The highlight of my week was definitely a client lunch on Thursday at a little Italian place on Capitol Hill called Acqua al 2. It was a perfectly unhurried outside meal (the thermometer registered an uncharacteristic 71F in the sun!), with competent food and good conversation. The whole experience was almost surreal, as it seemed very far removed from the frenetic DC. As I was enjoying my branzino (Mediterranean sea bass) with trumpet mushrooms and braised fennel, with a nice Falanghina by Mastroberardino, I was thinking to myself, “I am so foolish. Why do I not eat fish more often?”
And so, come Friday night, I had an intense craving for a nice fish, especially since I had just picked up a jar of black sesame seeds. I feel about new ingredients the same way I feel about freshly bought clothes: I have to take them out for a spin immediately! At the store I was quickly reminded of why fish was not usually on my short list: more often than not, I have a hard time finding one that I am excited about, even at the most reputable of fishmongers’. Tonight, I needed something I could encrust with black sesame seeds, but nothing spoke to me. After much hemming and hawing at the fish counter, I left with large scallops.
The perusal of food blogs gave me an opportunity to steal a New York restaurant chef’s idea of serving fish with soba noodles, on top of a little pool of yogurt-based sauce. Granted, I was no longer working with fish, plus I was in the mood for more earthiness and more zing, so here is what I did:
I cooked some 100% buckwheat soba (most of the soba sold in stores is a combination of wheat and buckwheat, which makes it milder, less nutty and earthy, – not what we are going for here), and finished it off with a tiny bit of good-quality soy sauce and toasted black sesame seeds.
Then I seared my scallops with a little butter, and a mixture of black sesame seeds and nanami togarashi (a traditional Japanese spice mix that includes chili pepper, orange peel, ginger, seaweed, and Japanese pepper. After 2 min on each side, I quickly deglazed the pan with soy sauce (with the scallops still there), in order to impart a little extra flavor. And finally, my simple but intense yogurt sauce combined fat-free Fage Greek yogurt, wasabi powder, a mineral-laden salt (preferably Hawaiian pink or Indian), and fresh lime juice.
After tasting the yogurt sauce, my husband got jealous of my scallop dish (not being pescetarian), and I was practically forced to experiment with silken tofu whose texture is not far from that of a scallop :-). This is how silken tofu also came to be encrusted with black sesame seeds, atop a light soy glaze:
The logical closure to this kind of meal called for something that could reconcile our dietary differences 🙂 : a black sesame seed panna cotta. It is infinitely more smoky, nutty, and exotic than the panna cotta one is used to (it is not your usual soothing blob of cream and sugar). You will need:
1 pint heavy cream
1 tbs French good-quality sea salt
5 tbs sugar
1 packet unflavored gelatin
3 tbs cold water
2 tbs sesame oil
3 tbs black sesame seeds, more for sprinkling
The first step is to infuse panna (heavy cream) with the sesame seed essence from good-quality sesame seed oil (I used La Tourangelle brand) and toasted black sesame seeds. Warm up the oil with the seeds for 3 minutes, pour in the cream, and remove from heat. Let the mixture sit for at least a couple of hours. Strain the cream, warm it up on medium, and stir in the salt and the sugar. In the meantime, sprinkle the cold water with gelatin and let it stand for 1 min. When the cream is close to a simmer, stir in the gelatin, and remove from heat. Pour it in a metal bowl inside another metal bowl filled with ice, and keep stirring while it cools down. Pour in ramekins, top with lightly toasted black sesame seeds, and chill for 6 hours.