Made a seafood buffet last night, which means that I brought heaps and gobs of seafood home (buffets pretty much always have left-overs, which the folks in the kitchen can sometimes benefit from)–crab legs, crab cakes, scallops, shrimp, clams.  I could have brought whitefish and catfish home too, but I don’t like fishy-fish; I like seafood.  I know, it’s a weird distinction, and I can’t really explain it, but there y’are.  When it comes to sea critters, I prefer the exoskeletals and mollusks.  No idea why.

I could also have brought frog legs home, but don’t get me going on that subject.  Seriously.  You don’t want to.

Anyway, I’m pretty fed up with mass-marketed cocktail sauce and tartar sauce, so I whipped together a few of my favorite accompaniments, which I am happy to share with you here.

Side note:  On the rare occasions that I eat fishy-fish, I’m happy with a squirt of lemon juice or a splash of malt vinegar, and a good dose of salt.  And butter, of course.  Butter makes everything–well, it just makes everything.  Eggs too.  So  imagine the jollity of combining eggs and butter!  By golly, we have hollandaise.  Whip some cream into a hollandaise, slather that over your fish, pop it very briefly under your broiler, et voila–we have poisson mousseline, easy-peasy.

But now I am distracted and must return to other things.

The first accompaniment that I made for the heaps of seafood I brought home was Thai melon salsa (I know–it’s weird to hear “Thai” and “salsa” in the same menu title, but I can’t think of anything better or more accurate).

I absolutely love this stuff.  I could happily eat it as-is, for a soup, a main course, or a dessert.  I don’t even need the fishy factor.  I get a little bit giddy just thinking about it, really.

Bear in mind that I’m in the habit of making big batches of everything, since I work at restaurants, but you can easily scale this recipe down.  I promise, you won’t regret it.  It’s one of the best things ever.

Thai melon salsa

  • 1 qt. of whatever melon flesh you have lying around–honeydews, cantaloupes, and crenshaws work well; watermelon, not so much.  It disintegrates too quickly.  In any case, don’t use old and soft flesh.  You want the final product to have some muscle left on it.
  • 1 or 2 minced garlic cloves
  • a generous handful of brown sugar (light or dark; doesn’t matter)
  • a sploosh of fish sauce or oyster sauce (Thai, ideally)–maybe an ounce or a little more
  • a smallish handful of minced serranos or jalapeños (no ribs or seeds, please)
  • a double sploosh of fresh lime juice
  • a generous handful of roasted-but-unsalted peanuts, chopped up
  • likewise a generous handful of mint leaves, chopped up fine

Stir everything together, and you’re done.

You can cut the melon up into attractive little pieces, but remember that it’ll start to soften and fall apart before too long, so you might as well just whack it into a reckless dice.

Batting clean-up is

Lemony rémoulade

To be honest, rémoulade, lemony or otherwise, is just a fancy-pants version of tartar sauce, but it doesn’t take much effort to kick ordinary tartar sauce up to a spectacular level.  Witness:

  • 1 pt. mayo
  • a largish handful of sweet pickle relish (or chopped cornichons or sour pickles–whichever way your pcikle tilts)
  • about half that much onion, chopped up super-fine
  • a like amount of parsley leaves (no stems!), also chopped up super-fine
  • a small handful of finely chopped tarragon leaves
  • a very finely chopped clove or two of garlic
  • the juice from two lemons
  • a hard-cooked egg, chopped up fine
  • a brief squirt of Dijon mustard
  • here’s the kicker:  a small handful of capers, chopped

If you wanna put this sauce over the top, make your own mayo, which is absolutely nothing like store-bought mayo.

Don’t get me wrong–I love store-bought mayo; I put it on practically everything.  For mass-production and shelf-life reasons, though, commercial mayo involves all sorts of procedures and ingredients that make it a perversion of the real thing.  You can buy further perverted versions of mayo–“Made with 100% olive oil!” or “Now with lime!”  It’s nice to have options, but I still think that you should, at least once, make your own mayo.  I guarantee it’ll be an eye-opener.

Hell, man–mayo

  • 2 yolks
  • the juice from two lemons or an equal measure of white wine vinegar (not distilled white vinegar, which is good for nothing)
  • a few pinches of salt
  • a single pinch of white pepper
  • a cup of veg oil
  • a brief squirt of Dijon mustard (maybe a teaspoon and a half, but it’s up to you)

Take a whisk and whippity-whap the yolks, lemon juice/vinegar, salt, and pepper until it’s all nice and smooth and light.  Then start whisking in the oil.  Start–literally–with a drop at a time.  The more you incorporate, the faster you can go; once you get about a third of the oil in, you can start adding it in a little stream instead of drop-by-drop.

I probably shouldn’t have used the word “faster” in the previous paragraph, because that implies that you can blaze through the process, which is not true.  We’re emulsifying here, which is an arduous affair.  Do not, at any point or in any wise, try to rush this process.  Incorporate the oil as slowly and thoroughly as possible.  In fact, it’s a good idea to lay off the addition of oil every now and then and just whisk the blazes out of what’s already in the bowl.  Then add a little more oil, very slowly and while whisking like hell.  Then stop dribbling in the oil, continue to whisk like hell, and then recommence dribbling in the oil, whisking like hell all the while.

Right about now you should be thinking “No wonder nobody makes their own damned mayo any more!” but exercise a bit of patience and you will be rewarded.  Honest.

Once you have all the oil incorporated in a way that homogenizes the hail clanjamfrie (no wee puddles or spots of oil, in other words), you can stir in the Dijon mustard, which I suppose is optional but at the same time very highly recommended.  I know, it sounds weird, using mustard to make mayo; that’s like using a cat to make a dog.  But it works, and it’s very good.  Trust me.  Give it a taste and add more salt and pepper as you see fit.  Don’t be shy with the salt.

I once had a chef–I forget which–tell me “Keep adding more and more salt, but stop right before it begins to taste salty.”  Extremely good advice, but difficult to employ until you get the hang of it by experience, experimentation, and probably a few cases of over-salting.  In general, you’d be surprised how much salt most food can benefit from, but remember the anonymous chef’s advice–it shouldn’t taste salty.

Anyway, you’re done.  Glomp it all into a jar and either use it right away or stash it in your icebox for a day or two; it won’t keep safely much beyond that.