a seafood tower made of glass cake stands laden with oysters, clams and lobsterProduced by Aimee Nishitoba; photography by Carmen Cheung; food styling by Matthew Kimura; prop styling by Madeleine Johari; illustrations by Emily Chu.

How To Build An Epic Seafood Tower

Send the year off in style with this easy-to-pull off feast customizable to every taste and budget.

This French bistro staple of cooked and raw seafood arranged on tiered plates is a stunner—and an ideal meal to make in advance for the holidays. There’s no right way to build a seafood tower: Mix and match your favourite elements and serve on stacked plates or display across the table in a festive spread. We’ve made it easy to pull off a restaurant-quality one at home with a make-ahead game plan, step-by-step recipes and seafood options for every taste and budget.

The Shellfish

an oval plate of clamsBeer Clams
How To Build An Epic Seafood TowerThe Most Succulent Shrimp Cocktail

Beer Clams

Littleneck clams shine after a quick beer bath and a squeeze of lemon. Drizzle them with drawn butter or hot sauce. Get this clams recipe.

The Most Succulent Shrimp Cocktail

Court bouillon—an aromatic broth made from white wine, lemon juice and shrimp shells—is key to this recipe’s flavourful and tender shrimp. Get this shrimp cocktail recipe.

Sections of prepared lobster on a plate with dishes of butterEasy Boiled Lobster
How To Build An Epic Seafood TowerSpanish Mussels

Easy Boiled Lobster

To add a bit of luxury to your tower, include lobster. Here, we make it simple to cook at home. If you’re not ready to dive into making fresh lobster yet, most supermarkets with a seafood counter will cook the lobster for you. Get this boiled lobster recipe.

Spanish Mussels

Reminiscent of European tinned mussels, these paprika-spiced beauties can be made up to 2 days ahead. Get this mussels recipe.

How To Build An Epic Seafood Tower

The Raw Bar

Once you’ve mastered the easy-to-learn art of shucking them, oysters are a delightful addition to any seafood feast.

How do I tell if they’re fresh? Separate any oysters with open shells. Tap the shell on the counter: If the oyster snaps closed, it’s alive and can be used; if it doesn’t, it should be discarded.

How long do oysters last? Live oysters are best consumed within 2 days of purchase; however, they have a 5-day shelf life when stored properly in a cold refrigerator.

What do I serve them with? Anything you like! A squeeze of lemon, a grating of horseradish, even a splash of gin. We also have three delicious and easy mignonette sauce recipes that can be made in advance and stored in the fridge: a classic vinegar mignonette, a ponzu-ish mignonette, and a chimichurri mignonette.

blinis with sour cream, caviar and trout roe

Buckwheat Blinis

Made with a mix of buckwheat and all-purpose flours, these blinis can be prepared several days in advance. Get this blini recipe.

The Sauces

Butter

Drawn butter is a classic dipping option for cooked lobster, crab legs, or shrimp. We have a simple method for making it in advance, and some fun recipes to spice it up just before serving.

Classic Drawn Butter

Garlic Cajun Butter

Brown Butter Caper Sauce

Cocktail Sauce

Inspired by the classic cocktail, this cocktail sauce recipe makes a great dip for lettuce cups topped with shrimp or oysters. Hint: short on time and ingredients? Sriracha stirred into store-bought cocktail sauce has similar flavour and is ready in seconds.

mussels, shrimps and langoustines with cups of sauce

The Game Plan

How To Handle Cooked Lobster

Before diving in, remember that it’s impossible to shell a lobster without making a big mess; that’s why lobster bibs exist. You’ll need a rimmed baking sheet covered with a kitchen towel, a nutcracker or heavy chef’s knife and a fork.

hands pulling flippers off lobster

Holding lobster over baking sheet, twist the claws and pull out to remove.

snipping claw off lobster arm

Crack each claw with a nutcracker or the dull side of the blade of a chef’s knife.

breaking body from tail

Separate the tail from the body by arching the back until it cracks and then twisting and pulling out the tail.

How To Build An Epic Seafood Tower

Bend back the tail and break the flippers off.

Pulling meat out of tail

Insert a fork into the tail opening and push the meat out the other end.

snipping head off

Pull the shell with the head off the body. The body cavity contains the tomalley, or liver, of the lobster, which is edible and turns green when cooked. If the lobster was female, you may find orange roe in here as well.

Illustrations by Emily Chu.

The low-stress approach to this high-impact spread? Start early and take your time.

Three Days Before

  • Buy all ingredients except seafood.
  • Buy ice, pound ice (to make crushed ice) and store in freezer bags. Make Caesar-Style Cocktail Sauce.

Two Days Before

  • Buy all seafood and follow refrigeration and preparation tips. Ask your fishmonger for decorative seaweed, if desired.
  • Make Spanish Mussels.
  • Arrange oysters, if using, on a baking sheet, cupped-side up, covered with a damp kitchen towel in the refrigerator.
  • Make Buckwheat Blinis and store in an airtight container.
  • Make The Most Succulent Shrimp Cocktail.

One Day Before

  • Make drawn butters of choice.
  • Make Easy Boiled Lobster; crack open and reserve meat, claws and head for display.
  • Prepare crab legs, if serving.
  • Make mignonettes of choice.
  • Shuck oysters and leave on shell. Place in an airtight container in the coldest spot in the refrigerator or change temperature to coldest setting, if possible.

Two Hours Before

  • Make Beer Clams.
  • Arrange serving bowls for shells, small plates and serving platter for blinis (and blini toppings) to allow guests to build their own, if desired.
  • Break up crushed ice (if clumped together) for display tower and arrange seaweed.

One Hour Before

  • Arrange oysters on a platter with crushed ice and refrigerate.
  • Build the tower and keep refrigerated on ice.

a line drawing of a fresh prawn

Prawn Prep 101

While they’re optional, prawns look impressive on a seafood tower. To prepare them (up to 1 day ahead), cut along back of prawn with kitchen shears to expose vein; remove vein with a paring knife. Toss prawns with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper. Heat a greased grill pan over medium-high; add prawns in batches and cook, turning until shells are bright red and flesh is cooked, 4 to 5 min. Sprinkle with additional salt and pepper and let cool.

a line drawing of snow crab legs

King Crab Legs

Frozen king crab legs are already cooked and just require a quick reheat. Thaw in fridge overnight. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add crab and return to a simmer for 6 min. Remove crab, let cool and chill for up to 2 days. Pat dry before serving.