Cool Heat


It’s a pleasure that will become will become ever-more-frequent as summer unfolds in the months ahead – sliding into a glistening pool on a hot day, or the first sip of a cold drink dripping condensation in the sweltering humidity.  Today’s offering takes full advantage of this perfect contrast and brings heat, and then douses it in supremely refreshing coolness.

Chilled Shrimp and Scallops in Spicy Tomatillo Sauce hails from Mexico, a country certainly familiar with heat, which also has developed a culinary talent for mitigating it, often raising the temperature, only to quench it.  That’s precisely the effect chef Sheyla Alvarado had in mind when she created the dish for her restaurant TrasLomita. Her efforts and subsequent recipe were featured in the August 2018 Food & Wine.

First, there’s the heat.  Leading the roster is the habanero pepper; while a few varieties are even more incendiary, little else can match its force.  Notice the color; it even resembles a flame!:

One little pepper is more than sufficient to flavor the sauce drenching everything.  Backing this effect is olive oil infused with golden roasted garlic, as well as thin slices of radish.

Absolutely, a blast from the furnace, but the fire crackles only for a second before cool, refreshing relief washes over the palette.  Cucumber and cilantro throw ice on the flame, sizzling as they dissipate the heat.  Steam arises.

Then, there’s the main attraction, the shellfish.  The pepper’s bite sets the stage for the fish’s briny sweetness, a coolness amplified as it steeps in lime juice.  The temperature is the other element plunging this into refreshment, as the shrimp and scallops are served chilled.  A break from two different directions, both in temperature and in flavor.

Indeed, Mexico has uncovered the secret to staying cool in the summer.  Crank up the heat for just a second, which makes the ensuing cooldown all the more bracing and invigorating.  Sun then shade.

*****

Chilled Shrimp and Scallops in Spicy Tomatillo Sauce

  • 1/2 pound tomatillos, husks removed
  • 2 habanero chiles, seeded and stems removed (*1)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (*2)
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • salt, to taste
  • 14 ounces large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 6 ounces scallops
  • 1/4 cup fresh Key lime juice
  • 1 small seedless cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Place tomatillos in a blender and pulse until they’re smooth, about a minute.  Pour through a fine-mesh sieve and discard the solids.

Return the strained tomatillos to the blender and add the habanero and the oregano.  Process until smooth and transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Set a small saucepan over a medium-high flame and add two tablespoons of olive oil.  When it shimmers, add the garlic clove and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is golden, about three minutes.  Remove from the heat and let the pan cool for 15 minutes.  Remove and discard the garlic clove.

Add the garlic-infused oil and the remainder of the olive oil to the tomatillo mixture.  Stir to combine, salt to taste, and chill until ready to use.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil.  Add the shrimp.  After about 2 minutes, add the scallops.  Give it about another minute (for three minutes cooking time, total) and drain the fish in a colander and rinse immediately with cold water.

Stir together in a medium bowl the shellfish and Key lime juice.  Salt to taste, cover, and chill for 30 minutes, up to two hours.

To plate, spoon three tablespoons of the tomatillo sauce into shallow serving dishes.  Arrange on top portions of shellfish, sliced cucumbers and sliced radishes.  Drizzle more tomatillo sauce over the top, garnish with cilantro, and serve.

NOTES:

1 – Depending on the pepper’s intensity, perhaps only one will do.  Two might be a little overwhelming, or you may substitute two relatively mild peppers, such as jalapeños.

2 – Mexican oregano is better here, if you have it.  Its slightly floral notes play well with the other ingredients.

61 thoughts on “Cool Heat

  1. oh dear my favourite prawns that I really do miss … recently been getting some lovely ‘native’ fruits from a First Nation neighbour. Their cucumber looks like a lethal weapon as it has massive hard spikes but the taste is so sweet and super moist. Never tried it before but now I’m a convert!

    the usual cucumber is a very poor cousin ..

    Liked by 2 people

    1. As you know, not much can rival a summer garden salad, Kate. All that rain, straight from the cloud, into your mouth, via the vegetables’ tasty agency. A garden is a task-and-a-half to put in and maintain, but the rewards are definitely worth all the trouble!

      As for your neighbor’s spiked curiosity, you know first-hand taste does not match appearance. Reminds me of an observation Nick Stellino, a chef here in the US, made. “I wonder who the first person was, who, when he saw an artichoke, thought, ‘You know what? I think I can eat that.'”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As do I, and I’m grateful to that ancestor who, probably way back in cave days, confronted with an Eat-This-or-Starve moment, chose the thistle.

