Home, where seafood is king

By on June 23, 2012

The Hawthornes have been on a cross-country trip for the past seven weeks, and if we’ve learned anything, it’s how lucky we are to live where we do — on the Outer Banks.

We have sorely missed our seafood, which, sadly, we have taken for granted.

West coast oysters do not hold a candle to east coast oysters. They are nowhere near as sweet or oceany as what we are used to eating.

Dungeness crab is a mere imitation of our Callinectus sapidus — the blue crab. Even the shrimp pale in comparison to what we have on the Outer Banks. Outer Banks shrimp are much sweeter and more flavorful than west coast shrimp.

The Hawthornes are spoiled.

After almost two months of traveling and eating “road food,” ranging on a 1 – 10 scale from -8.5 – 9.9 (Nothing’s perfect.), we are happy to be home, in our own kitchen, cooking what we love most — Outer Banks seafood.

Coconut Fried Shrimp with Pineapple Rum Salsa
My favorite way to enjoy shrimp is fried. I think frying intensifies that sweet shrimp flavor. The addition of the coconut is a welcome accent here and and the pineapple salsa complements it well. The rum is optional, but I think it gives the salsa a nice kick.

1 pound shrimp, shelled, deveined, with tails intact
½ cup flour
1 egg
¼ cup pineapple juice
¼ cup beer
½ tsp baking powder
¼ – ½ tsp cayenne
Freshly ground salt and pepper
1 large pkg. (10 ½ oz.) sweetened shredded coconut
Approximately 3 cups oil

Combine flour, egg, pineapple juice, beer, baking powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper.
Mix well. Add shrimp. Set aside.

In a deep medium skillet, heat oil to 350 degrees.

One by one, remove battered shrimp, shaking off any excess,
and press into coconut.

Working in batches of 4 – 6 shrimp, fry the shrimp in the hot oil until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Do not overcook shrimp. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Serve with Pineapple Rum Salsa.

Pineapple Rum Salsa
1½ cups fresh pineapple chunks
3 TB orange marmalade
1 TB sliced jalapeno pepper
1 TB lime juice with a little zest
1 TB chopped fresh cilantro (If you have cilantro growing and it’s going to seed, the addition of the raw, green coriander seeds gives this salsa a deliciously citrusy punch.)
1 TB minced pimiento pepper
2-3 TB+ rum, to taste (optional)
A few grinds of Kosher salt, to taste

Finely chop pineapple and stir in rest of ingredients. Refrigerate.

Rice and Beans

For a palate-pleasing side dish, I like to pair the shrimp with a complementing rice and bean mixture. Sometimes dishes just make themselves. You might call it dealing with leftovers. However, I don’t call them leftovers. I call them moreovers. That puts a much nicer, more postive spin on things. You have some rice from a lunch you made a few days ago. There are black beans from another meal. And you have vegetables ripening in the garden. Let’s make moreovers! I like to think of it as a challenge.

Black beans
Chopped red onion
Minced jalapeno
Peeled, seeded, juiced, and chopped tomato
Chopped cucumber
Chopped bell pepper (The more colors, the merrier.)
Sliced avocado
Diced fresh pineapple
Lime juice and zest
Fresh cilantro or parsley if you’re anti-cilantro.

Mix ingredients in whatever amounts you like. And savor it.

I particular enjoy the sweet and savory mix in this dish. You have the sweet of the shrimp and coconut and the savory of the rice and beans working together to create something a bit more than the individual parts. It’s a culinary synergism.

Seared Tuna With Lemon Butter Caper Sauce
A few years ago, I went to one of the seafood classes being offered during the Outer Banks Taste of the Beach Week. Amy Huggins of Outer Banks Epicurean demonstrated a Lemon Butter Caper Sauce which I use for a lot of different fish. This particular tuna has a spicy rub on it for a little more flavor and a bit of heat.

Spicy Rub:
1 part white sesame seeds
1 part black sesame seeds
Less than ½ part red pepper flakes

Lightly toast sesame seeds and pepper flakes in a dry skillet.
Note: This requires adequate ventilation.

Several tablespoons chopped fresh parsley.

To cook tuna, heat an iron skillet. I swirl in about a tablespoon of canola or peanut oil, let that heat, then add in a tablespoon of butter. The butter is for flavor; the oil is to raise the smoke point so the butter doesn’t burn.

Press Spice Rub and parsley into room temperature tuna filets. Add to hot skillet. My filet was about 1 ½ inches thick and I cooked mine for about 1 ½ minutes each side. I like my tuna medium rare to rare.

Remove from pan when steaks are at desired level of doneness, let pan cool a bit,
then swirl in 3-4 tablespoons of butter, juice of one lemon (I like a lot of lemon.), and a tablespoon of capers.
Pour sauce over tuna.

Pistachio Encrusted Mahi Mahi With Cilantro/Lime Compound Butter
I love the salty crunch of the pistachios with the mahi mahi. The earthy spinach bed pairs well with the fish.

For the mahi mahi:
2 Mahi mahi filets or other firm-fleshed white fish. I’ve made this with grouper as well.
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 cup pistachio nuts, finely chopped (I used a combination of regular pictachios and
jalapeno-flavored pistachios which we picked up at some roadside mercado in California.)
Freshly ground salt and pepper
1 TB oil
1 cup white wine

Season each filet with salt and pepper. Dip each filet in egg white, then in pistachios, pressing to coat the fish evenly.
Heat oil over medium heat, then add filets. Do not crowd the pan. Lightly brown both sides of fish, 2 – 3 minutes each side. Watch the filets. Don’t let the pistachios get too dark. Remove filets from skillet, place in oven-proof dish, add white wine, and cook in a 450 degree oven for about 7-10 minutes, or until fish is firm and flesh is opaque in center.

Serve with the compound butter on top.

Cilantro/Lime Compound Butter
4 TB unsalted butter, softened
½ – 1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 TB chopped fresh cilantro leaves (And if you have the raw, green coriander seeds, by all means throw them in for a surprising taste experience.)
1 TB lime juice, with a little zest
Freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste
Mix all ingredients until smooth.

I served the fish on top of a bed of spinach wilted in sesame oil and butter, sesame seeds, and soy sauce. The greenness and richness of the spinach was a nice foil to the lightness of the fish.
If you care to add some of the Pineapple Rum Salsa, please do. It’s quite versatile.

It’s good to be home.

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