Stoves and the summer heat simply do not mix. In tropical climes many a kitchen is improvised outdoors over a grill in the back yard or on the sidewalk. Taking the lead from Asia and the Caribbean, this menu concentrates on salads and ices with an outdoor barbecue as centerpiece. Indeed, the cook need hardly enter the kitchen at all.
"Pan-Asian," remarked a cosmopolitan friend when he tasted barbecued shrimps that had been marinated in soy, garlic and chili pepper. In the recipe I suggest peeling the shrimp, but they can also be left in their shells when grilled to a pleasantly toasted flavor. However to avoid trying the patience of your guests, do buy shrimps of jumbo size.
On a recent trip to Japan I was fascinated by how many ingredients were pickled and preserved, sometimes to act as seasoning, sometimes to stand on their own. This recipe for pickled fish is laughably simple -- the fish are scored with a knife, then left to marinate in coarse salt for an hour or two before grilling. The Japanese favor carp or bream, while in this country I've found that farm-raised river trout or catfish do remarkably well.
The salad comes from further south -- from the Malay peninsula where peanut sauce is the local equivalent of ketchup. All manner of vegetables flourish there and a salad of raw or lightly blanched vegetables, tossed with a peanut dressing, is a standard part of any menu. I like to arrange the vegetables -- broccoli, cabbage, carrots, peppers, cucumber, the more colorful the better -- on an outsize tray and then toss them with dressing at the last minute in front of guests.
Inspiration for dessert comes from much nearer home -- the Caribbean. The classic ingredients of pina colada have been separated to make tart pineapple sorbet and a rich creamy ice cream. Taken one by one, the ices are delicious; together they are sublime.
Timetable With the ice cream and sorbet waiting in the freezer, the seafood marinating, and the vegetable salad ready to toss, all that's left is to light the grill when guests arrive.
Up to one month ahead: Make pineapple sorbet and freeze. Make coconut ice cream and freeze.
One day ahead: Make peanut sauce and refrigerate. Chill beer.
Up to six hours ahead: Prepare vegetables for salad and refrigerate. Chill bowls for sorbet and ice cream.
Up to two hours ahead: Marinate shrimp. Salt the fish.
Up to one hour before serving: Arrange vegetables for salad and cover tightly.
Forty five minutes before serving: Heat the grill.
Fifteen minutes before serving: Wash and dry fish, then grill them.
Ten minutes before serving: Thread shrimps on skewers and grill them.
Just before serving: Reheat peanut sauce and toss salad. Transfer sorbet and ice cream to refrigerator to soften.
SOY BASTED SHRIMP (12 servings as an appetizer)
Use the same marinade on sea scallops.
2 pounds medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 scallion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 dried red chile, seeded and finely chopped
1 tablespoon oil
12 lime wedges for serving
Put the shrimp in a bowl and add soy sauce, lime juice, honey, scallion, garlic and chile. Mix thoroughly and leave to marinate in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
Heat the grill or broiler. Drain shrimp and toss them with oil. Thread shrimp on 12 skewers and grill them until they are opaque, about 2 minutes on each side. Serve shrimps on their skewers accompanied by lime wedges.
GRILLED PICKLED FISH (12 servings)
Farm-raised catfish or brook trout rise to surprising heights of flavor after this simple salt treatment.
12 whole small fish, about 1 pound each
3/4 cup coarse salt
Salad oil for brushing
2 tablespoons sesame oil
Clean and scale the fish, removing gills. Wash and dry on paper towels. Slash each side of the fish diagonally 3 to 4 times almost to the bone. Set them on a tray and sprinkle heavily with salt. Turn them and sprinkle the other side. Leave them in the refrigerator 2 hours, turning occasionally.
To finish: heat the grill/broiler. Rinse the fish with cold water to remove all salt and dry them on paper towels. Brush the grill with oil and grill the fish until the flesh flakes easily, 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Remove fish from the grill. Brush tops with sesame oil and serve immediately.
ASIAN MIXED VEGETABLE SALAD (12 servings)
Substitute whatever is in season for the vegetables suggested in this recipe.
FOR THE PEANUT SAUCE:
4 ounces dry-roasted peanuts
Small dried red chile, seeds discarded
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 scallions, coarsely chopped
2 slices peeled ginger root
1 teaspoon brown sugar
3 cups boiling water
Juice of 1 lime
Salt to taste
FOR THE VEGETABLES:
1 pound green beans, cut in lengths
2 heads broccoli, divided into flowerets, stems peeled and thickly sliced
3 pounds new potatoes, cut in chunks
1 pound napa cabbage, shredded
1 pound carrots, thinly sliced
2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut in julienne strips
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced
To make peanut sauce: put peanuts, chile, garlic, scallions, ginger and sugar in a food processor or blender. Grind the mixture, thinning it with some boiling water if necessary. Pour peanut mixture and remaining water into a saucepan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until it thickens slightly, about 20 minutes. Add lime juice and taste for seasoning. The sauce can be refrigerated up to a day.
Steam green beans, broccoli and potatoes one by one in a steamer. Allow 8 to 10 minutes for green beans and broccoli, and 10 to 15 minutes for potatoes. They should be tender but still crisp. Set vegetables aside to cool.
Prepare remaining vegetables and wrap them all separately in plastic wrap. They can be stored up to 6 hours in the refrigerator.
Shortly before serving, arrange all vegetables on a large deep platter or tray, alternating colors and shapes to make an attractive arrangement. Cover and leave at room temperature.
Just before serving, reheat peanut sauce until very hot. Pour it over vegetables and serve at once, tossing salad before your guests.
PINEAPPLE SORBET (Makes 2 quarts)
If desired, a tablespoon of kirsch can be poured over each serving.
3 cups sugar, more if needed
1 quart water
Juice of 2 lemons
Heat the sugar and 2 cups water in a pan until the sugar dissolves. Simmer syrup 2 minutes, then chill it.
Cut plume and base from pineapples. Cut off skin and discard it. Slice flesh, discarding eyes and core. Pure'e flesh in a food processor or blender. Stir in syrup, remaining water and lemon juice. Taste, adding more sugar if needed.
Freeze sorbet in a churn freezer following manufacturer's instructions. Pineapple sorbet can be made up to 1 month in advance and stored in the freezer. Transfer it to the refrigerator to soften 1 hour before serving.
COCONUT ICE CREAM (Makes 2 quarts
If your coconut milk lacks flavor, a little almond extract will save the day.
4 cups (1 pound) shredded unsweetened coconut
2 quarts milk, more if needed
10 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract Bring coconut and milk just to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and let milk cool slowly to room temperature. Pure'e the milk and coconut in a food processor or blender in 2 or 3 batches. Strain milk through a fine sieve, pressing well to extract all the juice. Measure coconut milk and, if necessary, add more plain milk to make 7 cups liquid.
Bring coconut milk to a boil. Beat the egg yolks with sugar until thick and light. Whisk in the hot coconut milk and return mixture to the pan. Heat gently, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard thickens slightly; if you draw your finger across the back of the spoon, it will leave a clear trail. Stir in almond extract. Note: do not overcook the custard or it will curdle.
Strain custard into a bowl and cool it. Freeze custard in a freezer churn, following manufacturer's instructions. Coconut ice cream can be made up to 1 month ahead and stored in the freezer. Transfer it to the refrigerator to soften slightly 1 hour before serving.