Seafood is one of nature’s delights. Much of it comes in little, bite-size pieces, cooks in no time and is endlessly versatile.
The exceptions to that are octopus and squid, so we will leave them out this time.
For this recipe we’re going to use prawns (shrimp if you’re speaking American) and scallops, if you can find some.
In restaurants nowadays you often find prawns with the tail shell still on, or even completely shell-on, and one reason for that is that they shrink and the shell helps them retain their size and shape.
But it’s a faff, as we say in the UK, taking the shells off when they’re hot and covered in oily sauce.
The alternative is to cook them very quickly. Just look at them: small and thin and fairly soft You can cook them in seconds, and that’s what we’re going to do
Large shelled prawns /shrimp, raw or cooked, defrosted
Scallops (and don’t get rid of the orange part – it’s the roe, sometimes known as coral, and it’s fine to eat – very tasty.
One or two large fresh tomatoes
Fresh chilli pepper
Heat a little butter in a good, heavy frying pan.
Add the chopped chili, grated garlic, chopped chives and grated ginger
Cut tomatoes in half and grate them (yes, grate them) into the pan
Just give this a minute on a fairly low heat. You’re not really cooking anything, but combining it and bringing out the flavour.
Add the scallops
Throw in the prawns, turn the heat up to medium and let them sizzle.
If they’re already cooked, all you want to do is warm them.
If they’re raw, give them a minute or so, until they lose their transparent look.
Grate in some lemon zest and squeeze in a little juice
When it’s hot, chop some cilantro or parsley and throw that in. It just gives some extra freshness to the dish.
Serve with rice, noodles or even spaghetti.
It’s light and fresh-tasting, with the citrus and herbs sparkling along with the natural salty sea flavour.
Seeing actual fish on a barbecue is relatively rare and there is a reason for that. Food tends to stick to the bars on a barbecue and fish is soft, so it is too easy to tear it, break it, and generally make a mess of it. With a nice big steak from some chunky fish such as salmon you might be okay, but other than that it is quite a challenge.
It helps if the bars are shiny and clean, but that means you have to cook the fish first, and anyway, how many of us have the time or inclination to get the thing back to pristine condition? We’ll clean it, yes, scrub it with a scouring pad and maybe take a nostalgic trip down Brillo Pad Lane, but there are likely to be brown spots where it should be gleaming like a lake in a fairy story.
If you’re a real fish fiend and determined to have a go, the best thing is to buy some of those fish-shaped sort of cages. You put a fish inside and close it, and the flesh doesn’t actually touch the barbecue at all. The cage does, and the fish is right next to it, so it cooks but doesn’t stick.
The best I can find as a technical term is “fish holder”, so if you’re trying to explain it to the assistant in the shop that sells this kind of thing, you’re going to be doing some descriptive business with your hands.
Alternatively, you could wrap a piece of fish in aluminium foil and slap that on, just as you put it in the oven. A fish fillet, a slice of lemon or some herbs on top, place it on some foil and wrap it up. It won’t have any of the barbecue flavor, but it will cook.
Remember, too, that fish generally takes less time, so however you choose to do it, make sure you don’t overcook it.
Far easier is to use prawns, or some other kind of seafood such as scallops, and because these are relatively small, they are often done on skewers (permanent steel ones or single-use wooden). This means you get kebabs, and you can either make a whole skewer of, say, shrimps, or mix in pieces of pepper or other roastable vegetables.
If you do that, try to make sure the pieces don’t stick out much further than the shrimps or scallops, or they will get burnt before the shrimps are done.
Squid does pretty well on a barbecue. If you use baby ones, you will need to clean them to get all the gunge out, but once that is done, sling them on the bars for a couple of minutes and they’re ready. For preparation, check out my recipe for Sea-Flavoured Squid: on the homepage, click on the search tool and type squid.
The most important thing to remember when barbecuing anything is that it’s not the smooth, predictable process you find in a good kitchen. Out there you’re thinking on your feet, making it up as you go along and just getting the job done.
Which brings us to the accompaniments. To go with fish there is a great, easy sauce called Chermoula. Click the search tool on the homepage and type chermoula.
Knock up a potato salad. Cut the spuds into chunks and boil them, then cool and drain them and mix in some mayonnaise plus a sprinkling of chopped parsley (mainly for decoration). Don’t be stingy with the mayo. A little salt and pepper and there’s your bulk, your carbohydrates.
