I have tested and adapted recipes from many, many chefs in my career. Some good, some bad. I can generalize—the chefs you’ve heard of tend to write good recipes. Whether this is a property of them being generally good at writing (since writing a recipe is a separate skill from cooking) or of them having good PR teams around them, I do not know. But when I get told by an editor that I am testing the recipes of Peter Hoffman, Rick Bayless, Susan Spungen, Lucia Watson, Mary Sue Milliken, or in this case, Anita Lo, trust me, I do a fist-pump.
Actually, it was a double fist-pump, since it was a bunch of Anita Lo’s Asian-esque seafood recipes for SELF Magazine—I am never not in the mood for Asian food, nor seafood. This was years ago, but I can still remember the oven-steamed whole fish with ginger and scallions, and the blue crabs, like it was yesterday.
(The crabs really were a serious event. I lived in Brooklyn at the time, and could only find live blue crabs out in Queens. My husband drove me out there to a seaside storefront, where they had literally pulled these angry little dudes out of the water minutes before we arrived. We drove back with them loudly trying to escape their paper bags in the backseat. And unlike lazy lobsters, who seem almost resigned to their fate in the kitchen, these guys fought back on their way into the pot, grabbing at our tongs, and occasionally at us. Still, if you want to stage a feast, you can hardly do better than two dozen crabs, a bunch of newspaper to eat them on, some beer, and a crowd of your friends. But I digress.)
The night I cooked these scallops was equally memorable; where the crabs made for a fun, if raucous, meal, this combination felt as refined as anything being turned out of Anita Lo’s kitchen at Annisa, her New York City restaurant. A bright tomato sauce spiked with fresh lemongrass underlines the sweetness of the scallops, the whole freshened up by a dainty tuft of minty-cilantro salad on top. I appreciated the simplicity of the recipe despite the complexity of its flavors, imagining that any home cook could achieve this beautiful fancy dish without much drama. Not surprising, from a chef like Anita Lo.