        From those unpromising beginnings arose a delicacy. Perhaps the most sublime of all.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Much appreciated, Crystal, though I most definitely don’t consider myself to be a pepper-head. Quite the opposite.

      Venture very far beyond the serrano or the poblano, and Scoville overwhelms, dissolving any flavor that may have existed once.

      Still, it’s a tribute to the cooling elements in this dish that they can tame even the fearsome habanero. Though, for what it’s worth, most of a pepper’s heat comes from the seeds and, especially, the ribs. As those were removed carefully (with the deftness of a surgeon, I might add!), I stacked the deck, sort of. Flavor 1, Heat 0.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Much appreciated, Crystal!

        It was a gamble, this year, going with something refreshing at this particular juncture. Just a couple weekends ago, the high was 41, and we actually had a snow squall after dark.

        Still, I rolled the dice. May persisted…and delivered. Sunny and 83 when the photo was snapped. Closer to 90 today. Yes coolness, you most certainly are welcome here!

        Like

  2. Habanero! Oof. I’m a proud wimp when it comes to spice. Though then again, I have been getting more tolerant of it lately, and if the other ingredients balance out the pepper a bit, then maybe…

    I’m curious, though: what’s your tolerance level of spice, and was it always so, or was there a time when you (too) ran for the water at the slightest hint of warmth?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, Rachel, would that I spotted your question fifteen seconds ago, as I just responded similarly to another reader, namely,

      “Still, it’s a tribute to the cooling elements in this dish that they can tame even the fearsome habanero. Though, for what it’s worth, most of a pepper’s heat comes from the seeds and, especially, the ribs. As those were removed carefully (with the deftness of a surgeon, I might add!), I stacked the deck, sort of. Flavor 1, Heat 0.”

      Now, on to Part II…I like spice, but I can’t say I’m a big fan of heat. Spice adds flavor and depth – think cinnamon, oregano, thyme, etc. – whereas, in my opinion, heat just adds Ow – OMG, it burns!

      As the heat ramps, flavor quickly runs for the hills. To each is own, of course, but those who think “the hotter the better” are maximizing discomfort, not flavor. Variety and expressiveness reside at the more nuanced end of the scale.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah! Yes, I have the bad habit of using the two words interchangeably… But yeah, I’ve fairly recently come around to the realization that there is a degree of heat that adds flavor, without being unnecessarily masochistic.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh, no, Rachel, I do too. Misapply them all the time, in fact.

        It’s just that you asked a good question, which required some thought, hence…

        Artistry, if any is at hand, is called when allowing the spices to assert themselves fully, while balancing their opposite numbers. Thus, you can enjoy something flavorful, sophisticated and playful without once causing the eyes to water.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks much for the compliment, Eliza!

      For now, I’m happy to tinker, though who knows? Spend enough time in the lab (kitchen) and a discovery may emerge. If ever that happens, you’ll hear “Eureka!” clear across the Atlantic.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Great, makes me feel good, Eliza. Many thanks!

        Well, let’s see. So far, the brownies struck your fancy. What else may we devise for your entertainment? C’mon TA, think. Think! Chop-chop!

        Like

      2. Don’t we all, Eliza?

        Muffins and cupcakes always are crowd pleasers, and they’re fairly easy to assemble too. Usually takes only one bowl, a mixer and a cupcake pan, and you’re good to go. You can make up frosting or whipped cream too, if you want to get all fancy-schmancy, but the canned stuff is creditable.

        Much easier than putting together a layer cake and frosting it too, and just as satisfying. Start dreaming now, Baker Eliza!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You do have a way with words, Keith. I’m not big on shellfish because I find them creepy, but your beautiful usage of words could nearly talk me into becoming a fan- nearly. 😋

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why, thank you, Tamara!

      Yes, I agree. You’re unlikely to find a more dedicated shellfish advocate than I, though admittedly their appearance is a bit…unnerving. Even at the top of the line, among the lobsters, show crabs and tiger shrimp, you won’t find a looker. Oh, but what flavor!

      Wait, why am I trying to convert you? You know your tastes, and shellfish doesn’t do it for you. Fair enough. Just go down the list of things “everyone” likes, but which I don’t. Nine of the ten most popular things on the planet, including pepperoni, watermelon, (most) chesses, Coke…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This sounds fabulously refreshing and perfect now that the weather is warming up! It’s unfortunate that my husband doesn’t like scallops so we don’t have them often. I think they have a neutral flavor, especially compared to many other types of seafood. Sometimes I’ll make them for myself (and there’s always restaurants).