You could do something similar with pasta (fusilli, farfalle, penne etc.): cook it, cool it, drain it, add some mayo or even just olive oil and herbs, maybe some diced tomato or cucumber. Radishes, capers… Do what you like: it’s not governed by the Ten Commandments.
As for vegetable salads etc, it is tempting to knock up a standard-issue lettuce-based number, but we all know people only eat a few forkfuls out of a sense of duty.
But if you want to give your guests something they will actually like, here is a fantastic quick salad dish: avocado with palm hearts. It depends on there being some nice ripe avocados available, but let’s assume there are. Any decent supermarket or deli will have cans of palm hearts. They come in a sort of brine to keep them in good condition, and the hearts look like white candles, not a million miles away from asparagus, but with a flavour all their own.
So, peel and slice the avocados – nice big slices if people are sitting down, or you can cut them up if everybody’s standing up, juggling with wine glasses. Open a can of palm hearts and drain off the brine. Lay one or two over the avocado (again, cut them up if people are going to find it difficult to use a knife and fork).
You will hear one three-part question: “What are these things, where can I get some and why have I never noticed them before?” Then a statement-question: “Aren’t they just perfect with avocados.”
Everything on Bloke in the Kitchen is easy, because we’re making food for everyday living and why complicate life? Even this recipe: you might not know the word tostone and ceviche might sound strange, but they’re both simple enough.
The tostones part is just quickly frying something, and any fool can do that. These are pronounced toss-TON-ess, by the way, and they are just slices of plantain, fried, pressed and fried again. In Venezuela the pressing is done in a special tool that is just two pieces of wood joined by a long hinge. We’re going to do it with two chopping boards (or one board and something big and hard to put on top.
Plantains are the bigger, macho, less sweet brothers of bananas. You want green, unripe ones. There are things you can do with ripe ones, but this is not one of them.
The other part might sound fancy at first, but it’s really not.
We’ll do the ‘fancy’ part first. Shrimps. Buy some small ones and if they’re frozen , give them an hour or so to thaw before you start.
Fresh lime juice (freshly squeezed would be great, although bottled will do. But real juice, not cordial.)
Cilantro or parsley
METHOD: THE SHRIMPS
THE FANCY WAY
Put the shrimps in a smallish plastic storage box and spread them out one layer thick. Pour in the lime juice, enough to cover the shrimps, and leave them in the fridge for two days. The acid in the lime cooks the shrimps.
THE LESS ALARMING WAY
Boil some water with a splash of lime juice and put the shrimps in. As soon as it comes back to the boil, turn off the heat and drain the shrimps. This may seem very quick, but they only take a few seconds to cook and if you keep boiling them they will shrink and go rubbery.
Then put them in the plastic storage box as above. Pour in fresh lime juice, enough to just cover them.
Cut an onion in half and slice both halves. Don’t be afraid of the amount of onion; the juice and a few minutes will take the sting out of it. Put it in with the shrimps.
Chop a red pepper into sticks about one inch long. Add to the mixture.
Chop half a handful of fresh cilantro. If you can’t get cilantro, parsley is an acceptable substitute, but less interesting. Add to the mixture.
Leave it in the fridge for as long as you can. Overnight would be good but half an hour will do.
METHOD: THE TOSTONES
Cut the ends off the plantains and peel them. Slit the skin from top to bottom and get cracking. It won’t come off like a banana skin; it will break off in pieces. This is normal. If it peels too easily, it’s too ripe.
Slice the plantains lengthways, about a quarter of an inch thick. That might mean just cutting them in half. It all depends on the thickness of the plantain. (Some people cut them crossways and thicker so they come out round rather than long, and there’s nothing wrong with ‘some people’ but you don’t have to do things like they do).
Heat a little sunflower oil in a pan (just enough to cover the bottom) and fry the plantain on both sides for a couple of minutes until golden.
Remove the tostones and place each piece on a chopping board. Put another chopping board (or a large plate, saucepan or whatever) on top and press it so the tostone gets a bit thinner and a bit wider. Don’t press too hard or you’ll split them.
Return to the pan and do them again on both sides, so the golden turns to brown. It’s like frying potatoes.
Serve the shrimp mixture on plates and use a knife to scrape it onto a tostone you’re holding in the other hand instead of a fork.
If you like the tostones but aren’t sold on the shrimps, you can use them with chilli, or dips, or scrambled eggs. Whatever you like. Once you’ve mastered tostones, that’s just another string to your bow.