I thank my lucky stars that my childhood was spent roaming the globe with my family. I think living in different countries and visiting different countries gives you a broader global perspective, and broadens your mind as well as your palate.
As a curious child, I’ve never been afraid of trying different foods during my childhood living in Thailand and Singapore: fish bladder soup, blood clams, periwinkle snails, ant larvae, water bugs, deep fried candied land crab, blood sausage, bitter melon, the dreaded durian (probably the most intensely aromatic fruit you’ll ever encounter), rambutan, mangosteen, dragon fruit … and the list goes on.
Now that we live in the Pacific Northwest, which is very Pacific Rim-oriented, even in our small hamlet of Salem we can find many of the Asian ingredients that I remember as a child. So I find myself occasionally trying to figure out how to take Thai or Asian techniques or ingredients and fuse them with what’s available here in Oregon.
One of my creative hits has been my signature Lychee Martini. One of my friends, who shall remain nameless to protect her identity, who professes to not like martinis, tried one…and another…and another, and before she knew it she was the life of the party.
I’m not a big martini guy myself — but I do love holding a stylish martini glass so I was trying to come up with something drinkable that I would like, and I do love lychees. My lychee invention is so easy to make…and sooo bad for you because it will tempt you to drink too much because it’s so delicious.
Another one of my recent creative hits is scallops with a saffron sauce, but with an Asian twist of serving it with steamed white jasmine rice. If you’re really adventuresome, ditch the saffron for some two tablespoons (30 ml.) of green Thai curry paste (sold in cans at Asian food stores). It will definitely kick this up several notches.
For those of you still laboring the old-fashioned way to cook white long-grain rice by boiling, draining and simmering over low heat, my advice is to invest in an automatic rice cooker. They are nearly foolproof. Most will have a measure on the inside of the cooker so you know how much water to use with the appropriate amount of rice: 2 cups (480 ml.) rice, fill to number 2 level — you get the idea. Very easy. Then turn on the cooker and go about your business prepping the rest of your meal. These automatic rice cookers can be found at most Asian grocery stores. Ours was purchased at a considerable discount from Williams-Sonoma. Obviously the ones you’ll find at Asian grocery stores will be at a much lower price point, unless you know someone who works at a Williams-Sonoma who can use their employee discount to get you one. (Note from Charles: Vic is alluding to a time when I taught cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma and did part-time sales and received generous discounts, so I was able to score a deluxe automatic rice cooker that was in clearance.)
- A can of lychees packed in syrup
- Cocktail picks
- In a shaker, combine 2 parts of vodka for 1 part of syrup from the lychee can and ice. Typical martini glass will take 4 oz (120 ml.) of vodka and 2 oz (60 ml.) of lychee syrup.
- Shake well until thoroughly chilled.
- Pour into martini glass and garnish with a lychee or two on a cocktail pick.
Bay Scallops in Saffron Sauce
- 1 lb. (455 g.) bay scallops
- 2 pints (.95 l.) heavy cream
- 2 or 3 pinches of saffron (This stuff is expensive!)
- 2 medium-sized shallots, finely chopped
- 2 cups (480 ml.) frozen peas
- 2 cups (480 ml.) peeled baby carrots sliced into ½-inch (1¼ cm.) discs
- Chopped parsley or scallions for garnish
- Cooked long-grain Thai jasmine rice ( for enough to serve 3 people I usually start out with 2 cups (480 ml.) of uncooked rice; it almost doubles when cooked)
- 3 tbsp. (45 ml.) oil or butter
- 2 tbsp. (30 ml.) dry white wine
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat oil or butter in a saucepan.
- Add shallots and sauté until translucent over medium heat.
- Add heavy cream and bring to a simmer. From this point on stir frequently and keep heat low.
- Add carrots and cook until tender.
- Add saffron.
- Add white wine and peas. Stir until sauce starts to simmer again.
- Add scallops and raise heat to medium, stirring frequently for about 4 or 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove from heat and serve on individual plates over steamed rice, garnished with chopped parsley or scallions.