Take time to smell the garlic

Sometimes, good meals evolve from the simplest of things.  A tiny spark of imagination, or an unexpected moment of discovery can result in a meal that looks like it was carefully planned and fully conceived. 

This morning, while I was rummaging through the garden, searching for the last few tomatoes to pluck before the upcoming frost, I found several garlic plants that had recently sprouted.  The garlic plants were a carryover from the garlic that I had planted earlier in the spring.  I’ve never been able to get garlic plants to produce large bulbs but the plants shoot out of the ground, like they are on a mission!  So, I decided to pull some of the garlic plants and use them for cooking. 

The green leaves and white stems of garlic plants, called scapes, are edible and, as you might expect, they taste like garlic.  I sometimes like to use them in stir-frys, to flavor the cooking oil.  This time, I decided to add them some butter, to make a compound butter.

After I decided to make the compound butter, I thought that the butter would pair well with pasta and the rest of the dish fell together easily.  I wanted shrimp with the pasta but, I knew that some people might prefer chicken over shrimp, so I prepared both.

This will serve 3 to 4 people.

Ingredients:

6 Tbs butter

4 fresh garlic scapes (green garlic leaves)

1 tsp dried thyme leaves

1 tsp lemon juice

2 green onions, chopped.  Reserve white stems.

3 cups dry pasta (I used Farfalle – butterfly pasta)

1 lb chicken breast, pounded into ¼ inch slices

1 cup breadcrumbs

1 egg, mixed with 2 Tbs water

8 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

About 1/4 cup olive oil

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 head of Romaine lettuce

3 small tomatoes

Vinegar and oil salad dressing

Directions:

Chop the garlic scapes into small pieces.  Reserve the white stems. 

Add garlic scapes, thyme and lemon juice to the butter.  Allow the butter to rest at room temperature for a few hours.  When the butter has softened, mix to combine.

Prepare the pasta, according to the directions on the package.  Remove from heat just before the pasta reaches ‘al dente’.  Set aside.

Slice chicken breast into flat pieces.  Pound down to ¼ inch thick slices.  Set aside.

Wash, peel and devein the shrimp and set aside.

Arrange a dredging station.  Mix the egg with water, in a bowl.  Scatter a thin layer of breadcrumbs onto a plate.

Add just enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large skillet.  Add 1 tablespoon of the compound butter mixture.  Set heat to medium. Add a few garlic scapes and green onion stems to the pan. 

Once the garlic and onion soften and begin to char, dredge chicken pieces in egg and lightly coat with breadcrumbs.  Add chicken to the pan and avoid overcrowding.

Brown the chicken and turn it over to brown on the other side.  Total cooking time for the chicken is about three minutes.

Remove chicken to a paper towel lined plate.  Sprinkle with a little salt.  Once all of the chicken has been cooked, wipe the skillet to remove charred bits and oil.  Add one tablespoon of the compound butter mixture and turn the heat off.  This will allow the butter to melt, without burning.  Add a few garlic scapes and green onion stems.  

Finish heating the pasta before returning to the skillet to prepare the shrimp.

Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of the compound butter mixture to the pot, containing the cooked pasta.  Turn the heat to low and stir, to coat the pasta with butter.  A Parmesan cheese and turn the heat off.  Keep the pot on the stovetop, to keep warm.

Return your attention to the skillet.  The butter should be melted.  Turn the heat to medium high and add the shrimp.  Cook on one side for one minute.  Turn the shrimp and cook for one more minute.  Remove the shrimp to a serving platter.

Add the cooked chicken to the serving platter.

Gently stir the pasta to blend in the Parmesan cheese.

Transfer the pasta to a serving dish.

Scatter chopped green onions over the pasta, shrimp and chicken.

Serve with a simple garden salad of lettuce and tomato.  Toss with vinaigrette dressing.

Shellfish Stock / Compound Butter

Fresh shellfish can be pricey so I like to get as much bang for my buck as possible.  One of the easiest ways to extend the value of shellfish is to make a stock from the heads and shells.  Once the stock has been made, it can be stored for later use and can be used in many different dishes.  The unique flavor of shellfish can turn a mediocre dish into something exotic. 

Making stock can be as simple as boiling the heads and shells in water and then straining the solids and reserving the liquid.  Spices, herbs or vegetables can be added to give the stock extra depth of flavor. 

I plan on making some seafood pasta dishes so I made stock from shrimp and crawfish shells.  I bought one pound each of crawfish and shrimp.  One pound of crawfish results in a paltry amount of crawfish meat and the majority is shells and heads.  Shrimp produces a little more meat but you’d be lucky to get half a pound of cooked shrimp from a pound of whole, raw shrimp.

So, with that in mind, I made crawfish butter and shrimp butter.  The flavorful compound butter can be stored in the refrigerator for several days, or in the freezer for months. 

Ingredients:

1 lb fresh shrimp (these were Gulf shrimp)

1 lb steamed crawfish (crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs…whatever you wish to call them)

½ cup unsalted butter, divided in half

Directions for the shrimp:

Remove the heads from the shrimp.  This can be done by gripping the head and pulling away from the rest of the body.  If you are squeamish about this sort of thing, get over it.  It becomes an automatic process after a few decapitations.  Toss the heads into a bowl and set aside.

Peel and devein the shrimp.  Rinse the shrimp under cold water and store in an airtight container.  Add the shells to the bowl containing the heads.

Put the heads and shells into a skillet.  Cover with water and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring and pressing the shells occasionally.   

Strain the solids and discard. Pour the stock into a container and refrigerate or freeze, if desired.

Directions for the crawfish:

Unless you go gigging for crawfish, which is to say, catching your own live crawfish, you will either get them freshly steamed and seasoned or refrigerated, after they were seasoned.  Either way, they are probably going to be seasoned with Cajun spices, and that’s a very good thing.

I prefer to eat steamed crawfish while they are still hot, but this time I only snacked on one and used the rest for an Etouffee. 

Remove the heads from the crawfish and peel the shells.  Reserve the meat. 

Not a lot of meat, but ohhh, it’s so good!

Add the heads and shells to a skillet and cover with water.  Simmer for 30 minutes and strain the solids.  Discard the solids. 

Save the stock in the refrigerator, or freeze.

Making compound Butter

If you want to make compound butter with shrimp stock or crawfish stock, simmer the sauces further.  Simmer at high heat and whisk constantly. Reduce the sauce until nearly all of the moisture is gone. 

I reduced the shrimp stock down to about 3 tablespoons and I reduced the crawfish stock down to about ¼ cup.

Turn the heat off and add ¼ cup butter.  Whisk to incorporate.  Pour the butter into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate.  Once the compound butter solidifies, turn it out on some plastic wrap.  Fold the wrap over the butter.  I like to add extra layer of plastic wrap to get a good seal.  Refrigerate or freeze until needed.