Old Sour Seafood Salad

  • Active Time 40m
  • Total Time 25h 40m

Serves 6

We first learned about old sour on Harbour Island in the Bahamas, where we once bought a Bacardi bottle of the seafood seasoning, labeled by hand as "Patricia's." We've used it for years now, but we're novices with the concoction compared to the old-line "Conchs" in the Florida Keys, the native-born residents, who originally boasted a family link to Bahamians. Conchs made the elementary brew as a way to preserve the tangy juice of key limes when the fruit went out of season. They would just add salt and often chile to the juice, and then store it in a used liquor bottle to keep as a table sauce for years to come. The locals would feature their namesake conch as the main seafood in this salad, but given its scarcity in most markets, we suggest scallops as a substitute. Another Atlantic delicacy rarely eaten until well into the nineteenth century, scallops taste similar to conch in some ways, but lack its gritty toughness, so prized in the Keys.


  • For the Old Sour:
  • 2 cups fresh key lime juice, preferably, or other lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 or more small hot dried red chilies, optional
  • For the Seafood Salad:
  • 12 small clams, such as littleneck clams or cherrystones
  • 1 lime, halved
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly milled black pepper
  • 1-2 small hot dried red chilies, or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/4 pounds large shrimp, shelled, and, if you wish, deveined
  • 10-12 sea scallops, halved or quartered if larger than bite-size, or 3/4 pound conch, diced
  • 3/4 pound red snapper or other white fish fillets, cut in bite-size chunks
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup minced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Several splashes of hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  • Paprika
  • Key limes, halved, or other limes, quartered lengthwise



Old sour is normally made ahead and stored for at least 4-6 weeks before serving. That kind of aging definitely benefits it, but if you're raring to toss together this refreshing seafood feast, even a day's aging will begin to develop the distinctive tang. Simply mix together the ingredients and pour into a small-necked bottle. With a rubber band or string, secure a small square of double thickness cheesecloth over the top and leave the bottle uncapped. Store in a cool dark cabinet until ready to use. After the old sour has aged a month or more, remove the cheesecloth and cap or cork the bottle. It keeps indefinitely at room temperature.


Cook the clams and shrimp separately for best taste and texture. First dump the clams, 1/2 - 1 inch of water and 1 tablespoon of old sour in a large saucepan. Steam over high heat until the clams open, 5-8 minutes. Discard any clams that don't open within several minutes of the others. Chill the clams for at least 1 hour. Drain the pan and rinse it.

Pour 8 cups of water in the pan and add 1 tablespoon of the old sour. Squeeze the lime into the water and then toss in the rinds. Add the bay leaves, salt, pepper and chilies, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 5-10 minutes to flavor the water. Stir in the shrimp and cook over high heat for just 2 minutes. (The water should just come back to a boil in this time.)

Immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour off half the cooking liquid. Pour the remaining liquid and shrimp into a bowl and add a half-dozen ice cubes. Place the bowl in the freezer, if you have space, or alternatively in the refrigerator. Cool the shrimp briefly until cold to the touch. Pour off the remaining liquid, cover and refrigerate the shrimp for at least 1 hour.

While the clams and shrimp cool, mix together the scallops and fish in a large bowl with enough old sour to moisten the mixture, 4-6 tablespoons. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to "cook" in the old sour. Gently stir in the clams and shrimp, along with the bell pepper, onion, oil, hot pepper sauce and parsley. Serve in chilled stemmed glasses or clear glass bowls, if possible, to show the colors and shapes. Dust each portion with paprika and garnish with limes right before serving.

Recipe reprinted by permission of Broadway Books. All rights reserved.

RecID 4178

nutrition information per serving

258 calories; 7g total fat; 175mg cholesterol; 2537mg sodium; 12g carbohydrates; 1g fiber; 36g protein

These nutrition facts are calculated according to the ingredients listed in this recipe. Any substitutions will change these facts. Although we strive for accuracy, please note that food manufacturers occasionally change their food formulas, which could affect the calculations as shown.

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