Posts Tagged ‘Scallops’

Scallops, Water Spinach, Spaetzle

February 26, 2010

Ingredients: scallops, Chinese water spinach, bamboo, garlic, ginger, Shaoxing rice wine, peanut oil, sesame oil, ghee, cornstarch, black pepper, salt.
Served with: spaetzle.

I came back from a recent trip to Malmö with a bunch of new things to try. At the top of the list was a bag of Chinese water spinach. I’d grabbed it from an Asian market without any idea what it was; it just looked fresh and healthy. I highly recommend this tactic as a way to learn about new fruits and vegetables.

[Side note: our new fruit of choice, the nashi pear, is a result of one such blind-purchase experiment. They’re absolutely delicious, crisp like an apple but with subtle pear flavor and a hint of bubblegum. That’s right, they taste like bubblegum. Awesome.]

So what is water spinach?* It’s a tall flowering marsh plant with skinny hollow stalks and long flat leaves, and it is completely unrelated to regular spinach (except in terms of taste and texture). You don’t need to know any of this if you’re American, though. The USDA classifies Ipomoea aquatica as a “Noxious Weed” and prohibits its cultivation, sale, or possession. Oh, there’s no health risk to eating water spinach (after all, it is a popular crop in China and most of Southeast Asia). The bad rap comes from its tendency to aggressively multiply and crowd out other plant species; it’s noxious to the environment.

Come on, American plants. Is that how you deal with a bully? Whine to the USDA?

I decided to make a simple Chinese stir-fry with the water spinach, and to serve it as an accompaniment to seared scallops. [I’ve written about how to properly sear scallops before, here and here, so that’s all I’ll say about them now. Well, okay, I’ll also admit that they were delectable.]

I snipped the water spinach stalks into finger lengths, and sautéed them in peanut oil with garlic, ginger, and slivered bamboo shoots. Like regular spinach, it seemed to be thoroughly cooked in about a minute. I flavored the stir-fry with Shaoxing rice wine, salt & pepper, and a swirl of sesame oil. I also added a little cornstarch slurry to thicken it up.

White rice would have been an appropriate starch for this meal. Instead, I opted for a package of fresh spaetzle (German-style grated pasta dough) from a Polish grocery store. The last time I had spaetzle was probably 20 years ago, frozen together with Birds Eye® green beans and defrosted by Mom. I loved that stuff. This was much, much better. In fact, I’d like to learn how to make it from scratch… that will have to be another post.

* — aka. ong choy (Chinese); rau muong (Vietnamese); kangkong (Malay); pak bung (Thai); kankon (Japanese).

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Spaghetti with Clam Sauce & Seared Scallops

November 12, 2009

scallop-clamsauce

Ingredients: spaghetti, scallops, clams, green peas, butter, olive oil, flour, garlic, parsley, oregano, lemon, Parmigiano-Reggiano, chili flakes, black pepper, salt.

One item I always bring back with me to Sweden is canned clams. Canned mussels are sold here, but they have no texture at all, and pretty weak flavor. Canned clams kick so much ass in comparison. I love their seashore aroma and just-chewiness.

The best part, however, is the broth they are packed in. It’s liquid gold! If I didn’t have to smuggle the stuff, I would add it to just about everything I make. Clam broth has such a bright, warm, mineral-rich taste. It’s also a natural way to get more umami in your mouthful.

What I decided to make with my very last can of clams (until next visit home) is a simple classic from childhood: Mom’s spaghetti with clam sauce. She used to make huge batches of this, with plenty of plump tiger shrimp on top. If this wasn’t my favorite of her specialties, it was certainly near the top.

Here, as you can see, I chose to swap the tiger shrimp for seared scallops. They tasted just as good as they look! First I defrosted them slowly in cold water overnight (to preserve texture), then dried them thoroughly by wrapping them in paper towels for an hour. Scallops need to be as dry as possible before searing, or else they stay jellylike and don’t pick up any color in the pan. It’s also important not to move them once they start cooking; this is another way to ensure a nice crust.

I seared the scallops in ghee, which is the Indian name for clarified butter (which is when butter is simmered and skimmed of all water and milk solids). I like using ghee for jobs like this, because unlike whole butter, it doesn’t burn on high heat. Analogously, this is why “regular” olive oil should be used for frying, as opposed to Extra Virgin.

