Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ocean's Bounty

OK, I admit Boise is not too near an ocean, and having seafood more than an hour from a sea invites suspicion about the freshness of the catch. Still, I was inspired today to try a seafood salad.
Inspired for several reasons. One, it was in the 90s again today. I had a vague hankering for beef bourguinon after having recently enjoyed the movie "Julie and Julia." You should see the film, because it is good. And if you appreciate food or like to cook even a little, you will find some resonance in the interwoven tales of how Julia Child became a household word in the kitchens of America and how a young lady living above a pizzaria in Queens was influenced by Julia's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," and how it changed her life.
But it was too hot for the beef, and I had already pigged out on my favorite breakfast (bacon and eggs, half a pink grapefruit with honey, yogurt and blueberries and toasted wheat pita washed down with OJ and black coffee). Nope. The beef will wait. After all, Boise is pretty close to beef central, so I don't need to worry about finding good meat here.
Among the thousands of possible alternatives that would be lighter, healthier than the heart-stopping breakfast, and easier to prepare (maybe), I opted for a seafood salad.
Now there are a gazillion possible seafood salads, I know. But I made this one up because I wanted something summer-like and green and crunchy that would go well with a cheap pinot grigio.
The seafood is a combination of frozen baby shrimp, scallops, and a seafood mix that includes octopus, squid, mussels, shrimp and another kind of shelfish that I take to be little-neck clams, but who knows. I have spent the past three decades and change in Japan, where, believe me, the folks know real seafood, and are the world's biggest consumers of it. So they don't mess around with frozen if they can get fresh. And I wouldn't either. But, as I said first-off, I am in Boise, not Tokyo.
So, for safety, I let the various frozen creatures thaw out in some lightly salted water for a half-hour first. I am oookinv cod ons, zo I would say that a cup and a half of the seafood variety of choice, or even all shrimp, all scallop or bits of your favorite seafood--even smoked salmon would be good--will do for one portion.
I made limeade yesterday, with just a little raw sugar, so it really tastes like lime. I mixed a cup of that, a half-cup of cheap white wine, and a fistful of cilantro, and brought it to a boil. I drained the seafood, then dumped it into the limeaid-wine broth and stirred it around until it came to a boil again, then quickly removed it and drained it again, adding a dozen ice cubes to bring the temperature down.
While I was letting the seafood mix soak, I was busy having a glass of that pinot and chopping up some herbs and greens, some snow peas, green onions, garlic, and a fancy-looking purple bell pepper. I also made a sesame-ginger vinagrette as a dressing, using real ginger root and toasted white sesame, ground up with balsamic vinager and just a bit of mirin (sweetened cooking sake) I added some cilantro and peppercorn and some lime peel zest.
Ok. I had a little more of the pinot and decided that a graceful handmade blue bowl I got at the Saturday Market would be the best way to treat myself to the salad.
I made a little bed of the herbs and greens, then added some chopped celery and some garlic and green onion. I sprinkled a little of the sesame-ginger dressing on the greens, then added the drained seafood mix. I dribbled the juice of the leftover lime onto the seafood and added more dressing. I then sprinkled some sliced snow peas, green onion and cilantro, and added the remaining sesame-ginger dressing.
As we speak, I am enjoying it with some black pepper-olive oil triscuits and what little is left of the pinot. I am not too humble to say it is pretty good.
And if you are reading this, you probably already know that I am a serious fan of cooking and enjoying good food and wine. I would like it more if I have someone to enjoy it with. Still...
What Julia Child did to popularize and demystify French cooking, I wish I could help do for cooking that involves ingredients and techniques from other parts of the world. During my time in Tokyo, I had the pleasure of eating and enjoying very good food from many places. Often, I would ask the chefs how they prepared a certain dish, then try to replicate or enhance it at home. This is one of my favorite hobbies and has served me well. So before too much more water passes under the bridge, I want to share some of what I have discovered and enjoyed, and in the process, I hope to demystify and help others appreciate what I have enjoyed and discovered, so you can make it too.
Cooking is a skill, and it can be an art. I prefer approaching it as a way to enjoy something we need every day. So, as Julia would surely say, "Bon appetit!"

P.S. The heart-stopping breakfast pictured above is really not so bad in moderation. Yes, I am aware of the nutritional needs of humans and the modified Food Pyramid. I am also aware of the healthy choices and the importance of food that is pleasant to look at, tasty, and involves the best possible combination of protein, essential vitamins and minerals and all that stuff. So maybe one reason I chose to make seafood salad instead of the beef was to balance out the heavy stuff. Maybe tomorrow, I will be back in the carnivore bracket!