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October 18, 2002

Cooking with Shmoo
Posted by Teresa at 05:20 AM *

Another cheery low-carbohydrate recipe. As usual, I’m shooting for food you’d eat even if you weren’t dieting, and could feed to guests without their guessing it was built around constraints.

Scallops with other good things

2 or 2-1/2 lbs. fresh sea scallops
2/3 stick butter
1 portobello mushroom cap, finely sliced
1 bunch of green onions
1 clove garlic
1 T. finely ground almonds
1/3 - 1/2 C. dry sherry
1/3 C. heavy cream
salt, black pepper, white pepper, red pepper
Wash the scallops and cut them into thirds. Melt the butter in a good big frying pan, and throw in the chopped mushroom. Cook, stirring occasionally. When the mushroom’s well cooked, turn up the heat and stir in the scallops. Do the same, unhurriedly, for salt and black pepper, a small pinch of white pepper, and the veriest trace of hot red pepper; then garlic; then the chopped-up bottom third of your onions; then 1 T. finely ground almonds. The last must be attentively stirried in; they’re the thickening. Continue to cook, stirring a bit. When things are looking good but look like they won’t be much longer—that is, when the scallops are thoroughly cooked and the liquid around them is somewhat reduced—stir in the sherry, and then the rest of the green onions, chopped fine. Let cook 3-5 more minutes. Turn the fire off and stir in the cream. If you’re dieting, serve this in bowls. If you’re not dieting, serve it over rice or noodles.

I can only afford this recipe because I’ve been getting my scallops for about $5.00 a pound from a fishmonger in Chinatown. If I were braver I’d try their package deal, three lobsters for $18.00. If I were really brave I’d try their blue crabs at $6.40 a dozen, which are so fresh they’re combative. My problem with the crabs is that I can hear their dialogue as they’re being unwillingly tonged up and dropped into the bag, madly clinging to each another all the while:

“Take that, ya lousy tongs!”
“Keep pinchin’, Louie, ya gotta fight ‘em!”
“Joe—they’ve got me by the main carapace—I can’t—”
“Hang on tight, Louie, I ain’t lettin’ you go alone!”
I’d feel like I was eating Sergeant Rock and the fighting crabs of Easy Company.

Scallops are a happier proposition. As you know, Bob, scallops are formed by using a biscuit cutter on Shmoo flesh, which produces a delicate little cylindrical morsel of shellfishy goodness. Since they have the Shmoo nature, their joy is to be eaten, and they live in hope of being well cooked and lovingly consumed:

“Is she looking at us?
“Hello, nice lady!”
“Over here, lady—hey, over here!”
“Look, she’s smiling. This could be it.”
“Do you think she does garlic butter?”
“Could be, could be.”
“I’ve been really really hoping for garlic butter.”
“I don’t know. She might be the soy sauce and ginger type.”
“Oooh, that’d be good too!”
“Over here, nice lady! Me me me pick me!”
Makes it much easier.

[Recipe Index]

Comments on Cooking with Shmoo:
#1 ::: Bacchus ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2002, 12:40 PM:

Mmmm, this recipe makes me hungry. Only one hitch: I don't believe I own a suitable device to finely grind almonds. Indeed, I'm not entirely sure what device one would use to do that, although it's a moot point at this time because the fanciest grinding/chopping device in my bachelor kitchen at the moment is a sharp knife.

I'm tempted to try substituting tahini.

#2 ::: Jennie ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2002, 01:12 PM:

One *can* use a sharp knife to grind finely -- just keep chopping until it be enow. A hammer also works. Put the almonds in a strong plastic bag, wrap the plastic bag in a tea towel, and whack away.

Another option is to purchase a mortar and pestle, or a coffee grinder. They're both incredibly useful things to have around, even in a bachelor pad, and they can be quite cheaply obtained.

#3 ::: Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2002, 01:15 PM:

Or you could use a "bachelor's rolling pin" -- a jar. I prefer a big jar of sundried tomatoes in oil, but use your own favorite...:-)

Only thing is, it has to be a reasonably straight-sided jar to work.

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2002, 01:15 PM:

Oh no, I wouldn't use tahini with this. If you're not on a low-carbohydrate diet, just mix a little cornstarch into the sherry to thicken the dish.

