- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Judging by restaurant menus, you would think Las Vegas was on the sea. Seafood seems to be a local specialty of this desert metropolis. Certainly this is evident at a renowned Las Vegas institution, the all-you-can-eat buffet. In the city known as home of these inexpensive, self-serve meals, even fancy casino hotels, such as the Bellagio, tout their gourmet buffets.

As my husband and I strolled through the simulated souk of the Aladdin Casino & Resort and the French hamlet of Paris Las Vegas, we felt we were in a Disneyland for adults, a movie set designed to give a taste of faraway fantasy.

A similar attitude pervades the buffets. Aladdin’s Spice Market Buffet is organized by cuisines — including Middle Eastern, Italian, Asian and American — while the Paris Le Village Buffet groups dishes by French provinces. You won’t discover unusual specialties of remote regions. Instead, familiar dishes illustrate the popular notions of each cooking style.

For diners, seafood is the star. Shellfish paella, crab cakes and stuffed sole were highlights at the Spice Market Buffet when we visited. So was shrimp scampi, which I loved accompanied by tabbouleh and basmati rice pilaf from the Middle Eastern station.

The bouillabaisse and the seafood quiche in the Paris buffet were tasty, but we were especially pleased by the pure flavor of the moules mariniere, the classic mussels steamed in white wine with shallots. Like numerous other eager eaters, we also enthusiastically savored the king crab legs. Served cold, with a sauce boat of warm melted butter, they make an easy starter or entree for entertaining family and friends when you’re in the mood for splurging.

Seafood salads also were popular, such as Le Village’s spicy crab salad with tomatoes and a scallop salad embellished with pine nuts. At home, such salads are a practical way to enjoy the sea’s harvest. They enable you to stretch precious seafoods such as lobster and crab. They also can be fast and easy to fix.

For other seafood options, treat the recipe that follows as a template. Use the seafood you prefer and mix it with an olive-oil dressing, sweet peppers, tomatoes, scallions and capers.

Fresh-cooked seafood is best, but there are alternatives that make life simple for the cook, such as frozen cooked shrimp and canned squid. Feeling creative? Experiment with seafoods you haven’t tried before. Try imitation crab (surimi) or Japanese fish cakes called “kamaboko,” or cook a package of mixed frozen seafood, which is available at some Asian markets. Or use fish such as oil-packed tuna, brisling sardines, smoked sprats or last night’s baked salmon. Whether you’re using fresh or frozen seafood, treat it with consideration. Use fresh seafood soon after you buy it. Thaw frozen seafood in the refrigerator and use it immediately.

Scallop and shrimp salad with Mediterranean flavors

To best highlight the seafood, I keep the additions to the olive-oil dressing simple: diced fresh tomatoes, yellow or green peppers, scallions or red onions and a touch of thyme or oregano. Capers provide a zesty finishing touch, or you can use black olives or toasted pine nuts instead. Serve this colorful salad while the seafood is still warm or let it cool to room temperature. If you like, spoon it onto a bed of green-leaf or romaine lettuce.

Vary the vegetables to your taste and add cooked ones, if desired.

3/4 pound sea scallops

3/4 pound medium shrimp in shells

Salt, freshly ground pepper

1 to 1 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice or wine vinegar

4 to 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or teaspoon dried thyme or oregano

4 ripe plum tomatoes, diced

1 small yellow or green bell pepper, diced

1 scallion, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

2 teaspoons capers, drained

Remove small white muscle from side of each scallop. Rinse scallops and pat dry. Bring at least 1 inch of water to a boil in base of steamer.

Arrange shrimp in one layer in steamer and set above boiling water.

Cover tightly and steam over high heat about 3 minutes or until shells turn bright pink and shrimp are opaque. (Cut one open to check.) Remove to a bowl, cool slightly and shell.

Season scallops lightly with salt and pepper. Steam about 3 minutes or until just tender and opaque. Set on paper towels.

In a small bowl, whisk lemon juice with salt and pepper to taste. Whisk in oil and thyme. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Mix shrimp and scallops with tomato, bell pepper, scallion and Italian parsley. Toss with dressing and garnish with capers.

Makes 4 servings as a main course or 6 to 8 as an appetizer.


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