Lo sources meet from Blackbird Farm. This summer, her produce will come from Little Compton's Young Family Farm and Four Town Farm in Seekonk. Even her hot sauce is local as she buys Deja Hart's Rhed's Hot Sauce. Lo also teased that there could be an expansion of the restaurant.
As for her recipe, Lo offers these tips:
- To get the ground swordfish from a piece of fish, use an ice-cold meat grinder or a food processor.
- While fresh dill is preferred, you can easily use dried dill. It will absorb moisture from the swordfish.
- If you want to substitute for the shallots, Vidalia or red onions would be fine.
- Don't substitute for the Narragansett Salty Sea Feta. "It's hands-down the best feta cheese," she said.
- Do not add salt to the burger. Because of the brine in the feta, it highlights the natural sea salt flavor.
- When adding the feta to the ground swordfish, don't break up the cheese too much. You want chunks so you can get good caramelization from it.
- A canola/olive oil blend is best for frying. It can stand high heat and you get flavor from the olive oil. "If you use just olive oil, then it will burn and you’ll have an acidic flavor," she said.
- Seafood doesn’t have to be cooked as much as a beef patty. Don't use high heat but keep it at medium. You want it to cook the burger all the way through, not sear either side.
For the Kalamata and red pepper aioli:
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 3 ounces roasted red peppers, finely chopped
- 1 ounce Kalamata olives, chopped
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
For the burger patty:
- 14 ounces fresh ground raw swordfish (use an ice-cold meat grinder or a food processor)
- 2 teaspoons minced shallots
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill
- 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 3 ounces Narragansett Creamery Sea Salty Feta
- 2 brioche hamburger rolls, split, buttered and griddled
- 4-6 pickle chips
- 1 ounce pickled red onions
- 1 ounce frisee/radicchio greens mix
Makes two burgers.
To make the aioli: Blend the mayo, red peppers, olives, garlic and black pepper until smooth. Set aside.
To make the burger: Gently mix the swordfish with the shallots, garlic, parsley, dill, pepper and mustard. Break up the feta cheese and blend it into the swordfish, but so you still see cheese chunks. Make two patties.
Heat a frypan at medium heat. Put about a tablespoon blend of canola and olive oil into the hot pan. Add the patty and let it cook. You want the heat low enough to cook it through. You are not looking for a sear. Flip it over several times.
Moisture will release. The cheese will ooze out as it cooks. You are looking for a nice golden brown on the burger for it to be done.
Once the burgers are done and resting, toast the buns in the frypan. Melt a small amount of butter and add the roll tops and bottoms. Leave only for a short time.
To assemble: Evenly distribute aioli on both halves of the toasted bun.
Assemble in this order: pickles (on the bottom), pickled onions and burger. Spoon more aioli over the burger as a cascade. Top with the greens and bun top. Secure with a bamboo pick.
Repeat with second burger.
Notes: You can buy any pickles you like.
If you don't want to make the aioli, you can buy one. You can also mix Dijon mustard with mayo and a little pickle juice for a quick blend.