For processing almonds I use a coffee grinder/spice mill that's been superseded as the household coffee grinder. It's one of those cylinder-shaped models with the bowl at the top and a control button on the side. A food processor, blender, or plain old-fashioned kitchen grinder will also work. I like to do a larger batch and keep it in the refrigerator to use as needed.

This recipe really needs almonds, but as a general principle other nuts will also work as thickeners.

#5 ::: Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2002, 01:18 PM:

Oh, and WARNING: do not combine bachelor's rolling pin with hammer method, regardless of thickness of tea towel (in the unlikely event you have such a thing). Do not bounce happy fun jar.

#6 ::: Greg van Eekhout ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2002, 01:36 PM:

Cooking with Kanigher and Kubert. Budda-budda-budda

#7 ::: BethN ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2002, 01:40 PM:

Looks yummy.

And I'm with you on the crabs. I was walking on Canal St. once past one of the fish places, and saw a crab leap out of its basket and latch onto a woman's high heel. It got practically to the end of the block before the fish store guy caught up and reclaimed it. I thought that horribly unfair.

#8 ::: Dave Trowbridge ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2002, 01:57 PM:

Sounds yummy; I think I'll give it a try with shrimp or crab or lobster. I love the taste of scallops, but can only eat them raw. Cooked scallops are deadly poisonous for me. (I will spare you the details.)

#9 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2002, 02:21 PM:

Would this work as nicely with Cape scallops (the smaller, sweeter ones)?

#10 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2002, 03:40 PM:

I recognize that fishmonger's. I've been tempted by the crabs, but put off by the fact that I wouldn't know what to do with them. (Also, I'd need a set of tongs to handle them at home.)

#11 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2002, 04:43 PM:

Sure, it should work with Cape scallops. I've avoided those the last few times I've bought scallops because they looked wearier than the other sort.

Avram, I love New York, and I love the Web. After I'd written this piece, I got to wondering what the chances were that someone had posted a photo of my usual fishmonger on their website. I didn't even have to throw "New York" into the Googlemix; "Chinatown" plus "fish" were enough.

We should find out what one does with those crabs.

#12 ::: Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2002, 05:31 PM:

After I'd written this piece, I got to wondering what the chances were that someone had posted a photo of my usual fishmonger on their website.

Apparently one taken through a fish-eye lens...

#13 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2002, 07:35 PM:

I googled for crab recipies and found a rather harrowing description of one cook's first experience. ("I rush the front door knife in one hand heavy mallet in the other [...]")

#14 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2002, 10:30 AM:

If you can't manage finely-ground almonds, chop them as finely as you can, put them in a little earlier, and increase the quantity to 1-1/2 - 2 Tbsp.

Avram, I'd known about pithing lobsters, and had been assuming the same thing works for crabs. I went looking and found a helpful article about pain management issues in re arthropods. It's a consoling thing to read after that article about the guy who's trying to cook crabs:

Most sea biologists worth their salt (sorry) say that lobsters simply cannot feel pain. In fact, the debate seems to irk some researchers.

93If one is worried about the lobster or the mussel, then one should be nicer to the fly and the mosquito as well,94 quipped Dr. Tom Neuhaus, a food science professor at California Poly at San Luis Obispo. 93They have a similar central nervous system and similar awareness. They, too, are arthropods, just smaller, but similarly endowed. ...

Crustaceans simply don92t have the equipment to feel pain, Neuhaus said. They have no way of knowing that you are holding them over a boiling pot, planning to eat them. 93It92s even doubtful that they would feel the plunge of a knife,94 he said. But 93certainly, they feel aversion.94

93It takes only a few neurons to know when to retract your tentacles,94 he said. 93And they know when surroundings are hot or cold, vinegary, salty, etc. But they don92t feel hysteria, they don92t feel impending doom, they don92t feel desperation.94Glad to hear it. I've spent some happy hours in Baltimore-area restaurants.

It turns out, by the way, that crabs are different; they have two nerve centers you have to take out, front and rear, which might account for that harrowed cook only having partial success pithing his.

I think I'd find it easier to go with the article's other suggested method, which is to put them into a tub of salted ice slurry before steaming them. Cold makes them sleepy, and at temperatures that low they'll drop off and never wake up. It moves the whole thing out of Jonathan Edwards' territory and into Dylan Thomas'.

(I recall a Vietnamese restaurant in Vancouver where the menu claimed that the crabs in a certain dish had been gotten drunk on Courvoisier before they were cooked. I was poorer in those days and couldn't afford to check it out, but I've wondered about it ever since.)

Greg, it took me way too long to catch that pun of yours. Like a slurried arthropod, I now slowly register pain. (Also giggle a lot, which arthropods never do.)

Beth, yes, that does seem awfully unfair -- sort of a crab version of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. It's funny; most of us are happy to eat animals, but when one of them manages a heroic escape we're instantly on its side. Earlier this year, I had the same reaction everyone else did when that cow managed to jump the fence at a slaughterhouse and go on the lam for several days: yay rah, go cow go! And yet I'll probably enjoy a steak dinner tonight, and feel no conflict about it.

Dave, not meaning to pry, but is there a short version of why cooked scallops are deadly to you and raw ones aren't?

#15 ::: Vicki Rosenzweig ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2002, 11:04 AM:

Which fishmonger is that? I'm not sure I trust them all, so an address would be useful.

Oh, and on the utterly tangential level, I was delighted to see, on the wall of a fishmonger on Canal Street, a handwritten ad for an experienced fish-cleaner. The ad was in only one language: español. I guess if you don't speak Spanish, you can't talk to the other staff.

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2002, 08:35 PM:

I don't trust any of them. The first time I bought fish from the one I go to, I watched as the guy accidentally dropped a sizeable salmon tail -- you know, the last eight inches or so of the fish -- on the floor, then picked it up. The waiting customers went quiet, watching to see what he'd do next. After a moment he shrugged, walked back to the bucket that catches the runoff from the melting ice, and splashed a few handfuls of water onto the dropped side of the fish to clean it off. Then he walked back up front, weighed it, packaged it, and sold it.

In truth, I don't trust any fishmonger except maybe Garden of Eden, and their prices are piratical. As a general rule, I wash everything I get before I cook it, and I make sure it gets thoroughly cooked. I trust my nose; it's not hard to tell a scrupulously clean fish store from one that's slightly less scrupulous. I also refuse to buy anything from anyone if it doesn't have that slight supernatural glow you only see on exceedingly fresh fish. I've learned by hard experience that no amount of hoping and praying or clever recipes will revive a stale fish.

Which store do I go to? I get off the N, R, Q, or W at Canal and start heading east. I pass three fishmongers on my right -- the first on one block, and the second and third on another block. I go to the second one. It smells cleaner, the fish look better, and there always seem to be more ferocious little old Chinese and Pilipina ladies buying their fish there.

I've discovered that you get treated a bit more cordially in some of the other Chinatown shops if they notice you're schlepping fresh fish bought in their neighborhood. It's one definition of local.

#17 ::: Vicki Rosenzweig ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2002, 02:26 PM:

Okay, second on the right from the N train; I can remember that.

#18 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2002, 09:49 AM:

One way to grind nuts more finely is to use a very large table spoon on them. Chop them as finely as you feel like, with the knife. Then put the spoon on top, bowl down, and rotate it, while leaning on it. It grinds pretty well.
The pieces work their way out, but you can just corral them back together in a pile with the knife, and repeat.

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2002, 07:13 PM:

Sounds like it should work, Barry. If you're a topologist, is that a mortar and pestle?

#20 ::: Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 02:15 PM:

If you're a topologist, a knife and cutting board is a mortar and pestle.

#21 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 02:21 PM:

Coming soon from Oliver Sachs: The Topologist Who Mistook His Wife for a Lawn Sprinkler.

#22 ::: Chip Hitchcock ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 04:16 PM:

At some fish shops, your description of scallops could be closer than you want; Mark Keller claimed that cheap stores will punch "scallops" out of skate wings with a cookie cutter.

And your description of the eagerly waiting scallops brought back my first glimpse of APA:NESFA (no, I won't say how far back that was), where the late Drew Whyte had a piece involving a masochistic golf ball....

#23 ::: catie murphy ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2002, 11:48 PM:

Hm. Approximately how many people does this feed? Two pounds of scallops is quite a lot, but I just happen to have a Gigantic Box O'Scallops in the freezer courtesy of my roommate's parents, and I'm wondering if this is a feed-the-three-of-us meal or an "Invite Everyone We Know, Or At Least My Parents" size dinner.

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