    Speaking of restaurants, I tried a dish that sounds a lot like this in a restaurant a few years ago. Instead of scallops though, it had octopus!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Was it good, Summer, the octopus dish? So easy to cook octopus improperly, turning it to rubber. When done skillfully, though, sublime!

      Unfortunate aversion your husband has, to scallops, as it denies him a rare treat. As you know, like most seafood, scallops enjoy a light touch. Many are the paths to ruin, while deliciousness yields only to enlightenment.

      How very Japanese an observation, right? No wonder Hokkaido produces just about the world’s best scallops.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The octopus was excellent! It was in small pieces so it wasn’t off-putting to us octopus novices.

        I think my husband may have grown up eating some poorly cooked scallops. Or maybe there is something in the flavor or texture he finds unappealing. Whatever it is or was, it put him off of them for life. I’m not sure when the first time I had scallops was. It could have been in a restaurant when I reached adulthood. Either way, I’m fortunate that nothing has ruined them for me!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Absolutely, Summer!

        Your speculation as to what kept your husband off Team Scallop inspired thought. Relatively few items on my “Least Favorite” list are there for taste alone. Texture, appearance, even negative associations, all are major factors. Sometimes, even, to the exclusion of taste, which really isn’t so objectionable.

        Among the ranks are foods that struck me the wrong way when I was a baby, and they never recovered face. Which isn’t to say I’m incapable of revision, as Brussels sprouts, lamb, parmesan and squash once were foresworn and now are appreciated. Adored, even. And those four are just what came to mind instantly.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. That they do, Summer! If memory serves, we add taste buds until we’re three or four, then we lose them steadily the rest of our lives. Therefore, things really do taste different now than they did when we were toddlers or kids.

        There’s that, and the fact that as we mature, so do our tastes. As we become more refined, so too does our appreciation, or lack of, for certain items.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Some of us really experience foods in a different way as well. There are supertasters who are far more sensitive to bitter flavors than the rest of us. My son is one and it can make mealtimes interesting. Sometimes I’ll serve up something (say, roasted turnips) that I think are wonderful and he does not have the same experience with it.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Oh, supertasters! Would you believe, Summer, I just heard of this condition a few months ago?

        Apparently, among other attributes, they dislike foods most others crave, or conversely, they savor what most of us avoid. In both cases, the food in question means something completely different to them.

        In the report I saw (it may have been on ‘Nova’) scientists at Boston University were testing a supertaster, having her put various strips of paper in her mouth and determining from the colors they (the strips) produced what chemical properties applied to this woman’s taste buds and saliva.

        They had their subject drink coffee, which she didn’t like, followed immediately with the test strips. It turns coffee produces a different chemical reaction in this woman than it does in “normal” people.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. My son brought home test strips from school that supposedly test for this. He tested as a supertaster and wanted to see if we were as well.

        I’m not. At all. I eat everything (if that wasn’t apparent). lol My husband was able to faintly detect the substance on the test strip. This is what I would have guessed based on our food preferences. I could tell from the time my son was young that his experience with various foods had some divergences from the norm. It’s interesting and nice to know there is a scientific reason that some are far pickier than others. They are not just trying to irritate the cook. 😉 haha

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Ha, Summer! Sure, supertasters are “far pickier” at times, but at others, maybe they’re less picky? There could be foods that 95% of people dismiss with a wave of the hand and “I would never…” yet supertasters enjoy them, as the tasters discern flavor profiles most of us miss.

        Have you learned if supertasting is genetic? This bit of information may have been included in the “Nova” episode, but I missed it. Came into the episode at about :15, quite by accident, and instantly was captivated.
        ,

        Liked by 1 person

      8. It’s thought that genetics do play a role. Unfortunately it tends not to be beneficial… it may be one of the factors behind severe selective eating (AKA ARFID, the eating disorder I studied in grad school and am working on getting a paper published on).

        A lot of nutrient-rich foods (especially leafy veggies) are bitter. It makes sense that those with severe selective eating tend to go for dairy, potatoes, and refined grains if they find bitter tastes offensive. All are pretty bland! If dietary variety gets cut down too much there can be severe health consequences 😦

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Fascinating, Summer. What are the odds, something is of interest, and I just happen to make friends with someone who wrote the paper on the subject? Oh, internet, what other miracles do you guard?