The sauce for the spaghetti was easy. I melted whole butter (not ghee) in a pan on low heat with some olive oil, then lightly sauteed 2 diced cloves of garlic in it for a minute. To this I added parsley, oregano, chili flakes, salt, pepper, and a big pinch of white flour, making sure not to burn anything. Then I poured in the clam broth, plus the juice from half a lemon, and let the sauce simmer and thicken. This is a good time for frozen peas to be added, because they help to quickly lower the temperature. I dropped the chopped clams in last, because they are pre-cooked and easily overdone.

I tossed the sauce with hot spaghetti, sprinkled a generous amount of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on top, and served it with the seared scallops. I’m sure Mom would be proud of this one.

Scallops & Chanterelles with Edamame Risotto

August 3, 2009

risotto_scallop

Ingredients: arborio rice, onion, edamame, parsley, Grana Padano cheese, vegetable stock, beer, dry sherry, butter, olive oil, truffle oil, lemon, black pepper, salt.
Served with: scallops, chanterelle mushrooms, kale.

I don’t think there’s any way out of calling this a scallop dish. In truth, I only included those scallops because I had just purchased them (frozen) at an Asian market in Malmö, and wanted to see if they were any good. After all, who could forget the ousting of Spike from Top Chef Season 4 as a result of serving frozen scallops? For the record, I have never seen fresh scallops for sale here (nor should “fresh scallops” from a supermarket be trusted to have never been frozen). Also for the record, these big frosty suckers came out great. I thawed them gently in cold water, rested them on paper towels for 30 minutes to draw out as much moisture as possible, seasoned them with salt and pepper, then seared them on cast iron. The scallops didn’t split apart, nor did they have too much trouble forming a crust (which is a symptom of excessive water retention). They smelled fresh and had perfectly tender consistency. What a great day at the office! The large bag I bought wasn’t even that expensive.

The golden chanterelle mushrooms were marvelous, too. They appeared this week at the open-air produce stand in town, and I couldn’t wait to sautée them up. I really wasn’t too familiar with chanterelles, so I tried to keep things simple. This way I’d be able to commit the exact texture and flavor profile to memory. Basically I just tossed the chanterelles into the pan with the scallops, along with some leafy kale. I’d describe the mushrooms as mildly flowery in taste, buttery in texture. The Internet says chanterelle flavor is reminiscent of apricot; I would not have thought of that, but I won’t argue.

The real work for this dish was in the risotto. It’s like a rice stew, bursting with flavor, thick with a touch of Italian cheese. I could easily have served the risotto by itself, and in the future, I will. Truthfully I underestimated how much flavor it would have, which is a function of the stock (broth).

Great risotto, just like great jambalaya or paella, is all about the stock. If you use bouillon cubes, you end up with something that tastes like a microwave dinner. I don’t mind a little MSG here and there, but there’s always way too much of it in prepared soup mix. If you absolutely must buy your stock, at least look for a brand that eschews MSG. [Wow, I never thought I’d be giving stock tips!] To make my stock, I browned some vegetables (onion, carrot, celery, parsnip, leek, garlic, cabbage, mushrooms, bell pepper), added some spices (bay leaf, whole black peppercorns, parsley stems, thyme), and submerged it all under about 2 quarts of water. After an hour of simmering, the stock was ready to be strained and stored. I set aside half of it for the risotto, and froze the rest in ice cube trays (for easy portioning in the future).

To make the risotto, I started by chopping half an onion, parboiling and shelling some edamame (which I planned to use as a replacement for the green peas standard in risotto), and heating the vegetable stock from the day before. I sautéed the onion together with the uncooked rice until the grains became toasty and translucent. This helps the rice retain its shape and texture during the long cooking process. Next came the stirring. The idea is to add liquid very gradually while agitating the rice, so that the natural starch blends with the liquid and makes a creamy sauce (arborio rice works best for this, due to its starchy quality). I began with half a can of beer, then a splash of sherry, followed by the vegetable stock (in ladlefuls), each time waiting until the previous one had been absorbed. The final step was to stir in the edamame, a pat of butter, a drizzle of truffle oil, and heaping tablespoon of grated hard Italian cheese (I used Grana Padano). I served the plate garnished with fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon.