February 2, 2010

Seafood Salad

The other day wild shrimp were on sale and the bay scallops looked decent (They were dry. Always ask if the scallops are wet or dry and only buy the dry kind—the wet have been plumped full of a solution to both preserve them and bulk them up) so I bought some of each, without really thinking of what I would do with them.

When I got home, I got a craving for seafood salad, so that's what I proceeded to make. Forgive the pictures—my kitchen is so dimly lit, I am incapable of taking good ones after 3 pm. Which is unfortunate, as most of my cooking happens after 3 pm.

I had also gotten some delicious olive oil on the same shopping trip, and craving something glossed with that oil made me decide to do an Italian style seafood salad. I've had Italy on the brain lately for a variety of reasons, one of which is having had to speak Italian at dinner the other night to a friend's mother who didn't speak English. It left me with an intense yearning for Italy—the kind of yearning I haven't felt in a long while. But then, back when Italy was the family hub (before it switched to Thailand) and yearly visits were just part of the fabric of life, I would never have believed that ten years could pass without me setting eyes on the land of pasta and pietas.

I usually make more of a latin or asian style seafood salad with big, bold flavors—cilantro, garlic, lime. The Italian style one is much simpler. The point is to let the olive oil and the ingredients shine.

So take whatever kind of seafood you have bought (You would never find bay scallops in a seafood salad in Italy, but I say better to go with fresh than authentic) and poach it in simmering water until it is just barely done. We're talking about 30 seconds for calamari and not much more for shrimp or scallops. I poach my shrimp in the shell and then peel them.

Then just toss the warm seafood with very good olive oil, lemon juice, some sliced celery and chopped celery leaves, some chopped flat-leaf parsley, and salt and pepper. You won't need the salt if you poach your seafood in properly highly salted water, but I didn't salt my poaching water too much because I wanted to use it to make shrimp stock with the shells afterwards. (for risotto alla crema di gamberi, one of my all-time favorite dishes—more on that later.)

I like a lot of lemon juice, but that's very un-Italian of me. Really the lemon juice should just be there to boost the olive oil and let it dazzle.

Once you've mixed and tasted, throw the salad in the fridge for a couple of hours so the flavors can meld. Don't serve it too cold, though. Take it out about a half hour before serving and let it come to cool room temp.

Eat with crusty bread, followed by pasta with a simple tomato-butter sauce and a vegetable or salad.

Italian Style Seafood Salad
1 pound assorted raw seafood (or 1 and 1/2 pounds if using clams or mussels)
2 ribs celery, thinly sliced
1 tbsp chopped celery leaves
1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
about 1/4 very good quality first cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
about 1 tbsp lemon juice or to taste
salt and pepper
Bring a pot of heavily salted water to boil. Add seafood and cook until just done, about 30 seconds for calamari and one minute for shrimp or scallops (more time for bigger ones, less time for smaller).
Drain, shelling shrimp if necessary, and place in a large bowl with celery, celery leaves, and parsley. Add olive oil and lemon juice and toss to combine.
Taste, and add salt, pepper, and more olive or lemon juice until it tastes right to you. The seafood and the olive oil should be the main flavors of the dish.
Refrigerate in a serving bowl for 2 hours and up to a day. Remove a half hour before serving.

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