Sunday, August 2, 2009
Dinner For One
Summer means fireworks in Japan and for the last month or so there have been fireworks shows somewhere in the Tokyo area almost every weekend. I tried to organize all the Michigan kids to go see this week's big one, but pretty much everyone either already had plans or wasn't interested. As that group pretty much constitutes my entire social life in Japan, I was left with a completely open calender for Saturday night.
There had been some construction going on near my place all day, so I didn't think too much of it when I first started hearing loud banging noises around 7pm. I finally figured out what was really going on and, having nothing better to do, thought I'd check it out a little. I had been able to see the fireworks from the train on my way home last weekend and since this week's were also supposed to be going on a little South of here, I thought I might be able to see something if I headed to the river near my place since it runs North-South. When I got there, I discovered that not only were they being launched to the South (which I could only just barely see off in the distance), they were also going on much closer to the east. I watched for a little while, taking some pictures, then headed back to my place. Unfortunately, it took me a while to realize that not only could I see the fireworks from my balcony (my room faces east) but that the view was far better from up there. Still, I managed to catch the last hurrah, so that was nice.
I have to say, fireworks really are not meant to be watched by oneself. It was a nice cool summer evening that would have been perfect for having a picnic and watching the show, which only made the loneliness all the more poignant.
To make matters worse, when grocery shopping that morning, I had bought ingredients to cook the kind of dish for dinner that would be far better for a dinner date than dinner for one. For some reason, scallops scream date food to me. They certainly aren't something often served for dinner for a large number of people and something just seems strange about the idea of eating them by oneself. But, most weekends, my local grocery store has a local fishmonger set up shop in a part of the store and the scallops had been catching my eye for quite some time. I honestly haven't had scallops that many times in my life, so I'd hardly call myself a big fan, but something about the idea of the fishmonger picking out the shell, cutting the scallop out, tossing it into a bag, and handing it over to me suggested a kinda of freshness that I wanted to try. I picked up 3 of the little suckers at ~$1 a pop, which seemed pretty reasonable to me.
I'd looked at a few recipes to try to find inspiration and though I didn't find anything that sounded quite like what I was in the mood for, I did find some good tips on how to sear the scallops. I think particularly important is making sure to dry them off really well and having a really hot non-stick pan. Having the heat up high is also key, as the inside will continue cooking even after you remove the scallops from the pan, so you want to sear the outside as quickly as possible to avoid overcooking the whole thing. Though I'm not a fan at all of my IH stovetop, I will at least acknowledge that it will get crazy hot if you jack the temperature up and it did the trick well enough for the scallops.
I'm a big fan of light and sweet sake-soy sauce based sauces with seafood, so I threw together a mix of roughly 2 tbs sake, 1/2 tbs soy sauce, 1/2 tbs mirin, 1/2 tsp sesame oil. It's a pretty basic set of flavors that seem to match well without overpowering the fish. I sauted some sliced up bell peppers as well to keep things from being too boring and to add a little nutritional balance to the meal.
In the end, the whole process went like this:
(1) Clean scallops, drying thoroughly. Lightly season with salt and pepper
(2) Quickly saute bell peppers until about half done. Remove from pan.
(3) Add a glug of olive oil to the pan and turn the heat up high.
(4) Place scallops in pan and leave undisturbed for 1.5~2 min
(5) Flip scallops and cook for another minute
(6) Remove scallops and deglaze pan with sake. Scrape up any bits of scallop stuck to pan
(7) Add remaining sauce ingredients and reduce for 3~4min (the time is a total guess on this one, but that's about what it felt like). About 2/3 of way through add the bell peppers back to the pan and finish cooking
(8) Plate bell peppers. Place scallops on top, then drizzle with sauce
The scallops seared up beautifully, with that sexy brown crust on the outside but the tender, just barely cooked middle. But, to be totally honest, I just don't think I'm a big scallop fan. Before you go telling me that I just didn't cook them right, I'll point out that I've had them in restaurants before as well and they just don't really do it for me. I had been hoping it would be different this time because I was using good fresh ones, but it really wasn't. That's not to say they were bad, it's just that there are a lot of other kinds of seafood or meat that I think I would have liked more. In any case, it's one more thing I can say I've tried cooking and I think the things I found out about searing them will hold true for other types of seafood as well. Oh well, live and learn.