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   A Perfect Change-Up With
   Bluefish, Sausage and Clams

   by Sam Sifton

  WESTPORT, Mass. - Wherever Chris Schlesinger goes, padding barefoot around his beachfront property here, there is fire. Everywhere is the scent of burning oak and the shimmery sight of heat rising from a grill. He might be preparing food. He might simply be getting rid of some old chairs, sending them to carbon in a whoosh of burning gasoline. At his restaurant, the East Coast Grill, in Cambridge, Mass., fire is as important a part of his cooking as the ingredients themselves. It is his friend and his playmate. He likes to burn.

  "Everybody stresses recipes, but it doesn't work that way," he said, piling fresh logs onto glowing coals in the round fire pit he dug into his patio six years ago. "Technique is the whole deal." He pointed to the resulting flames, which were roughly equivalent in size and demeanor to a chained pit bull.

  "Start with your fire," he said. "You're going to cook clams on a grill, you want a big fire."

  On the menu: littleneck clams dug from the sandy flats of the Westport River, which runs north from here on the tide, parallel to the Rhode Island border. Also local bluefish, filleted and grilled alongside a few lengths of chourico, the garlicky pork sausage that is made in nearby New Bedford by the great-great-grandchildren of Portuguese whaling men. Pork and shellfish are a classic Portuguese combination, he explained. And here on the shore of Buzzards Bay, where the blues come in summer as surely as the tourists, bluefish goes into the mix as well.

  "I cook from a lot of larders," he said. Dishes of Southern barbecue, Jamaican jerk, Vietnamese street food and Italian country cuisine have all appeared on the menu of the East Coast Grill. "But to each plate a larder, no mixing. Here we're making straight-up Portuguese-American food."

  Mr. Schlesinger left his fire to roar, and went to arrange the disparate elements of his meal. He diced tomatoes and put them in a bowl. He minced garlic and put it in a bowl. Chopped parsley, likewise. He put the three bowls into a large disposable roasting pan, and added to this load a halved lemon, two lengths of chourico, sliced lengthwise, a bag of fresh clams and a plate with four bluefish fillets on it. He took all this to the grill, a bottle of white wine under one arm and a bottle of olive oil under the other. There was a pepper grinder in his back pocket, and he held a container of sea salt under his chin. His walking gait was stooped and hurried. He was doing the griller's shuffle.

  At the fire, Mr. Schlesinger unloaded his goods and put a squat grill over the flames. First he put the chourico on, off to the side. Chourico is fat and mild and long, quite unlike chorizo, the squat, spicy and much denser Mexican sausage with which it is often confused. It seized up a little in the heat, and began to sweat. Then he added the fish, lightly oiled and seasoned, skin side up, to the center of the grill.

  "The fish is the hardest part of this," he said, "so I like to get it out of the way first. You want a clean grill, a little oil on the fish but not too much, and once the thing is on the grill, you don't want to touch it. Don't touch it at all."

  Next up were the clams, which nestled between the grill grates. He turned the pieces of chourico over. He stared at the fire. "You've got to start moving now," Mr. Schlesinger said, putting the empty roasting pan onto the grill. He added a few dollops of olive oil and the garlic, and swirled these around in the heat as if he were inside and sautéeing something on the stove. Then he looked at the fish and a timer seemed to go off in his head: four minutes elapsed. "Those are ready to go," he said, and worried them over with his tongs. They did not stick.

  He put the tomatoes into the roasting pan, and a few glugs of wine. Then the chourico. As the clams began to sputter and open in the heat, he used the tongs to place them alongside the sausage. The fire was dying a little, what with all the water coming out of the shellfish. Mr. Schlesinger was wearing a Red Sox jersey autographed by Jim Lonborg, the right-hander who won the Cy Young award in 1967 with a 22-9 record, and he looked a little nervous, down in the count.

  He gently pulled at the fish with his tongs. It was done, and furthermore did not stick, and he placed the fillets in the pan. Then he squeezed the lemon over the whole and swirled the mixture around. Added the parsley. And moved the whole business over the center of the fire. "We'll just let that all mingle for a moment and get hot," he said, and walked to the kitchen as if to his dugout, smiling a little.

  To serve the meal to four people, Mr. Schlesinger slid the food out of the pan into a serving dish with high sides. Each person got a fillet in a bowl, with some of the clams and a piece of chourico, along with some of the accumulated sauce beneath them — somehow both smoky and oceanic, bright but with a deep, ruddy flavor.

  "Here's the thing about recipes," he said. "You can follow them as close as you like, but the recipe doesn't know how big or small your fire is, or whether you have a four-ounce fillet or a six-ounce one or even what the temperature outside is." He pulled at the shoulder of his baseball jersey and wiped his brow with the material. "You have got to have the confidence to screw things up," he said.

  • Recipe: Grilled Bluefish With Chourico and Clams

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