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Seared Alaska Scallops with Jalapeño Cream; Maghreb-Style Salmon with Cous Cous

This week's recipes come to us from Mexico and the Maghreb (Arab North Africa)… two regions of the world that certainly do appreciate the spices of life.

Seared Alaska Scallops with Jalapeño Cream

This ravishing recipe comes to us courtesy Rick Bayless, chef-founder of Chicago's justly famed Frontera Grill, who is expert in many regional Mexican styles.

Serves 4

16 Alaska Weathervane scallops (20/30 count, about 1 1/4 lbs total)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
About 1/4 teaspoons sea salt, plus more for sprinkling on the scallops
1 1/2 cups Roasted Jalapeño-Cilantro Salsa (see Salsa ingredients and instructions, below)
1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream or creme fraiche
1/3 cup fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped
Marinating the scallops

  • Rinse the scallops and place in a large bowl, along with the lime juice and a liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours (no more or it will "cook" the scallops). Remove from the marinade and pat dry.

Searing the scallops
  • Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium high. Lay in the scallops, making sure they're not crowded, lest they stew rather than sear. If you're not able to fit them in an un-crowded layer, sear the scallops in 2 batches.

  • Fry until richly browned on one side, about 2 minutes, then turn them over with tongs or a spatula and sear the other side 12 minutes more; scallops are done when they're still a little translucent in the middle, but it's okay to go just past that point. Remove to a warm plate and pour off all the oil left in the pan.

Finishing the dish
  • Return the pan to the heat and, when hot, add the salsa. Stir for a couple of minutes as the salsa reduces, thickens and darkens. Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir in the cream and, when hot, taste and season with salt.

  • Ladle a portion of sauce onto each of 4 warm dinner plates, then arrange the scallops on top. Sprinkle each one liberally with chopped cilantro or parsley.

Variations and improvisations
  • Serve this luscious sauce over fettuccini, and call it New World Alfredo. Alaska Spot Prawns would be equally delicious; if that's your preference, cook them a little less time than you would scallops.

Roasted Jalapeño-Cilantro Salsa ingredients

For 2 1/2 cups:

1 1/2 pounds (about 6 medium plum) ripe tomatoes (preferably plum)
23 (1 to 1 1/2 oz) fresh jalapeño chilies*, stemmed
1/2 small (2 oz) white onion, sliced
1/4-inch thick 4 garlic cloves, peeled
about 1/4 cup water
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, loosely packed, chopped
1 generous teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar

For 5 cups:

3 pounds (about 12 medium plum) ripe tomatoes (preferably plum)
4 to 6 (2 to 3 oz) fresh jalapeño chilies*, stemmed
1 small (4 oz) white onion, sliced
1/4-inch thick 8 garlic cloves, peeled
about 1/2 cup water 2/3 cup fresh cilantro, loosely packed, chopped
2 generous teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

*Other chilies you can use: habanero (orange or green), Serrano, Santa Fe, Fresno, fresh pequin (go light; they're hot!) Hungarian wax, fresh arbol, cayenne, Tabasco, as well as most small hot fresh chilies.

Roasted Jalapeño-Cilantro Salsa instructions**

  • Heat the broiler. Lay the whole tomatoes and jalapeños out on a broiler pan or baking sheet (many cooks like to line the pan or baking sheet with heavy duty foil to easily capture the juices and make clean up a snap). Set the pan 4 inches below the broiler and broil for about 6 minutes, until darkly roasted-even rather blackened-on one side (the tomato skins will split and curl in places).

  • With a pair of tongs, flip over the tomatoes and chilies and roast the other side for another 6 minutes or so. The goal is not simply to char the tomatoes and chilies, but to cook them through while developing nice roasty flavors. Set aside to cool.

  • Turn the oven down to 425 F. On a similar pan or baking sheet, combine the onion and garlic (you'll want to separate the onion into rings) and set in the oven. Stir carefully every couple of minutes, until the onions are beautifully roasted (they'll be wilted, even have a touch of char on some edges) and the garlic is soft and browned in spots, about 15 minutes total. (For a smokier-flavored salsa, the onion and garlic can all be done on a perforated grilling pan.)
**Instructions for a less rustic salsa

  • Pull off the peel from the cooled tomatoes and cut out the “cores” where the stems were attached (be sure to work over your baking sheet so as not to waste any juices).

  • In a food processor, pulse the jalapeños (no need to peel or seed them) with the onion-garlic mixture until moderately finely chopped, scraping everything down with a spatula as needed to keep it all moving around. Scoop into a big bowl.

  • Without washing the processor, coarsely puree the tomatoes-and all the juice that has accumulated around them-and add them to the bowl. (If you're making the largest batch, you'll have to do the tomatoes in two batches.) Stir in enough water to give the salsa an easily spoonable consistency (salsas in Mexico are usually a little smoother and saucier than they are here-not very chunky or thick). Stir in the cilantro.

  • Taste and season with salt and vinegar, remembering that this condiment should be a little feisty in its seasoning. If you're planning to use your salsa right away simply pour it into a bowl and it's ready. Or, refrigerate it and use within 5 days.

Salsa variation
  • Roasted Habanero-Tomato Salsa: To make this very spicy, distinctive flavored salsa, replace the jalapeños with 2/4/6 stemmed habanero chilies (I prefer the fruitier flavor of the orange habaneros to the less ripe, even grassy flavor, of the greens).

Maghreb-Style Salmon with Cous Cous

“Maghreb,” which means “western” in Arabic, is a local appellation for the region of Africa north of the Sahara Desert and west of the Nile, which includes Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia. While ours is not an authentic North African recipe, it'll have to do until we can get to Algiers or Marrakech and delve into their tasty culinary traditions.

4 (6 oz each) wild salmon fillets
6 oz couscous
2 medium zucchini, sliced
1 large red onion, peeled and sliced
4 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 large red pepper, sliced
2 tablespoons organic extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and organic black pepper
handful of fresh chopped chives and basil
few sprigs fresh parsley or mint for garnishing
Maghreb Dressing ingredients
2 teaspoons Vital Choice Organic Salmon Marinade (or equivalent blend of herbs and spices*)
1 teaspoon organic turmeric
1/4 teaspoon organic cayenne (optional)
2 tablespoon organic extra virgin olive oil
  • Prepare cous cous by following instructions on packet.

  • Pre-heat the pan to medium.

  • Toss the vegetables in half the oil. Season and griddle for 8‒10 minutes, turning once. Put the vegetables to one side.

  • Brush the salmon with the remaining oil, season with salt and pepper and griddle for 6‒8 minutes, turning once. The salmon is cooked when the flesh is opaque and flakes easily when tested with a fork.

  • Add the chives and basil and Maghreb Dressing and griddle vegetable to the cous cous and toss well.

  • Serve the vegetable cous cous topped with the salmon. Garnish with parsley or mint leaves.

*fennel seed, dill weed, black pepper, lemon peel, garlic, onion, sea salt, red pepper

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