Monday, April 20, 2009

Shrimps a la plancha

Shrimps are so sweet. When my John was about 12, he used to do them on the grill for Sunday lunch, carefully heating it up with charcoal to get two minutes of fire--all it took to make them juicy and full of smoke. And he'd put them proudly in the middle of the table and we'd dig in peeling them, with lots of crusty bread.

Now I usually just saute them quickly, with a bit of butter, lemon and garlic--or other seasonings. And I buy them peeled and deveined. Something lost. But are still sweet and good, if I don't overcook them.

But last month I got to go to Barcelona where they cook everything A la Plancha, on a stainless steel griddle, hot, with olive oil. I had the best meal of the trip no doubt at a seafood bar in city market, La Bouqueria--the butcher shop. It is a huge market, with all the fruits and vegetables and meats laid out like a painting. And this little bar is tucked in the back, and locals and vendors come by for a quick coffee or cava (Spanish champagne, drunk like Coke, as far as I can tell). The combo platter I had contained seven things. And all was drenched in an herbed seafood broth (la soupa). Salty and marvelous. The best seafood I think I've ever had.

So when I got back, I tried it shrimp a la plancha. I worked (see above, on the deck, where John used to grill them). I flamed them at the end with a little Pernod, to make it French of course. However, the Catalans have a strong French streak in them. And the southern French are starting to cook A la Plancha too, judging from recipes I've been reading. So here it is, with a few shots of Barcelona for good measure.

Serves 2. 5 minutes total.

1/2 pound peeled, deveined shrimp (24 to the pound or 32* to the pound)
1 tablespoon butter
1 lemon
1 clove garlic (or 1 teaspoon minced garlic in olive oil)

  1. Heat a large skillet on high.
  2. Peel and mince the garlic (or open the jar of minced garlic in oil)
  3. Combine the garlic, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and butter in a ramekin and microwave 20 seconds
  4. Add 1 tablespoon cooking oil to the skillet and add the shrimp for one minute, or until they begin to just brown a touch, and turn pink on the cooking side.
  5. Off heat. Toss them to turn, and with a fork or tongs turn those that didn't flip.
  6. Add the butter mixture, cover, and shake.
  7. Serve after one minute under the cover.

Here's the cook at the seafood bar working two planchas at once. Even the two kinds of clams and the mussels go on the plancha, but with a domed pot lid to steam them. And the squid comes about three ways--the body cavity sliced like calimari, but grilled, the tentacles soft and meaty, and little teeny squid you eat whole and crunchy, like a hairy potato chip. The sardines were a truly amazing food. So sweet. In fact everyting literally tasted sweet.

Most of the secret is no secret. The fish is superbly fresh, and the stuff on the combo plate was (so they assured me) right out of the Mediterranean that morning. The vendors were great at cutting the fish up with these huge knives, and always offered to send the bones and trimmings home (por la soupa), and seemed disapponted when refused.

I also really liked all the meat, mostly pork. The hams were hanging in every butcher shop. They's strip off paper thin slices and sell them for very high prices. Each region, each farm even, noted and advertised, like wineries. I sampled several, and it tased different than the Virginia hams I've had or the French ones. Can't say how. And they also have, lots and lots of bones for sale too.
You can eat very high on the hog there, all the way around the ears and snout. Oh, but of course most of the time the ears and snout of a hog are down in the feeding trough.

The people at the conference were very genial, and we ate a lot of tapas together. In fact, one meals was entirely tapas. Here's the tapas we had at a fancy seafood restaurant on the harbor. Tiny clams, squid, codfish balls, and the lightest vegetables fried tempura-like. I don't know how they got them so light.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Salade de Carotte / Carrot salad : Django Bistro

This is a bistro favorite. It's refreshing. It gets better the next day, and the day after. And it makes this season--when things are just blooming but not ready to eat--promise the summer.

This dish is not at Django, the new Bistro in downtown Des Moines, Django, where J and I ate at 10 (the place was packed) after watching our Katie compete for Yale in the national collegate mock trial competition at the Hotel Fort Des Moines. (The results are kept secret till the end, so stay tuned).

But they do have sweetbreads, the only place in Iowa that I know of that has them. So this makes me miss the little places in France that do such simple things. It's better with freshly grated carrots. So if you have an extra, oh, three minutes, it's worth it. But hey, this is is MA10MFC, not MAFC.

Salade de Carotte / Carrot salad

10 ounce bag of grated carrots
1 tablespoon lemon juice (1/2 lemon squeezed)--double it if you like!
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (2 if you like)
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons small capers
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the ingredients and toss

By the way, the bowl in the photo above is from J's grandmother, via her mother. When I was newly married and moving, we had a bigger bowl from her grandmother, and my dear sister-in-law accidentally slammed the door on my finger while I was putting the bowl in the car. The bowl broke (my finger didn't break, but was blue for weeks). And my dear s-i-l gave us this little bowl--also from J's grandmother--as a consolation. I have cherished it ever since.