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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Cooking scallops

Scallops are shellfish—just like oysters or clams. I think some cooks are afraid to try them though, for several reasons. They are pricey, and you probably wouldn’t want to serve them to a dinner party of twelve. But cooking for one or two, they provide a simple and elegant meal and plenty of protein. Be aware of two things: they are easily overcooked which turns them tough when they should be soft and velvety, and they can trigger the same allergic reaction as other shellfish in sensitive people. Ask before you serve them to a guest.
A friend of mine swears that what we get in the market today is not a scallop but a muscle from the belly of a shark. I’d rather not believe that—there is muscle involved but no shark. Still, it’s best to buy scallops from a fishmonger if you can. At the fish market in my local high-end grocery, scallops come in three sizes: ocean scallops are either large or medium, and priced accordingly; bay scallops are relatively tiny. Three large scallops make a huge meal for me.
Recipes for scallops are plentiful on the web. Coquilles St. Jacques is a classic French preparation and probably the most complicated dish I’ve ever served to guests—it was a huge hit, but I’ll probably never do it again. In that dish, scallops are cooked with mushrooms, bathed in a rich creamy sauce, and topped with grated Gruyere before being popped in the oven. This is traditionally served in a dish designed to look like a scallop shell with mashed potatoes piped around the edges. Properly executed, it stands up against any chef-driven dish in the world and is absolutely delicious. But a lot of trouble. Ina Garten claims a quick and easy version, which I mean to try.
Recently I tried a recipe I’d found that called for brining the scallops in salt water, rinsing, drying, cooking with wine, lemon, butter, capers. I tried it and found the brining did nothing for the
scallops except to toughen them a bit and cause them to fall apart. The rest of the recipe was just plain work, and I decided to revert to my usual cooking method. (A flattering note: my youngest daughter won’t order scallops in a restaurant; she only eats them when I’ve cooked them because she knows they’ll be soft and tender—gives me a standard to live up to!)
Scallops have a delicate, slightly sweet flavor that is easily lost in a lot of sauces and spices. I’ve seen a recipe for wrapping them with bacon, but I think the bacon would overwhelm the scallop flavor. My method for cooking large or medium is to heat a mixture of butter and olive oil in a skillet; when it sizzles, carefully place the scallops, leaving enough room for you to get a spatula under them and flip. When you first place them, use the spatula to press down, so that the entire surface of the scallop contacts the skillet. Then DON’T TOUCH for about three minutes. The underside should have a nice golden crust. Turn them and brown the other side—have you noticed that the first side of anything always gets a better crust, no matter what you’re cooking? Even true with hamburgers. But I digress. Do not let them cook too long while seeking that second golden crust or they’ll overcook.
Sprinkle with parsley and serve with lemon wedges.
Pretty hard to do that with tiny bay scallops though, and yet you shouldn’t overlook them. Here’s a recipe for Scallops Provencal for two:
1 Tbsp. mixture of olive oil and butter, more if needed
Bay scallops, about 2/3 lb. per person
1 small shallot diced
3 green onions, sliced (Include some of the green tops)
1 Roma tomato, diced
Black pepper
White wine
Parsley, chopped
Sauté the scallops briefly. Add vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently. Splash with white wine—enough to make a sauce but not enough to make soup (?). Sprinkle with pepper and parsley and serve immediately.

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