I’m calling this dish Thai Scallop Ceviche. The “Thai” descriptor here is for the ceviche, as in Thai-style ceviche. And not for the scallops, as in, these scallops are not from Thailand. They are from the Northeast, actually, Nantucket Bay Scallops, to be precise. Yes, yes, I know full good ceviche is a Peruvian preparation, but we do a very similar thing in Thailand. We call it Yum. Or Yum Talay. And true to the name, it is quite yummy too, and easy besides.
The idea here is the same as the regular ceviche, that is to say, the seafood takes a nice, long bath in lemon or lime juice to “cook”. Let us not be confused though. There’s no cooking happening here. The citric acid in lime or lemon juice just changes the texture and look of the seafood so they appear opaque and slightly firm and generally look like they’ve been “cooked”.
So I wouldn’t suggest this dish if you’re afraid of germs or parasites or all that peevish nonsense. I read somewhere that if you’re afraid of raw ceviche you could get away with cooking the seafood very briefly in boiling water just to “cook” them slightly before making your ceviche. Frankly, I’m more than a bit dubious about this advice. To a germ or parasite, passing just a few seconds through boiling water is like having a day at a Japanese Onsen. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to deal with germs that have just had a restorative day at a germ spa.
If you are a true germaphobe, you probably want to stop reading now. Or if you hate fish sauce, you might want to stop here too, because the key difference that makes this dish a Thai ceviche is the use of fish sauce and Thai bird-eye chili. If your bottle of fish sauce is overwhelmingly strong, you could get away with using just a drop or two and then adding a bit of salt to balance out the acidity in the dish. I wouldn’t skip fish sauce completely though, because the savory umami quality of fish sauce gives this dish the boost it needs to lift it from the bland to the extraordinary.
And if you think I’m going to give you a recipe here, you’d be wrong. It’s so easy no self-respecting foodies will need a recipe to make it. Trust me. This amount I’m going to make will be enough as a small appetizer for, say 4 people. Or perhaps a quick lunch for 1.
So you start by taking the scallops, oh about 2 cups or so worth, 3-400g or 8oz I’d say. Put them in a small bowl and juice lime or lemon over them until the scallops are submerged in the juice. You’ll need about 3 lemons or perhaps 5 limes. Give them a gentle stir once to make sure all the scallops are in direct contact with the lime juice, then cover and let sit for about an hour.
While the scallops are marinating, cut up thin slices of cucumber, say about 1/4 cup worth, and one or two shallots, yes, in thin slices too. Take one or two bird-eye chillis, or four of five if being macho is that important to you, and cut them each lengthwise and scrape the seeds off. Chop one of them finely, and set the other (or 3-4 other) aside.
When the scallops are almost ready, you can make the dressing. Take about two more limes and juice them into a bowl, you should get about 3-4 tablespoons there. Add a pinch of sugar and stir to mix. Then take your fish sauce and add 1-2 tablespoons, just until you can smell the fish sauce but don’t let it get overwhelming. Taste the dressing, if it’s still too acidic for you (which is likely), add more fish sauce (if you like the stink) or good sea salt (if you think it’s stinky enough) until the dressing is balanced.
I can’t really tell you how much lime juice or fish sauce to use here, as a balanced dressing for me may be too acidic for you. You just have to trust your own instinct and palate. Once you got the flavor you like, add the chopped chili, a little bit at a time, until it’s spicy enough for you. I like to add the whole chili here too, as it’s really quite pretty in the final dish. The whole chili will add a bit of heat, but not nearly as much as the chopped ones. So factor that in too. Then add the shallot slices and toss to mix.
After the one-hour mark, take the bowl with the marinating scallops and drain the lime juice from it. Add the drained scallops to the dressing, toss well. Add the cucumber slices and toss well too. Taste it, see if you need a bit more fish sauce, salt, or lime juice. Transfer to a pretty bowl to serve, a handful of cilantro will do very well as a garnish, or just skip them if you’re one of those who think they taste like soap – yes Wiley, I’m looking at you.
(The season for Nantucket Bay Scallops is waning now, but you can do this with regular, larger scallops. I suggest slicing the large scallops into two or three thinner pieces to give them more surface contact with the lime juice marinade. Or you can use the sweet Maine shrimp that’s in season now, and for these fabulous shrimps I’d toss directly in the dressing and skip the marinade altogether.)