        When I was a child, I didn’t find leafy greens to be “offensive,” not quite, but I definitely didn’t care for them. Adulthood’s, err, sophistication did grant a new appreciation, though. When the pandemic’s depths made acquiring fresh produce difficult for a week or two, I actually felt a vague, but identifiable, longing. Almost a throbbing. How’s that for proof I don’t suffer from selective eating?

        Liked by 1 person

      10. I also most definitely felt the longing for fresh produce as well. I’d say that having our grocery situation sorted out has certainly helped to alleviate some of the stress in my life. Those of us who don’t mind eating most things are lucky though.

        The folks with the most severe forms of selectivity were put into a bad situation if they could not obtain their preferred foods. In addition, small children might not have had a full understanding of why things changed. I’m glad my son is older and he was able to understand why we couldn’t get him the particular brand of mango juice that he likes with his lunches. Also, he eats a wide variety of foods at this point, unlike when he was younger. I feel for the families who are at a different point on this journey and had to face a far more negative situation.

        Liked by 1 person

      11. You clearly have given this much thought, Summer, and your empathy proves it.

        How fortunate your son has parents who are patient and who have taken time to get an idea of what’s happening. Just as easily, you could’ve dismissed his experiences as being mere childish petulance, which you will not indulge, thank you very much. “You’re not leaving this table until you eat…”

        Instead, he got a mother who knows a thing or two about this condition, and is herself a dietician. If anyone is going to suffer this condition, I scarcely can imagine doing so under conditions more favorable than the ones you provide. I say, Summer, all manner of food-related benefits you provide.

        Like

      12. I don’t normally eat pork products, or highly processed foods. Whenever I happen to have pizza, it’s vegetarian or pineapple & jalapeños, or chicken and garlic.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah, JoAnn, for sure! Bayless is quite the artist, of course.

      Then there’s advantage #64 – Mexican cuisine rules. Oh, and don’t forget #112, he’s from Chicago!

      In addition, I think Bayless has a restaurant in Disney Springs. Haven’t heard much about it, though it’d have to be pretty good, I should think.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes they do. I haven’t been keeping up with Disney stuff lately since I moved further north…. plus they have been closed up down there for a spell. Defintely need to get down there one of these days though to check out Frontera. Take out or otherwise.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Good idea, JoAnn! If you do partake, let me know what you think, OK?

        I’m considering visiting EPCOT/Disney Springs, largely for the dining. Last time I visited, I was a little kid and as such, I focused on little kid summer vacation fuel, such as corn dogs and ice cream.

        Maturity has refined my tastes and sharpened keenness for much more upscale fare. Not quite Victoria and Albert’s, but getting close. Plus more than a few of my colleagues have visited recently (as adults, naturally) and have returned with glowing reports.

        Obviously, this year is completely out of the question, but next year or 2022, maybe…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, this year is just a mess even though they’ve been establishing plans for keeping the parks open. Now that the “second wave” is happening it’s just that much worse. I think Disney wants to see what happens with Universal and Sea World reopening. Let them be the test mice.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Yeah, right? I know I’m not booking a hotel and a flight until we have a vaccine, JoAnn. Most decidedly, I don’t want to wear a mask all day. In that subtropical swelter? Seriously?

        The more I think of it, the more eager I am to indulge in the “Signature” restaurants, but not at the cost of physical (masked) misery! Florida still will be there…whenever.

        Before this whole COVID nonsense started, I was considering the Grand Floridian, but you need to reserve something in June for the following May (which is my “sweet spot”). Right now, we may or may not have a vaccine by next May, meaning I likely will wait until next year to reserve something for 2022

        Sorry for the spiel, but after three months of lockdown, I’m ready for a good vacation!

        By the way, I haven’t seen any new posts on your blog since late May. Or, possibly, is my browser just being fussy again? Either way, I look forward to your next article!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Sorry for my delayed response. I’ve been taking a little time off from blogging here and there. Mostly I’m just trying to get used to my new job and it can be rather exhausting sometimes. Thanks for noticing!

        Please don’t be sorry. I love our comment discussions!

        The Grand Floridian is definitely the best of the best when it comes to Disney hotels. It’s just so darned depressing to think about when things might actually get back to normal. As you pointed out it really could be another year before we have a vaccine. Such things just take time and that’s reality. Til then we’ll just have to muddle through somehow!

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Thanks for the insight, JoAnn! In fact, I noticed you use the Floridian as your header graphic sometimes. At first I though it might be just a function of you featuring Orlando scenery, but I should’ve known you’d have first-hand knowledge.

