Friday, June 17, 2011

Whole Foods Friday: Seafood Frenzy

Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog. It's a fun project.

I don't know what it is about seafood, but when I decide to make any kind of seafood for dinner, I immediately start thinking about other kinds of seafood to serve as appetizers or some other supplement to the meal.

I don't do that with anything else. I mean, I don't go buy a roast and then think that a pork chop would make a good appetizer.

Well, okay, maybe cheese. When I need to buy one cheese, it's a good bet that I'll come home with three. But it's not like I'm compelled to work all three of them into dinner right away.

It's not like we have appetizers all that often, either.

I can't explain it - I want one kind of seafood, but then can't resist another one. And then I see something else. And pretty soon my simple dinner is a lot more ambitious.

So there I was in the seafood section at Whole Foods, buying some scallops. I was planning on searing them ... and doing something with them. Wasn't sure yet, but then I thought about making scallop ceviche as well. Scallops two different ways - why not? That's not so extreme, right?

I went looking for chips to serve the ceviche on, and found my favorite wheat tortilla chip things that Whole Foods sells. They're evil good and make a nice presentation because there are different-colored ones in the bag - green, white, and orange.

Three colors? Maybe I could do three appetizers! Uh oh, back to the seafood department.

I'm all about making everything from scratch, but the lobster salad looked pretty appealing. I was offered a sample, and I could imagine it on a cracker right next to my scallop ceviche.

And then I spotted the pickled herrings in cream sauce. My mother occasionally made her own pickled herrings, but it's something I've never tackled. Maybe one of these days.

Meanwhile, I'm perfectly happy to buy them.

But ... sigh ... herrings didn't seem right on the tortilla chips. Time to visit the cracker aisle.

Have you realized yet that I shop like a pinball, bouncing from one section to another and back again?

There are times when I'm a little more organized, but when I'm creating a recipe while I'm shopping, it can be a little bit like a treasure hunt. One item leads to another and then I think of something else I need to make the recipe perfect.

Scallop Ceviche
you might notice there are no measurements listed. Don't worry - this recipe is about ratios. It will make sense when you read the directions 

Jalapeno or other hot peppers
Lime juice (fresh preferred)
Salt and pepper

This recipe is more about ratios than amounts, so you can make as much - or as little - as you like. Some people eat ceviche like a meal - piled on top of salad or on top of a tostada. Some eat little bits on top of tortilla chips or crackers. A cup of ceviche might be enough to serve a whole party if it's doled out in small quantities, or it could be enough to serve just a few people. Or one, if you're *ahem* someone I know.

When I eat ceviche, I want the majority of it to be the seafood. The rest is important for flavor, but it's all about the seafood. So that's where I start. Figure that your scallops will be about 3/4 of the total amount. If you want a cup of ceviche, start with 3/4 cup of scallops. Cut the scallops into quarters, and see if those pieces are small enough for your presentation. If you'll be serving on chips, you might want to cut them into smaller pieces. Keep in mind that the larger pieces of scallop will take longer to "cook" than smaller bits.

Tomato and onion should fill out the remaining 1/4 of the ceviche, in whatever proportion you choose. Cut the onions in a small dice and cut the tomatoes in pieces about the same size as your scallop pieces.

Next come the hot peppers, and this is a judgment call. How hot do you want the ceviche to be? And how hot are your peppers? You can always add more peppers if it's not spicy enough for you, but it's difficult to fish them out later. Chop your pepper small, add it to the mix.

Add a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Now comes the lime juice, and fresh is preferred. The bottled stuff just isn't the same. You want enough lime juice to just cover the seafood, so it marinates evenly. How much it requires depends a little bit on your container. If you don't have enough lime juice to cover, you can use less, but stir more often so the scallops all get their time in the juice. Another trick to keep them coated in juice is to put them in a plastic bag and squeeze out as much air as possible. Turn the bag once in a while during the marinating time.

Last, cilantro. Chop it into reasonably small pieces. I know there are some schools of thought that say you shouldn't chop cilantro or it will get funky. But here's the thing - bruised cilantro is not happy cilantro. If you cut it with a sharp knife, you won't have the bruising and the cilantro will be fine. Add as much as you like, stir to combine, and refrigerate for at least a few hours.

Soon, you'll see the scallops change from being completely translucent to being opaque white. The longer they marinate, the more white they will become. At the same time, the onions will lose their sharpness and the flavor of the hot pepper will begin to permeate the mixture. I prefer the ceviche after about 24 hours, when the flavors have had a chance to mingle. Some people prefer the fish to still be a bit rare in the center. It's up to you.

I served the ceviche as part of a trio of appetizers including pickled herring on sesame crackers:

And lobster salad on pecan nut thins:

Oh, but that's not all. How about:

Seared Scallops on Green Confetti Rice

2 cups uncooked rice
1 cup frozen spinach (or lightly cooked fresh spinach, chopped)
2 tablespoons butter (divided)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Bell peppers, 1/2 each, red, green, and yellow, diced.
1 pound sea scallops
Juice of 1 lemon, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the rice according to your usual method. I prefer a rice cooker, because it's one less thing I need to keep an eye on, and it keeps the rice warm when it's done cooking. 

When the rice is done, add 1 tablespoon of the butter along with the spinach. Stir to break up the spinach and distribute it throughout the rice. Cover the rice and keep warm for serving.

Note: I love fresh-cooked spinach (in season) but for this recipe, frozen spinach is convenient and it warms up perfectly in the cooked rice without overcooking and turning drab green. If you have other greens on hand, you could use those in place of the spinach. The cup measure isn't set in stone, so if you have a little more or a little less, that's fine.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a frying pan on medium heat and add the diced peppers. Add a very small pinch of salt and a grind or two of pepper. Cook until just softened, then remove from the pan and keep warm.

Note: 1 1/2 peppers is about enough for this recipe, but if you really like peppers you can use all three. Or cut back and just use one, if you prefer. I chose to use three different colored peppers for presentation, but you could certainly use just one color, if you have a preference.

Add the olive oil to the pan and increase the heat. Sear the scallops on both sides. Reduce the heat, add a pinch of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and the juice of 1/2 of the lemon. Continue cooking until the scallops are just cooked through.

Serve the scallops on top of the rice and sprinkle the peppers on top. Squeeze on the juice of the other 1/2 of the lemon.