Wednesday, February 11, 2009

CSA week ten - Thai green beans and scallops

This is the green bean dish I mentioned last Saturday with a sauce made of peanut butter and oyster sauce. A weird combination but not unique; I found a handful of other recipes using the two so I was prepared to believe that it wasn't a typo or a prank by some culinary lunatic. There were positive reviews from people claiming to have made the dish, but I've been misled by those before so I was still wary.

The original recipe was a side dish: just beans and sauce. It's a weeknight and I wanted a one pot meal so I added the scallops instead of making a second dish (as I had originally planned before I got lazy).

I didn't bother with making-of pictures since it's a such a simple and common preparation. Here's the recipe from its Recipezaar page, unillustrated but with my modifications noted:

"Thai-Style Green Beans Recipe #179660
This recipe in from the Summer 2006 edition of Cooking for 2. I made a couple of adjustments to the recipe. We really enjoyed it served as a side with Lemon Chicken and Sesame Rice.
by PaulaG

25 min | 15 min prep


* 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
* 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
* 1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter
* 1/8-1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
* 1 tablespoon shallot, minced
* 1 teaspoon ginger root, grated [whoops. I used more like a tablespoon. Which wasn't bad at all. You need a lot to stand up to the oyster sauce.]
* 1 teaspoon oil
* 1/2 lb green beans, trimmed
* cilantro, chopped
* dry roasted peanuts
[ * six small ocean scallops, brined, cleaned and quartered]

1. Combine the soy sauce, oyster sauce, peanut butter and crushed red pepper in a small bowl; set aside.

2. Rinse the beans and place in a microwave safe dish, cover and cook until crisp tender; approximately 3 to 5 minutes depending on the wattage of your microwave. [I steamed mine for around 7 minutes instead.]

3. Remove beans from microwave, rinse in cool water and allow to drain while preparing the sauce.

4. In a skillet or wok, heat the 1 teaspoon oil add the minced shallot and grated gingerroot.

5. Cook the shallot and ginger for 2 minutes [add scallops after 1 minute] and then add the soy sauce mixture; stirring until the peanut butter is melted and the sauce is smooth.

6. If using a natural peanut butter, it may be necessary to add a tablespoon or so of water to the pan to aid in making the sauce smooth and creamy.

7. Once the sauce is thoroughly combined, stir in beans and warm in sauce. [I cooked over a quite high heat so my sauce shrank to a paste pretty quickly. A big spoonful of water thinned it out allowing me to deglaze the pan. Then I let it reduce into a nice clingy sauce as the beans reheated and got it the heck out of the pan before it pasted up again.]

8. Prior to serving sprinkle with chopped cilantro and peanuts if desired. [You should desire this. Those are important elements of the dish's flavors and textures.]"

To end any suspense, let me start by saying that the dish turned out really well. The key, I think, is that this isn't really a peanut sauce.

Usually, when I make peanut sauces they're for satay, either the Thai version with fish sauce and coconut milk or the Indonesian version that uses sweet soy sauce. Both are uncooked dips in which the fresh peanut flavor is very much to the fore. (It can easily go too far. The trick is to switch out maybe a third of the peanuts or peanut butter for tahini. That's a bonus tip for you right there.)

Here, the peanut butter has melded with the soy and oyster sauces to create a rich meaty tangy flavor. It's not impossible to pick the components out, but there is something greater than the parts created here. Over this foundation float the light notes of ginger, shallot and cilantro pairing with the bright flavor of the still slightly crisp beans and the slightly chewy scallops (which were a pretty good addition. Brining them really makes their flavors pop, too.)

Even with the beans, the sauce is pretty intense stuff, but a bowl of white rice mellowed it out nicely. Best green bean dish I've made in a while. If you haven't used yours yet, this is definitely a good way to go.


Karen said...

OK, I'll ask it here, though nobody seems to be able to answer this one when I've asked it before elsewhere. But all ideas are appreciated.

I'm allergic to peanuts, but my family is not - what is a tastefully-correct substitute? For peanut butter in a Thai recipe I used sunflower seed butter, but my family hissed and booed. Sesame paste (tahini) seems too grainy on the face of it. Ground up pine nuts or pecans or walnuts seem wrong on the taste scale (though that's based on smell - I haven't really tasted peanuts or peanut butter).


billjac said...

I hope someone else has a better answer because I haven't got any bright ideas. Maybe hazelnuts? Closer than walnuts, anyway, I think.

Peanuts are pretty distinctive. You may have to accept that any substitute is going to have its own nature and adjust other flavors to accommodate.

LaDivaCucina said...

What about almond butter? It's such a nice flavor, though nothing near peanuts. Or cashew butter? Try it and let us know!