Eric Akis: A deluxe dinner from the sea

Eric Akis

If your partner and you are in the mood for a deluxe seafood dinner, I have a plan. Buy a fine selection of seafood, arrange them in a skillet, flavour them with a buttery mixture, set that skillet on a hot barbecue and start cooking.

It’s an easy, sumptuous way to cook seafood in the summer, as long as the items you choose have a similar cooking time. In my recipe the ones I selected that met that criteria included B.C. spot prawn tails and halibut (or lingcod) fillets, and two items from Canada’s East Coast, large sea scallops and a cold-water lobster tail. In the recipe, I’ve also given you the option to use other types of seafood, if some of the ones I choose don’t appeal and/or can’t be found.

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Beyond melting and making the seasoned butter mixture, and peeling the prawns and splitting the lobster tail in half, there’s not a lot of prep involved. Unless, of course, you want to make some bread to slice and serve with your hot skillet of seafood, as I did.

It’s called rustic pesto Parmesan swirl bread. To make it, simple bread dough is allowed to rise. It’s then set on a work surface and pressed into a 12- by nine-inch rectangle. The dough is spread with pesto, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, and then rolled up into a loaf and allowed to rise again.

When baked, the bread is golden and crusty, and when sliced, the swirl of pesto and Parmesan cheese running through it is revealed. Along with the bread, you could also serve the seafood with nugget potatoes and green beans, steamed or boiled.

Skillet BBQ Seafood Dinner for Two

Here’s a deluxe meal seafood lovers will enjoy that’s easy to make and can be served right out of the skillet.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes

Makes: two servings

2 Tbsp butter

3 Tbsp chicken, fish or seafood stock

1 medium garlic clove, minced

• pinches smoked paprika, ground cayenne pepper and dried tarragon

2 (about 100 gram each) halibut or lingcod fillets (see Eric’s options)

6 to 8 spot prawn tails, peeled with the tip of the tail left intact (see Eric’s options)

4 large sea scallops

1 (85 to 113 gram) East Coast lobster tail, split in half lengthwise (see Eric’s options)

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

1 Tbsp chopped parsley

4 lemon slices, for garnish

Preheat your barbecue to medium-high (about 425 to 450 F in the chamber). Place the butter, stock, garlic, paprika, cayenne and tarragon in a small pot. Set over medium heat and cook just until butter is melted. Remove pot from the heat.

Spoon half this mixture into a 10-inch cast iron or other barbecue-safe skillet. Now arrange the fish fillets, prawns, scallops and half lobster tails in the skillet, setting the latter, cut side up. Drizzle the remaining butter/stock mixture over the seafood.

Set the skillet on one side of the barbecue and turn the heat off directly underneath it; leave the other side set at medium-high. Close lid and cook seafood 10 to 12 minutes, or until cooked through.

Remove skillet from the barbecue, drizzle seafood with lemon juice, sprinkle with parsley, and serve, garnished with lemon slices.

Eric’s options: If you can’t find spot prawn tails, use another type of large wild prawn, peeled and deveined. If you want to use cod, but can’t find lingcod, simply use another type. If you don’t want to use lobster tail, replace it with a few more scallops.

Rustic Pesto Parmesan Swirl Bread

A country-style loaf with pesto and Parmesan cheese rolled into it. Serve slices of it with the seafood.

Preparation time: 25 minutes, plus rising time

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Makes: one loaf

2/3 cup lukewarm (not hot) water

1 tsp active dry (traditional) yeast

1/2 tsp granulated sugar

1 Tbsp olive oil, plus some for the bowl

1 1/3 to 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus some for shaping the dougth

1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup homemade or store-bought pesto

1/4 to 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the water, yeast and sugar. Let mixture stand five minutes to dissolve the yeast.

Mix in the 1 Tbsp olive oil. If using a stand mixer, add 1 1/3 cups of the flour and salt and mix on medium speed until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If dough is still quite sticky, mix in some or all of the remaining 1/3 cup of flour. Mix and knead the dough for another five minutes.

If mixing the dough by hand, start by slowly adding 1 cup or so of the flour and salt, working them into the yeast/water/oil mixture with a spoon until the dough loosely clumps together. Dust a work surface with the remaining flour. Gather the dough, scraping the sides of the bowl to get all of it, and set it on the work surface. Dab it lightly in the flour to coat it, and then knead for six to eight minutes, until the dough is smooth, but still slightly sticky.

Lightly grease a large, deep bowl with olive oil. Place the kneaded dough in the bowl. Cover and allow dough to rise at warm room temperature until doubled in size, about 75 minutes.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set dough back on a lightly floured work surface. With lightly floured hands, press and form the dough into 12- x 9-inch rectangle. Spread the dough with pesto, leaving a 1-inch or so border of clean dough around the edges. Now sprinkle pesto with Parmesan cheese. Fold an inch or so of dough over the filling on either end of it. Now roll the dough up, as tightly as you can, into a free-form loaf.

Set the loaf on the baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel, and then let rise at warm room temperature until doubled in size, about 75 minutes.

Set an oven rack in the middle position. Preheat oven to 425 F. Bake the loaf for 20 minutes, or until rich golden.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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