Sunday, February 03, 2008

failure and redemption

At long last, the saga of my seafood dishes.

As is always true of the road to hell, I began with only good intentions. Below, you see the ingredients, which are more or less what Chef Jean-Pierre recommended. I ended up getting a Chardonnay instead of either the cream sherry or the fino recommended by Elisson (I couldn't find the latter two at the local store). I also substituted a large Korean green onion for the shallots and green onions in the recipe. Perhaps these substitutions were the first mistake, but I don't think so.

Below: I fire up the water, into which I'll be dunking the spinach fettuccine.

And now, the scallops, which I've plopped into very hot olive oil. Note how large these mutants are. That, I think, was the first mistake. You'll recall that our Cajun chef used more modestly endowed scallops. Although I thoroughly pat-dried my own sea creatures, I didn't account for how much water they would retain. First and most fundamental error, by my reckoning. I should also have done the recipe using Jean-Pierre's serving sizes instead of trying to create a meal for twenty. That doubtless contributed to the problem.

Next: enter the "shallots." This doesn't look all that bad, truth be told. And with the salt and pepper, the smell is actually muy delicioso.

Second major mistake: the shrimp. Too many added, and again, I didn't anticipate how much they would sweat. If I insist on using huge beasts in the future, I'm going to do a bit of pre-cutting and pre-cooking. As you can see, by not using a flat pan I've created a crowding problem. The seafood is not being evenly exposed to the heat, which makes the process take longer and throws the timing off.

I toss in the rest of the ingredients in the order recommended by Jean-Pierre. At this point it's obvious that things have gone horribly wrong. (And the out-of-focus shot merely drives this point home.)

Below, we see the noodles' progress. I felt bad for the fettuccine, which was a bit like a girl on a blind date, waiting in excited anticipation for what she hopes will be a handsome suitor. Little does she know what's really coming.

CAESURA: from the previous pic to the one below, a lot has been cut out, not because I'm refusing to show the photos, but because I was trying to reconcile myself to the extent of the disaster. I was essentially putting out a fire, and I didn't have either the time or the will to take a picture of my food's hellward spiral. By this point I could see that, especially after having added the wine, I was simply bathing my seafood in an amorphous, liquidy mess. I ended up draining the seafood, tossing most of the sauce (what a waste of money), and pondering what the hell I was going to do with those teensy, violated cadavers.

So I decided on a quick Béchamel. That, at least, turned out all right.

And below you see what my meal actually became.

EPILOGUE: I ended up with the shits within twenty minutes of eating the above. I had committed yet another error: I had allowed my seafood to thaw in the fridge for far too long. The recommended time was four hours; I think I left the seafood in there for almost 36.

What follows is a brief sequence of pictures of the more intelligently prepared dishes I made with a second set of shrimp and scallops.

Below: the remainder of the (overcooked) pasta served as a bed for shrimp and scallops cooked in a way I do well: with oil and butter, garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper. I pan-seared the little guys until they were screaming for mercy, then simply dumped them atop the pasta with a dash of the leftover oil-and-butter sauce.

Below: the same style of shrimp and scallops, but this time served without pasta. In the foreground is a simple wine-and-butter dipping sauce. Forgive the hasty prep that caused some flecks of parsley to settle in the butter. I should have sprinkled the parsley before setting the sauce on the plate.

Finally: shrimp and scallops fried up in regular oil plus red pepper flakes, then showered with a Korean-style Thai(?) "ssam" dipping sauce. Looks a bit silly, but tastes very good.

This evening, I finished off the shrimp with a regular old tomato spaghetti sauce. I cooked the shrimp in butter and olive oil and added salt, pepper, powdered garlic, parsley, and basil. Not bad at all. Sorry for the lack of pictures, but my camera's in the office.

And that, friends, is the story of me and my shellfish.



Anonymous said...

With the first dish, would it have been possible to remove the seafood, reduce the sauce, and then add the seafood back in once it was reduced to a less watery consistency?

Still, probably the tastiest-looking disaster I've seen in a long time.

Kevin Kim said...


That probably would have been smarter than what I did, but the wateriness was only part of the problem: the sauce, as it was, didn't actually taste like anything. I spoke too soon, I think, when I said I could just eyeball the proportions. Even had I reduced the sauce, I'm not sure it would have ended up tasting any better.

Thanks for thinking the end result looked good, though. Too bad it was rife with pestilence.

I often like to think that I'm making these meals and blogging them as a prelude to doing them for a group of people (my students, for example). That night, while I was shooting diarrhea out my fundament, I couldn't help thinking that it was fortunate I hadn't inflicted that dish on anyone else. I actually felt guilty, which is one reason why I was hesitant even to blog this entry.