Tacu Tacu con Picante de Conchas

Chef Raymond Southern makes Washington’s native pink scallops sing

STORY BY TERESA GRISWOLD
PHOTOS BY HILARY MCMULLEN

When Raymond Southern was growing up on small farm near Vancouver, British Columbia, the neighborhood kids would gather around his mother’s kitchen table while she stood at the sink cleaning vegetables, freshly harvested from their garden. “I envision my mother with her polyester cut-off pants, and the table stacked with fresh-picked green beans,” Southern recalls.

His favorite snack was anything that was homegrown. “We’d eat tomatoes as an apple, fresh off the vine,” he says, adding that it is easy for him now to feature tomatoes in a dish if they have that same garden-fresh flavor.

Southern will even gladly use a frozen vegetable in the winter, like green peas in a classic stew, as long as they were either fresh-frozen by the farmer who grew them or  frozen by Southern himself. He remembers the special treat his mother made with strawberries they had grown over the summer. “Once a month in the winter, my mother would pull out the strawberries and make a strawberry shortcake.”

It was this close relationship with his parents and the food they grew that inspires his cooking today as Rosario Resort & Spa’s executive chef. “For me, I think regardless of my influences, it always comes back to my childhood.”

He took that experience with him when he became an executive chef with Holland America cruise lines, based out of Lima, Peru. “There were people that would greet the ships and take the chefs to the markets to buy fresh ingredients for the onboard meals or to meet a local chef,” he says, recounting a time in Tunisia when he learned to make traditional couscous.

Many of his regional dishes are recipes handed down through generations. “It’s something that cannot be learned from a cookbook or magazine,” he says.

He lived in Peru for five years and got to know the food intimately. “A lot of it is culture-based,” he says. “There are North Africans, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish — and each culture has had an influence on the cuisine.” Tacu Tacu con Picante de Mariscos — a distinctly Peruvian seafood dish that stems from North African roots — is the foundation of Southern’s Picante de Conchas.

Being close to the culture and knowing traditional techniques allow Southern to improvise but still create the essence of a recipe. Tacu Tacu is comprised of two main ingredients: rice and beans (frijoles). Southern likens it to a good diner-style hash. He cannot make Tacu Tacu in his restaurant on Orcas Island exact to the recipe from Peru, because the rice and beans that are available in the Pacific Northwest are not the same as the varieties in Peru. “But if you know the culture behind the dish, you can pay homage to it,” he says.

Because he knows what Tacu Tacu is firsthand, he can find the closest ingredients that match it. “As an ode to my other favorite cuisine — and my many travels through Italy — I substitute Arborio rice for plain white rice to make the Tacu Tacu,” he says. “I also like to flavor the dish with freshly grated Parmesan.”

He forms the rice and beans into oblong shapes, then browns and serves them with the Picante de Conchas.

The Picante de Mariscos (or camarones or conchas or pulpo, etc.) has a creamy sauce flavored with Pisco (a Peruvian liqueur that causes heated arguments between Peruvians and Chileans over who holds true claim to the origin) and aji amarillo, a yellow pepper indigenous to Peru.

Southern’s Picante de Conchas features local, fresh, pink scallops, also known as singing scallops, a name Southern remembers calling them when he was a child. Though pink scallops flourish in the San Juan and Canadian gulfs, they disappeared from Seattle-area menus for nearly two decades due to logistical difficulties in harvesting. Pink scallops live in deep, high flow channels which makes harvesting them dangerous. It was this along with pricing and regulatory pressures which caused them to drop out of the market nearly two decades ago.

Jones Family Farms on Lopez Island raises grass-fed meat as well as oysters and other shellfish. Owner Nick Jones worked through regulations to revive the singing pink scallop. It is wild harvested by divers in designated harvest areas.

The shells are pink, but the meat is not. “A lot of people think of the big sea scallop, but the pink scallop has the sac and roe attached to it and is quite smaller,” Southern says. “These have so much more taste to them. You taste the ocean a lot more. It’s nice to start with something that has a taste like that.”

