Vietnamese crab with tamarind sauce

I love reading cookery books, mainly to inspire rather than follow slavishly. Except when it’s a style of cooking that’s new to me or a cake recipe which generally needs the proportions of ingredients to be reproduced in balance with each other to achieve a good rise.

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I’ve had time recently to catch up on some tv watching and have been enjoying a series from about 2009, Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey. Coincidentally, I was also given a copy of the book which a pal passed on to me. Serendipity or what? I was particularly interested in the first two chapters, Cambodia and Vietnam. They are not countries I’ve ever visited, and apart from an amazing vegetarian Vietnamese meal many years ago eaten with some friends on a trip to Melbourne,  I don’t know very much at all about the food.

I was surprised by the simplicity of some of the recipes,  using few spices or flavourings, but all looking like they would really pack a punch in terms of flavour.  My mum and I decided to cook together and after buying a huge cooked crab from the local fishmonger, we made this beautiful crab with tamarind sauce. When I make it again (and it won’t be long) I’ll use 2 or 3 large crab claws per person rather than whole crab as the type we get here was perhaps not the best suited to this dish. Much as I love eating with my hands and slurping, a lot of the meat in the body cavity was lost in the sauce during the brief cooking and the spindly legs were fun but don’t have a lot of meat. The flavour however was incredible and I’d imagine it would be great too made with large prawns or even scallops.

Ingredients (serves 2 generously)

  • 1kg raw or cooked whole crab, broken up into pieces
  • Vegetable oil for shallow frying
  • 1 tbsp tamarind concentrate
  • 2 tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1 hot red chilli, finely chopped (or to taste)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of jaggery  (use soft brown sugar if you can’t get hold of it)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of fish sauce
  • Some crushed or ground white pepper
  • About three spring onions cut into 2.5cm lengths

If your crab is raw you’ll need to shallow or deep fry it for a minute or so until the flesh changes colour. Drain on kitchen towel.

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We’re still picking the last few runner beans from our little garden

Mix the tamarind, rice wine and about 6 tablespoons of water together and set aside.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a wok or large pan. Add the chili and garlic and9 stir fry for about 30 seconds then add the crab, the tamarind mixture, the sugar, the fish sauce and the white pepper. Stir well,  cover and simmer for about 4 or 5 minutes.  Add the spring onions, cover and cook gently for another minute then put it all onto a large serving platter (we served straight from the wok garnished with more spring onion) and get ready to get messy and enjoy!

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Dover Sole with Scallops, Prawns and Samphire

Special occasion food should be all about what you love most, shared with the people you love most. And sometimes it’s also about spending time with those loved ones enjoying the occasion and not spending too long in the kitchen preparing the food and being away from your guests. Don’t misunderstand me, I love spending hours and even days preparing a special meal, but this is one for when you don’t want to be in the kitchen for too long.

Dover Sole with Scallops, Prawns and Samphire (1)

Ingredients (per person)

  • 1 small Dover Sole (or other small flat fish)
  • 4 large prawns (peeled and the heads removed but the tails left on to make eating them with your fingers much easier!)
  • 2 scallops
  • About 2 tablespoons of fresh samphire (or use a few stalks of fresh, blanched asparagus chopped into smaller pieces)
  • Olive oil
  • Butter
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt & Pepper

Warm a little olive oil and butter in a large frying pan and heat. When the oil is hot, put the fish in, skin side down and cook for about 2 or 3 minutes until the skin starts to become crispy.

Turn the heat down to medium and turn the fish over. Add the scallops and prawns and cook them on each side for about a minute or two (the prawns will turn pink and the scallops will lose their opacity).

Remove the fish, prawns and scallops to a serving plate (keeping the oil in the pan). Squeeze in a little lemon juice to taste and add the samphire. Stir fry on a high heat for less than a minute, just to heat it through and spoon the samphire and juices over the fish. Season to taste (it probably won’t need much salt) and serve with a small wedge of lemon.

Pour glasses of wine for you and your loved ones and enjoy the moment.

Griddled Scallops with Lemon and Rocket and a Fish Sauce Dressing

Back in England and Scallops are very much back on the menu for us. This is a simple but luxurious starter or a light lunch or supper. I also served the scallops with some excellent smoked salmon I happened to have but it would have been just as good without.