        Though I can afford it, it’s only because of saving for years. It still is major $$$, as you know. Much as I’ve dreamed, those hopes will flourish until masks no longer restrict them. If that means 2022, so be it.

        Thanks so much, too, for taking time to respond. Lord knows, you already have enough on your mind just with the general COVID situation, then to add getting used to new job on top of that…

        Yet, you take time to talk about…my vacation? Much appreciated, JoAnn! You did post again last week, and I’m glad to read you again, both here and there!

        Liked by 1 person

      7. It’s no problem. I worked for Disney for 5 years and spent 2 years working at Polynesian Village, which you may know is within walking distance to Grand Floridian. Sometimes when I got done working I would walk over and just sit in the magnificent Lobby of GF. The decor is just amazing. They have a house jazz band that plays periodically throughout the day and in the evening they have usually have piano players who were so enjoyable to listen to. And the smell… even the air freshener they use is just heavenly. Disney rarely misses a single detail. If you haven’t been there before you will absolutely love it! No its not cheap but the experience is just extraordinary!

        I’m hearing now that they are opening the parks back up in July. Not sure if that includes the hotels… will see how it all goes. Universal has been having some trouble with attendence. Can’t blame people for being nervous especially since our numbers have been going back up 😕

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Oh my, JoAnn, that lobby! If I had to identify one thing that put me over the edge, that lobby very well might have been it. Well, that, and the constant progression of great food at the Royal Palm Club!

        I definitely am waiting until next year, or probably 2022, though, when masks and social distancing no longer are necessary. Whether that’s because there’s a vaccine, or due to the virus wearing itself out, or both, I’m not spending the $ ($$$, more like) to have a cloth stuck to my face all day, especially amidst subtropical swelter. It turns out mid-May is my “sweet spot” for many, many reasons, and a mask won’t be quite as unbearable as it would be in July, but still, no thank you.

        The last time I was at Disney, I was a kid, and it was strictly a day trip, as my late grandparents had a house in Port Orange (suburban Daytona) which the family made a base of operations. That meant no hotels, of course, and nothing great food wise, because, really, would an eight-year-old even appreciate signature dining? This time, though, I’ve saved (and saved, and saved) for the GF, California Grill, Narccosie’s, Flying Fish and other possibilities TBD until ADRs open.

        You know, JoAnn, when I first got the itch, back in 2018, I asked myself, “How old are you, five?” Then, though, I started hearing about the GF, and all the fine dining options. Also, a few people from the office went as adults, no children involved, did entirely “grown up” things, and still had an extraordinary time. While I hardly come from money – in fact, I barely reach the bourgeoisie – three years of saving does allow for….indulgences.

        Anyway, this response ended up being longer than the article itself. Thanks so much for reading JoAnn, and for all the memories you shared!

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Trust me, there are just as many adult fans of Disney as there are children. In fact I think the adults are even more fanatic than many of the kids. Disney caught on years ago and thus there are lots of grown-up things to do at Disney World, not to mention shopping and dining all aimed at adults, not children.

        I don’t blame you at all for waiting. I can’t even picture people running around Disney in masks and freaking out over social distancing. If they stick to the current schedule they are slated to open the parks on July 11th so it will be interesting to see how it goes.

        Crazy times my friend!

        Liked by 1 person

      10. Absolutely, JoAnn!

        Chances are, I’ll hit a couple rides, but mainly it’s going to be dining and shopping. Oh, and one afternoon I’ll veg out at the Japan pavilion, what, with all those koi ponds, waterfalls, foot bridges and shady groves. Blood pressure drops twenty points just thinking about it!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed, Jenn. Most definitely!

      After the shrimp has been cooked (with a light hand too, please), it doesn’t mind being chilled. Suits it for all sorts of summer refreshment.

      Come to think of it, the other time I indulged in a memorable chilled shrimp dish, it also was a Mexican creation. Seems Mexican chefs know a thing or two about staying cool. It’s a country that ranges from scorching desert to steaming jungle. Go figure.

      Like

    1. Thank you, Tamara!

      Why couldn’t the old unit have waited until September to give out on you?

      I turn off the AC during the day and open the windows to allow in the breeze, which is wonderful. In the evening, though, closed go the windows and on goes the AC. Plenty of heat tolerance during the day, but at night I can’t sleep when it’s hot.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it’s really hot outside. My AC is working (thank The Lord), but has a leak in it, so I’m purchasing a 2 Ton, Mini Split. They are supposedly incredibly efficient on energy. Due to the summertime demand, it won’t be here for a few weeks, though.

        Liked by 1 person

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