Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Rosie Finds Herself In A Rather Prickly Situation.


 We’ve seen these plants all over the Outer Banks, but I’ve never seen anybody use the fruit from them, so naturally I had to do something about that.  I’m talking about the prickly pear cactus.  I’ve seen the paddles, or nopales, sold in the produce section of the supermarkets, but I’ve never seen the fruits, and that red fruit the cactus produces is deliciously edible.  It takes a little work (and a lot of caution), but I made a prickly pear sauce using the cactus fruit.  As for the flavor, it’s unique.   I would liken it to a tart plum flavor, almost prune-like, only sweeter, lighter, and fresher.   I used it as an accompaniment to shrimp and scallops, but it would also go quite nicely with both pork and chicken.  These cacti are so abundant where we live, we should take advantage of the bounty!  

 Now, here' s a series of photos to show you the development of the fruit.

The cactus started producing flowers back in May.

Then it sets fruit June-July.

The fruit starts ripening in September.
 And it's ready to pick September - October.

To harvest and prepare prickly pears:

Do NOT use your bare hands.  The fruit is covered with tiny, almost microscopic, hair-like barbs.  If you touch the fruit, these little thorns, called glochids,  will transfer right into your skin and it’s quite painful.  Using tongs, twist the fruit off the plant.  The ripe ones will release easily. 

For today's recipes, which include both a shrimp dish and a scallop dish, I used 20 prickly pears,
which yielded 2 cups worth of sauce.

See those tiny spikes?  That's what you need to watch out for.  They MUST be removed.

The best way I’ve found to de-sticker the fruit is to use fire.  Either use a torch or hold the fruit over an open flame, rotating the entire fruit to burn off the barbs. 

Next, cut off the ends, peel the fruit, and slice lengthwise.  Scoop out the mass of seeds in the center.   (Note: It’s almost impossible to get all the seeds out here, so don’t worry.  We’re going to run all this through a sieve.)   I placed the cut ends, the peels, and the center mass with seeds in a fine mesh sieve over a bowl to collect any juices.  Chop the remaining fruit and add it to a sauce pan, along with the accumulated juices. 

Slice ends off.  Peel fruit.

Slice  lengthwise.

Scoop out seeds.



Place seed mass, peels, and any other parts into a sieve over a container. Save any accumulated juices.
Chop fruit/pulp and place in small pan.
Pour in accumulated juices.

For 2 cups of basic pear cactus sauce:

 20 prickly pear fruits, prepared according to above instructions
½ cup orange juice
⅓ cup sugar

 Combine all ingredients in medium sauce pan.  Bring to a simmer over medium low heat and cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Let cool, then purée in a processor. 

 Pour purée into a fine mesh sieve and let it drain into another container, pressing against the sieve with a spatula to push the purée through and scraping pulp on outside of the sieve into container.  You should be able to eliminate all the seeds during this step.











Add sugar.











Add orange juice.










Bring to simmer. Let it cook about 20-30 minutes. Let cool.





Press pulp through fine mesh sieve.
Scrape outside of sieve into container.









Let drip and drain.


 This is your basic pear cactus sauce.

Next, I'm going to thicken half the sauce to use with fried shrimp.

 I'm thickening it with a cornstarch slurry - one TB cornstarch dissolved in 2 TB water.
Pour into 1 cup of the heated sauce and stir over medium low heat until thickened.

Here's your thickened pear cactus sauce ready for my first dish - fried shrimp.

Fried Shrimp With Thickened Pear Cactus Sauce

 To thicken pear cactus sauce:

In a small sauce pan, heat 1 cup of the basic pear cactus sauce to a bare simmer.

Make a cornstarch slurry of 1 TB cornstarch dissolved in 2 TB water.  Slowly pour the slurry into the sauce, stirring until thickened.  Remove from heat.

For the fried shrimp:

1 cup flour
½ cup corn starch
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp granulated garlic
2 tsp thyme
2 tsp gojugaru (Korean red pepper flakes)
2 tsp freshly ground pepper
Combine all ingredients in covered container.  Add shrimp (about 2 dozen large, peeled and de-tracted) and shake to coat.

Rosie Note:  I say de-tracted, not de-veined.  That black line going down the back of the shrimp is not a vein.  It’s part of the intestinal tract.

 In a large skillet, heat peanut oil to 400° - 425°.  I believe in using instant-read laser thermometers.  They take the guesswork out of frying.  Place shrimp in hot oil, one at a time, about 1-2 inches apart.  Do not crowd the pan.  I usually fry about 8 shrimp at a time and fry in batches so as to maintain the hot temperature.  Fry about 1 minute on first side, 30 seconds on second.  Remove from oil. 

 I served the shrimp on a pool of the thickened pear cactus sauce, with more drizzled over top,  accompanied with rice and avocado slices doused in lime juice.

Next, I’m taking ocean scallops, making a reduction out of the basic pear cactus sauce, and serving it with a medley of flavors - chopped pistachios, orange zest, basil, and parsley.

 Seared Scallops With Pear Cactus Sauce Reduction

For the reduction:
  1 cup basic pear cactus juice 
 2 TB honey
2 TB unsalted butter

Combine pear cactus juice and honey in small sauce pan and heat over low heat until reduced by half – about 20-30 minutes.  When reduced, enrich the sauce by stirring in the butter, 1 TB at a time, until melted and incorporated.  Keep warm for serving.

  For the scallops:

To prepare scallops, remove that tough side muscle first, then rinse, and dry on paper towels.  Lightly dust them with cornstarch and give them a few grinds of pepper.

In a heavy skillet (I used cast iron.), heat a film of peanut oil until about 400°.  Add in a tablespoon of butter and let it foam up and melt.  Without crowding the pan, place the scallops in, one at a time.    After about 90 seconds, turn the scallops over and cook about 1 minute.  Remove from pan.  Let oil come back to temperature, adding more butter, and sear another batch.

 To serve, pool reduced sauce onto plate, place scallops in pool, and sprinkle on crushed pistachios, chopped basil and parsley, and orange zest.



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