Some days you are just in a hurry. You know, those days – you run home from somewhere, you sit down to catch your breath and then remember that you’ve invited a couple of friends for dinner, only to realise that there is, as of yet, no dinner as such.
And moreover, to paraphrase Nigella Lawson, “just because you have decided to have a dinner party does not mean that you have left yourself time to do everything and anything”. Meaning, situations can sneak up on you and whack you upside the head, and before you know it, you realise that soon there’ll people knocking on your door and expecting to be fed and entertained.
What to do?
Option A is if you must run to the nearest supermarket and shop because you also forgot to buy anything and your freezer is empty. If you are like me, you have an option B – a generally well-stocked freezer in which frozen prawns and some sort of fish usually reside. This does make your life much easier, but if the supermarket is close by, option A is still a viable alternative (and you can pick up something cold to drink there while at it).
The thing with hurry and seafood is this – frozen meat takes ages to defrost, and generally longer to prepare – whether you mean to cook it or to marinate it for grilling, it’s just denser by virtue of belonging to a land-dwelling creature built to stand up to gravity. Unlike seafood, which, as we know, swims in the sea and has far less need to get tough – and consequently, also cooks in a flash. You could argue that beef filet hardly takes more time to cook, and I’ll agree – but if you have defrosted beef filet on hand, you hardly need much advice on how to feed your guests!
Seafood can be slow-defrosted in the fridge if you have all day, or, on such an occasion when you don’t, it can be, without sacrificing much (or any) in the way of quality, defrosted by placing it in a plastic bag and drowning said bag in a very large bowl of cool water – and changing the water once it turns from cool to icy-cold. Depending on the size of your fish cut or the amount of prawns or other shellfish, it may take up to half an hour to defrost in this manner – but that time can be used in other preparation, such as preheating oven, setting the table, taking a shower, or whatever combination seems most imperative at the time.
I have found the recipe that inspired this during a random browse-through one of T’s discarded SvD newspapers, but as with everything, and in lieu of a charcoal grill, I have had to tinker. The result was a quick and easy recipe that was – at the time most importantly as I made it for Midsummer Eve – also quite amazing. But why limit such a fantastic idea to Midsummer only? Or, since it uses an oven rather than an open grill, why limit it to summer at all?
The premise is simple: take cuts of varying seafood and make sure the pieces are roughly same size (most tender seafood cooks more or less equally quickly). Plonk those and some quick-cooking vegetables into a sauce, mix and leave for 5 min to permeate, then spread on a baking parchment-covered rack in a roasting pan and stick under a very hot broiler for just a few minutes. Achieve seafood nirvana. Yes, it is literally that easy.
What you need for a feast serving 2 hungry people:
(The quantities given below can be easily doubled to feed four or five, but I would not try to do more than that in one batch.)
- 600-700g raw seafood – I used a combination of 500g salmon, 2 large scallops and 2 tiger prawns, deveined but shell-on (cut through the back), but anything you want – cuts of monkfish or halibut or a few New Zealand greenshell mussels-on-the-shell certainly won’t go amiss.
- 1 bunch asparagus, washed and trimmed
- 1 sweet pepper, cored and cut into pieces
- 1 small or half of a large red onion, sliced into thin wedges
For the marinade:
- 2dl shellfish or lobster fond (aka deglacage – easiest way to obtain this is to buy it bottled in a supermarket)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1-1.5dl olive or rapeseed oil
- 1 tbsp pink peppercorns, crushed
- 1 tsp dried oregano leaves
- 1/2 tsp chili flakes
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 large pinch saffron threads, crushed (dry them in a 50-75°C oven for 30 min if needed to make crushing easier)
- Salt and black pepper to taste
For the garlic butter (to dunk it all and your bread into at the table):
- 2-5 cloves of garlic crushed into a small bowl
- Sea salt to taste, crumbled over the garlic
- 1/2 cup butter, melted in a pan on low-medium heat till it just bubbles but not browns, and poured over said garlic and salt.
- 1 lime, cut into wedges – to serve
- Mix all sauce ingredients in a bowl, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary/if you like. It should stand about 5 minutes.
- In the meantime, ensure your oven is empty, place one oven rack in the highest division that’ll still allow you to fit in your roasting dish with food on rack. Turn broiler to preheat to really really hot. I use between 250° and 275°C.
- Cut up your fish into pieces no thicker than 1.5cm and of manageable size.
- Cut the back of prawns if using, and devein.
- Rinse in cold water and pat dry any variety of seafood that needs it.
- Wash, dry and cut vegetables (asparagus, paprika, onion, but a halved tomato or some tender sprouting broccoli, parboiled baby potatoes or mangetouts won’t be nearly terrible either – in short, use what you have unless you take option A and run to the supermarket in which case it’s what they have, and what you want).
- Pile veggies and seafood into a large mixing bowl and upend the bowl of sauce over them. Mix to combine. (if you use mussels, put those separately on a platter from other seafood and drizzle with sauce from above – this is because the shells can cut into tender fish and scallop flesh if you just dump them in with the rest)
- Take a sheet of baking parchment and wrap your grilling rack with it. Place the rack into the roasting dish and with a sharp knife tip, pierce the parchment in-between the grill to allow juices to run off the parchment easier. The parchment helps tender seafood not slip through the rack, and also keeps it cleaner (a secondary benefit I, being lazy, do not frown upon).
- When this is ready or oven is preheated (whichever is sooner), take the seafood-and-veg in sauce and carefully slide it out of bowl to rest on the parchment-covered rack.
- Put roasting dish into the oven as close to broiler as it can be without touching. Note: I have never used a gas-oven broiler, so please use your prudence and knowledge of how close food should reasonably be to the flames here.
- Turn on your exhaust fan and watch the food, checking it frequently. I do not think it should be in the oven for longer than 10 minutes, but ovens vary very much, and broilers even more so and I cannot stress the watching-it part enough. I recommend opening the oven door a crack (most ovens have a hold-it spot in the door mechanism for this purpose) for the second part of the cooking process, to help get rid of the steam. Note: keep face out of way of oven door when opening it, there will be very hot steam – more of it than when roasting or baking! It is not nice in the face. I know, I’ve tried!
- While you are close to the stove and oven and checking on your seafood, carefully heat a pan or pot on medium heat and melt your butter. Pour it over the crushed garlic and salt and stir to combine. Slice the lime into wedges if not yet done. Take the garlic butter to the table, but don’t leave the seafood unattended for too long.
- As soon as the seafood looks ready (fish will be opaque and flake easily with fork, scallops will also turn opaque, and prawn shells will turn red with attractively browned edges), take the roasting dish out of the oven. Allow to sit for a minute or three, then plate it out and garnish with lime.
While I have provided detailed instructions for the hurried and nervous cook, the entire process (from the point seafood is defrosted or brought fresh from supermarket) takes about half an hour. And, as I have mentioned above, this way lies culinary nirvana.
All things considered, you could, of course, do like the original recipe suggested, and press the sauce-drenched vegetables and seafood between the fish barbecue grills (one of those contraptions with two sides and a handle) and slap it on a charcoal or a gas grill if you have one around. By all means – and on that note, I should get one of those tiny balcony-friendly ones myself!