So a week after getting back from Phuket, I missed the sun, sand and seafood so much, I decided to put together a bit of an impromptu post-Phuket do for the crew.
I love seafood. Really. Shellfish is simply superb, we should celebrate it all the time. And since I can't imagine a life without it, and needed an excuse to get everyone together, I dedicated our dinner to the celebration of our friends from under the sea (cue Sebastian: darling it's better down where it's wetter take it from meeee).
Now seafood dinners are generally really hard to do on the cheap, but there are some ways around it (you'll just have to forgo the lobster linguine), and I've found three dishes that won't throw you in the deep end (money-wise)
- moules à la marinière (or in plain english - mussels in white wine)
- maryland crabcakes
- shrimp aglio olio with basil and roasted cherry tomatoes
Moules à la Marinière
Generally, live mussels aren't overly expensive, but they are an absolute btch to clean and de-beard, so if you're a lazy cook like me, go for the vacuum packed option which you can find at most Cold Storage or NTUC Finest. They will cost anywhere between $10 and $30 per 1lb bag, I generally settle for the option that looks nice with shiny shells still in tact. Each 1lb pack comes with about 12 good-sized mussels, cooked, cleaned, debearded then vac-packed for convenience. If you're serving this as a main (with just bread on the side), you'll need about 1lb per person, but if you're serving it up with other things, 2lbs is way more than enough for 3 people.
I also added clams (de-shelled) to the white wine broth because I know some friends (ahem greks) are too lazy to de-shell the mussels and would rather scoop the clams up from the bottom of the bowl.
This dish makes for a great (and impressive looking) 15 minute meal (which was about the time it took for me to cook 5 dozen mussels in a giant stock pot with wine and fresh herbs). For Sunday's seafood fiesta, I adapted from the Balthazar cookbook recipe, but this one by smitten kitchen works just as well - trust me I've tried it.
Do crabcakes really come from Maryland? I've always wondered. But whatever it is, they are a damn tasty addition to any seafood dinner, they're also a lot easier - than most people think - to make. Swap fresh crab meat for the frozen variety. You're going to be mixing it up with all kinds of things like sauteed onions, bread crumbs, raw egg and the like, so I don't think fresh crab meat makes too much of a difference. This will also make your dish a helluva lot more affordable.
Be sure to shop around for your frozen crab meat - I found cans retailing for anything from $16 to $34, and I don't think it makes a whole lot of difference since it's already frozen. Two cans made twenty four medium-sized crab cakes, or 16 large ones. More than enough to feed a very hungry party of eight with one or two leftover.
You can pretty much use just about any crabcake recipe out there (it's really tough to screw this one up), but I went for the most popular one on All Recipes. With 609 reviews, I'd say this has been tried, and tested and proved far too many times over. I swapped out the garlic powder for actual garlic and onion (sauteed), and topped them all off with lemon-garlic mayonnaise (mix 3 tablespoons of mayo with 1 teaspoon of fresh minced garlic and a generous squeeze of lemon) which happened to be the surprise hit of the evening.
Shrimp Aglio Olio with Basil and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
I am such a huge fan of this recipe. I've been making it for about 8 years now, and never once have I not had rave reviews. The recipe is adapted from the original domestic goddess, Martha, but with a few twists of my own.
As far as possible, be sure to use fresh prawn - the flesh is firmer and sweeter, which makes a big difference since the recipe and ingredients are so simple. You will also want good quality cherry tomatoes (the sweet kind, not the sour yellow looking ones), and lots of fresh basil. If you've got top notch ingredients, this simple recipe will pop!
Tweaks: I roast my tomatoes (tossed in EVOO and seasoned with sea salt and cracked black pepper) for about 20 minutes in the oven (at 200C) till the skin just starts to blister before tossing them in with all the other ingredients. I always substitute butter for EVOO because I love buttery pasta, but you can stick with the healthy (and very tasty) EVOO option too. Be sure to top it off with generous shavings of fresh parmesan or pecorino.
Seafood generally goes well with salads or simply prepared veggies. I made a carrot coleslaw to accompany the crabcakes and also served up some grilled corn on the cob, which is simple, fuss free, and always delicious. It also delivers on that seafood experience of eating with ones fingers.
For dessert we were treated to our resident baker's latest experiment - an apple tart that comprised a perfectly flaky pastry covered in a mosaic of thin-sliced baked apples slathered in caramel sauce and topped with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Drooling yet? I bet you are. That whole thing was quite literally gone in 60 seconds. It was the most beautiful apple pie I have ever laid eyes on.
Everything above was way, way, way more than enough for eight people, I'd say the portions were suited to 12 hungry men. So I'll be having leftovers for a few days.
Lucky for me, we had large pots of dark pink verbena lying around at home, with the lovely sunday evening sunset, gold tiffany chairs to match the gold napkin rings, blue placemats, white crockery, candles and great company, I didn't need much to make the setting magical.