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.
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.