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Ingredients (to serve 4 as a starter or 2 as a light main)

  • 12 scallops
  • Some finely chopped rocket mixed with the finely chopped zest of a lemon (unwaxed)
  • Some finely chopped coriander to sprinkle over

For the dressing

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, 1 teaspoon of fish sauce, a tablespoon of rice wine vinegar, half a crushed clove of garlic, the juice of half a lemon, a little honey (to taste), salt and pepper.

Mix or shake up all the ingredients for the dressing, tasting and adjusting as you go

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Heat the griddle pan until it is smoking hot and quickly sear the scallops on each side (about a minute is all they’ll need) then plate them up. Pour the dressing over the hot scallops, and sprinkle over the rocket and lemon mix.

Fast food doesn’t get much better than this!

For more scallop inspired recipes, take a look at this or this.

Seared Scallops with Spinach in Black Bean Sauce

Quick doesn’t have to be boring – especially when it comes to food. Top quality ingredients will give you amazing tasting food, and you don’t always have to spend hours preparing it with a long list of ingredients. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy making complex meals too, but here’s a fast food experience that will be ready in less time than it takes to wait for a food delivery.

Scallops with Spinach & Blackbean Sauce (2)

Ingredients per person

  • 4-6 fresh scallops
  • 2 cups of washed spinach (roughly chopped)
  • About 6 mushrooms, sliced not too thinly
  • 1 large clove of garlic, crushed
  • A little oil for frying
  • 1 tablespoon of black bean sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Lemon or lime juice

Start by gently frying the mushrooms in a little oil and when they start to soften, add the garlic and spinach and cook until the spinach wilts.

On a hot griddle or under a hot grill, quickly cook the scallops on both sides (this can take less than a minute per side).

Stir the black bean sauce and about a teaspoon of soy sauce into the spinach and mushrooms. Serve the scallops on top of the vegetables with a little squeeze of lemon or lime juice.

Griddled Scallops with Seared Jamon

Ooh, that sounds a bit restauranty doesn´t it? Well, you can see from the photo that it really wasn´t, but it was quick and delicious and a perfect New Year´s Eve starter for the two of us. Who wants to spend hours in the kitchen when there´s champagne to be drunk for goodness sake?!

Scallops (1)

Back here on the South Coast of England, we are lucky to have access to freshly caught fish and shellfish. Rye Bay Scallops (caught locally) are delicious and even have a festival to celebrate their glory. Lucky us, perfect for a special treat.

Ingredients (for 2 people)

  • A few handfuls of your favourite salad (we used rocket and baby plum tomatoes)
  • 3 scallops with their coral per person
  • 6 thin slices of jamon (or use 3 slices of prosciutto cut in half)
  • A salad dressing made from olive oil, lemon juice, a splash of soy sauce, half a teaspoon of honey and salt & pepper (go easy on the salt because of the soy sauce)

Heat a griddle pan until it starts to smoke and then quickly sear the jamon/prosciutto for a few seconds on each side.

Jamon a la plancha (1)

Remove from the heat and cook the scallops for about a minute on each side (or less if you like them less cooked or they are not very thick).

Put a layer of salad on a plate then 3 slices of jamon followed by the scallops.  Season the salad, drizzle with the dressing, serve with lemon and enjoy.

Scallops Pil Pil

Scallops Pil Pil (1)

When we´re Up the Mountain, we enjoy fresh fish from the coast several times a week from Fish Man. When we´re in England we are based on the south coast, so benefit from a wonderful local fishmonger or a trip to The Stade (the fisherman´s beach) in nearby Hastings where we can choose from an incredible range of fresh fish.

Recently (before heading back to Spain) we treated ourselves to some fresh scallops with their roe and decided to cook them Gambas Pil Pil style with plenty of fresh crusty bread to mop up those delicious spicy, garlicky juices.

Normally I´d cook this in a terracotta bowl which goes onto the stove top but foolishly hadn´t taken any to England with me. No problem, I used a small frying pan!

Ingredients to serve 2 people

  • About 4 – 6 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 4 fat cloves of garlic peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 or 2 dried birds eye chillies
  • About a level teaspoon of hot pimentón (or chilli powder)
  • Sea salt
  • 6-8 fresh scallops

Put all the ingredients except the scallops into a pan and start on a gentle heat “poaching” the garlic for 2-3 minutes. Now turn it up and when it starts to sizzle, gently drop in the scallops and cook for a further 1-2 minutes until the scallops are cooked through (this will depend on how thick your scallops are).

Serve sizzling hot and be prepared for lots of smacking of lips and licking of fingers.