Southern’s recipe, which he serves at The Mansion Restaurant at the historic Rosario Resort & Spa on Orcas Island, uses pink scallops from Lopez Island. However, substitutions such as a mixture of shellfish can be used to make a classic Picante de Mariscos.

 

Tacu Tacu con Picante de Conchas

Serves 4 | Prep time one hour, cooking time 30 minutes

 

Frijoles

  • 1 can (15 oz.) pinto beans
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 small tomato, finely diced
  • Olive oil for cooking
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 cup water or chicken stock

 

Open the can of pinto beans, drain excess liquid, and set aside.

Prepare sofrito by sautéing garlic, onion, and tomato in a pan with the olive oil over medium heat. Season with salt, pepper, and cumin. Cook until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes, then add parsley and cilantro.

Add beans to the pan and stir to mix in the sofrito. Add about 1/4 cup water (or chicken stock) and lower to a simmer for about 30 minutes or until water is reduced.

 

Tacu Tacu (serves 4)

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon aji amarillo paste (see Chef’s Notes below)
  • Olive oil for cooking
  • 2 cups cooked risotto (follow package directions or use Arborio rice as mentioned above)
  • 1 cup frijoles (recipe above)

 

Sauté garlic, onion, and aji amarillo with olive oil in a heavy pan over medium heat until onion is translucent. Remove from heat and add to a bowl, together with cooked risotto and frijoles. Mix together by hand and shape into four pancakes. Each pancake should be 4–5 inches in diameter.

Brown the pancakes in a nonstick pan with some olive oil on high heat, about 2 minutes each side.

 

Picante de Conchas (serves 4)

  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 4 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
  • Olive oil for cooking
  • 1 red onion, chopped fine
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bulb shallot, minced
  • 1 medium tomato, skin and seeds removed. (See Chef’s Notes under Tomato Concassé below)
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • pinch of cumin
  • 2 tablespoons Pisco (see Chef’s Notes below)
  • 4 tablespoons aji amarillo (see Chef’s Notes below)
  • 1 sprig fresh oregano
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 12 to 16 pink scallops (see Chef’s Notes below)
  • 1/2 cup (or more) frozen organic green peas
  • 16 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

 

Soak the bread slices together with the evaporated milk, set aside for at least 15 minutes. Heat oil in a pan over low heat and sauté onion, garlic, shallots, and tomatoes for 10 minutes, until soft. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Add cumin and continue to cook over low heat for 5 minutes until fragrant. Add Pisco and allow the alcohol to burn off, then add aji amarillo and the bread mixture to the pan, along with the sprig of oregano. Add the chicken stock and slowly simmer till thick and creamy, about 5 to 8 minutes. Just before serving, add the pink scallops (or seafood of your choice), green peas, and baby tomato halves to heat up. Stir in Parmesan cheese and serve with tacu tacu, decorating the plate with the reserved scallop shells.

 

CHEF’S NOTES

Pisco: Available in most specialty liquor stores these days. To stay true to the dish, be sure to get Peruvian Pisco rather than Chilean.

Aji Amarillo: A yellow pepper grown in Peru. Here, you can get frozen aji amarillo, dried, or paste. I find that using the paste always gets my recipes tasting as close to authentic as possible. All three are available at Latin markets. I order my aji amarillo paste on Amazon.

Scallops: At The Mansion Restaurant, I use the pink shell scallops from Lopez Island. You can substitute prawns, sea scallops, or a mixture of shellfish to make the classic Picante de Mariscos.

Tomato Concassé: Fill a pot with enough water to cover tomato and bring to a boil. Meanwhile using a paring knife, remove the core from tomato and pierce an”X” on the bottom side. Place the tomato in boiling water, and cook for 30 seconds. Remove the tomato and immediately place in a bowl filled with ice water. When the tomato cools, remove the skin starting at the spot where you made the “X”. Quarter the peeled tomato and rinse the inside to remove the seeds. Cut into a small dice.


Teresa Griswold is a writer and designer who relishes the wild, open, natural spaces of our planet. She passionately pursues creative projects that inspire health and well-being and is dedicated to making the world a better place through kindness, powerful action, and compassionate leadership.

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