The temperatures for the past couple of weeks have been oppressive. I have been tempted to see if it has been hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk. I decided against it because I’d probably just make a mess, and it would be a waste of a good egg.
While we still need to eat, standing in front of a hot stove for a long time is not appealing at all.
When I want to cook something really fast, I will usually gravitate toward seafood. Today, let’s look at a couple of seafood dishes that require less than 10 minutes in front of the stove.
Sea scallops are always a favorite. A good number of friends love scallops when dining out, but they are reluctant to prepare them at home. Perfectly prepared scallops are within reach for even the most reluctant home chefs if you follow a few simple steps. If you can find them, dry packed scallops are the best. If you have a little trouble finding them at your local supermarket, individual quick frozen are a perfectly acceptable alternative.
After the scallops have thawed and you have let them come to room temperature, it is important that their surface be dried. Bringing the scallops to room temperature ensures even cooking, and drying the scallops ensures a perfect sear so the scallops don’t steam. Once dry, season liberally with salt and pepper. Heat your skillet over medium-high heat. I like cast iron for this, but nonstick will work as well. The skillet should be hot before you add an oil with a high-smoking point. I like to use grapeseed oil, but olive oil is a great alternative.
As you add the scallops to the pan, you should hear an aggressive sizzle. Make sure that the scallops don’t touch each other. Cook without moving for a minute or so. Peek under one to make sure you have a beautiful caramel color. If you need a little more color, let them continue for 20 or 30 more seconds. Add about a tablespoon of butter to the pan and turn the scallops. They will need to cook about half the time on the second side as they did on the first side. Remove the scallops from the pan and place on your serving dish. The greatest mistake that can be made when cooking scallops is to overcook them. Overcooked scallops are tasteless and rubbery.
Add another tablespoon of butter to the pan, a splash of white wine, and maybe a tablespoon of capers, and you have a wonderfully simple pan sauce.
I like to serve scallops on a bed of wilted greens and pureed white beans. They are also wonderful served on angel hair pasta with the addition of a squeeze of lemon juice added to the pan sauce described above.
Seared tuna is a family favorite. Like scallops, tuna is also ordered more frequently in a restaurant than prepared at home. It may be that exceptional tuna is a little harder for the home cook to source.
Do you like tuna steaks?
If your friends are hardcore offshore fishermen, and you are very lucky, you may be gifted with fresh-caught fish. This is absolutely the best-case scenario. If you are not so lucky or your craving for tuna doesn’t match the catch of the day, your next best option may be to source your fish via mail order or take a trip to the nearest city with either a Whole Foods or Central Market. It is critical that your tuna be sushi-grade and exceptionally fresh. You can cook previously frozen tuna and it will be good, but it will not compare with the product fresh from the boat.
The technique for cooking tuna is almost identical to the technique for cooking scallops. The fish should be brought to room temperature and heavily seasoned. I like to coat the fish with either freshly cracked black pepper or sesame seeds. The skillet should be hot before you add the oil. I like grapeseed oil for this. The tuna should be cooked for only about 1 minute on each side. It should be served rare, or at the very most medium-rare. I take that back; it should be served rare.
When Louise and I first started dating, I introduced her to rare tuna. I was surprised when she ordered tuna the next time, she sent it back. The tuna was served mid-rare, and she deemed it overcooked. Way to go, Louise.
I like my tuna served with a fruit salsa, my favorite being a mango salsa. I also like a good avocado salsa, and I have included a recipe for that.
If you really don’t feel like cooking, both tuna and scallops make the best ceviche, but I’ll save that for another column.