Sometimes, you just wanna eat some dinner. And you want it to be HOT.
Not spicy-hot – although I’ll take that too – just plain temperature-hot. I know that for many people, eating dinner hot is a given: you cook the dinner, you sit down to eat the dinner, the dinner is still warm, you consume. Not so the foodblogger, or the beleaguered spouse of the foodblogger. Our need to incessantly document every step of the dinner-making-and-eating process means that we often sit down to lukewarm (at best) dinner. At least, I do because I cook and photograph and eat in real time.
So this dinner – laksa-style scallops with sweet chili sauce – gets super happy mega fun bonus points for being not only damn tasty, but for remaining piping hot through the obsessive photography process, so much so that I actually burned my tongue on it a little. Thank you, Jamie Oliver. Truly, you have brought a tiny food revolution to my kitchen.*
Sometimes you also just wanna cook dinner, so you <gasp> take minimal in-process photos. Though I will say that while it felt good at the time to breeze through dinner only reaching for the camera a handful of times, I’m now feeling pangs of some kind. Sadness? Guilt? I’m not sure, but it’s definitely pang-y.
So even though this dish is called laksa-style scallops, it starts off with shrimp marinating in lime zest, lime juice and fish sauce. Somehow, I assume through the magic of Jamie Oliver – he IS magic, right? I’d take that for granted – the fish sauce DOESN’T EVEN REEK. One might argue that I’ve just gotten used to the way fish sauce smells since my early experiences with it, so that I no longer recoil from the heinous stench, but I’m going to chalk it up to magic.
*Recipe from Jamie’s Dinners: The Essential Family Cookbook.
You know what else is magic? Brian. He might actually be more magical than Jamie Oliver, if slightly less elfin looking, because Jamie Oliver (as far as I know) does not go to the grocery store at 9pm OF HIS OWN VOLITION to get a bar of chocolate for me when I am having my period hard fucking core. HE JUST KNOWS TO DO IT. That is some damn serious magic right there.
I fear I’ve shared too much.
While the shrimp marinated, I made the aromatic paste that is the base of the sauce: chiles, cilantro, garlic, sesame oil, lime zest and ginger get whizzed in the FoPro (or “bashed” in a mortar and pestle) until they form a paste. Or, until they are chopped into medium sized bits and then flung against the interior walls of the FoPro, never to come down without repeated coaxing from a spatula. I guess I could have gone the “bash” route, but I wanted to eat dinner before midnight, which would not have happened if I had to pulverize hunks of ginger and cilantro stems by hand. So I used the mini-FoPro instead, and I only had to scrape the sides down seventy bajillion times before I got it to a rough-paste consistency. Huzzah for modern conveniences!
The lime zest was used in place of kaffir lime leaves. Is there a rule that if you write a cookbook that contains a recipe including lime, you must call for kaffir lime leaves despite the fact that VERY VERY FEW normal grocery stores carry them? So you try and convince me that I can cook like a pro, but behind my back you’re laughing because SHE WILL NOT FIND THE KAFFIR LIMES LEAVES so her dish will NEVER BE THE SAME BWAHAHA. I expect better of you, Jamie Oliver; really.
The paste went into a hot pan, where it started sizzling and throwing off insane smells, smells that were luscious and wonderful and rich and almost strong enough to overcome the fish sauce but not quite; the sesame oil in particular really made its presence known. The shrimp and their collected juices went in next and cooked for just a minute to be followed by coconut milk, chicken stock and a hint of tamarind paste.
I let the whole mess come to a simmer and let it ride while I cooked up some jasmine rice. Which I did not burn; take that, rice. I pat myself on the back for successfully completing many a mundane kitchen task.
[PICTURE OF COOKING SCALLOPS WOULD GO HERE]
So, the scallops. I was supposed to score them with teeny-tiny crosshatches, and then when they seared they would “open up like flowers.” Problem was my scallops, although large and plump, were irregularly shaped and blobby-like instead of being pert little cylinders, so they didn’t take to crosshatching kindly. By which I mean, I took one look at the them and said to hell with scallop flowers. A weeknight dinner does not require scallop flowers.
The more astute among you will also note that there is no actual photo of scallops cooking; this is because of my own stupidity in not using a non-stick pan to sear them, so that they stuck fast to the bottom of my skillet and would still be there to this moment had I not spent my time gently but assiduously prying and flipping them with a fork, sustaining hundreds of tiny hot oil burns in the process. So you’ll excuse me if I couldn’t take your damn picture.
When the last scallop had been pried from the pan, I laid down a layer of rice in by bowl, poured the sauce and shrimp over and topped it with my hard-won bivalves. A sprinkle of cilantro, a drizzle of (commercially prepared, Jamie told me to) sweet chili sauce, and a (thankfully hot) dinner was served.
This was so good, we actually slurped the sauce up with spoons like starving yet lovable street urchins. It hit every taste note: sour lime, spicy chiles, salty stock and fish sauce, sweet coconut and, of course, scallops. Everything was in beautiful harmony; just the right tang, just the right gentility. It was, one might say…magical?
Okay, it wasn’t really magical and I would never actually describe a dish that way just to tie a post together; it was just really fricking good. I’m looking forward to delving into this book more deeply, or perhaps to just making this over and over and over again.