As I talked about the other day I visited a great fish market and picked up some lovely scallops and mussels. A friend was coming for supper but I had one major problem: I was alone with my two young kids and one of their friends. That left free time to prepare for a meal at a premium, or to put it bluntly, I had no time until these kids would crash for the night. What I needed were quick recipes to knock out of the kitchen without running around like a maniac.
Both scallops and mussels take very little time to cook so I figured I would give them a shot. For the first course I went with the scallops. These things were by far the biggest scallops I’ve ever worked with so they needed to be butterflied in half. Simple enough to do really but since I was really pressed for time (my kids didn’t cooperate that night..oh did they not) my guest was promoted to sous chef and I asked him to take care of that while I did some chopping. So, back to butterflying. press down gently on the scallop with your palm and slice it in half, the scallop not your palm, so that you now have two thinner scallops. While that was being done I finely chopped two large leeks and gave them a good rinse. It’s key to wash leeks after they’ve been cut since they tend to get layers of dirt in them as they grow. I am going with a classic French style of dish here, it is simple, super tasty, and ready in no time. I add my own little twist here and cut up three slices of bacon to crisp up as garnish because, well, bacon.
From here I sauté the leek for a good five or six minutes until i start to see them really sweating it out. In another pan I crisp up the bacon. As this action happens on the stove I whip up an olive oil and white wine vinaigrette. I won’t bore you with exact details of the dressing since no two people make them the same but I keep the oil to vinegar ratio at 3:1. Once the leek is sweating and softened I add two or three tablespoons of the dressing to them and lower the heat to just keep them warm. Alright, I’ve got the leeks set to go, the bacon nice and crispy, warm plates in the oven so all I need to do is cook the scallops. Easy right? Well, yes and no….
Scallops are ready in no time whatsoever so you need to be quick with them in the pan. I preheat the pan on high heat with a little olive oil, season the scallops and add a little squeeze of lemon and get them in the pan. I should mention that I plated the leeks and popped the plates back into the oven just before this step. The last thing I want is to leave the scallops in a hot pan while I am plating the bed of leeks. Ok, like I said, super quick, you fry the scallops for no more than 90 seconds on each side and then get them on plates ASAP! Alright, scallops plated I squeeze some more lemon, pour the rest of the dressing on them, garnish with the crispy bacon and some parsley from the garden. Keep in mind that over cooked scallops will become rubbery in a hurry. Scallops the size of hockey pucks? Good! Scallops with the texture and taste of hockey pucks? Bad! So really time it when you cook them.
I’ve made this dish before and while it has been good I’ve always found it very sweet. First thing that my guest and I remark on is how well the bacon balances out the dish. My only issue is that I normally like to have scallops with a little sear on the outside of them but I think that since these were so big a fair amount of liquid came out of them and it didn’t work out like I hoped but they were still quite succulent.
Mental note: bacon goes with everything.
Onto the main dish: spicy Thai mussels with matchstick fries in duck fat. Ya baby. If there is anything else that comes close to the magical powers of bacon it is duck fat. With mussels you always want to make sure they are debearded and rinsed. These look to be pretty clean already but my sous chef/guest gives them a quick scrub in the sink. Obviously, any that are cracked will need to be discarded. Out of two large bags we lost six or seven. That isn’t too bad at all. A really cool trick I learned from Gordon Ramsay (ya that’s right he comes over and cooks mussels for me from time to time…ok well it is in one of his books) is to give a sharp tap onto any open mussel with the flat of your knife. If that mussel closes it is good to eat, if it stays open you gotta chuck it.
In a large pot I sautéed two finely sliced onions, a finely diced thumb sized piece of ginger and two finely sliced chili peppers straight from the garden until the onions start to turn golden (about 7 or 8 minutes). Then I added about 1/2 cup of spicy Thai curry paste, a can of coconut milk, three diced roma tomatoes, and a handful of Thai basil. I let that sauce cook for about ten minutes before I added the mussels and covered the pot. I gave the pot a good shake and let the mussels cook for about six minutes.
While all that was going on I also had the matchstick fries to work on so I fried them once for about four minutes per batch and then laid on them out on a baking sheet to keep them warm in the oven. Once the mussels were just about ready I fried them a second time for only about thirty seconds along with some garlic slivers and fresh rosemary. They came out nice and crispy and looking and smelling great! I garnished them with some sea salt that I added the zest of one lemon to in a mortar and pestle. Lastly, I garnished the mussels with some cilantro, Thai basil, and half a lime to squeeze over. Check them out below.
It can be one hell of a challenge to cook when you are alone with young kids around but I think this meal was a success. I have to say guests that help out are fun to have too!