I'm very fond of scallops. They're so easy to prepare, take no time to cook and go well in many recipes.
They're a little pricey but not much more so than our local shrimp. Yet they're something I rarely think of buying for a nice dinner or ordering in restaurants; perhaps because I'm really into our own Florida seafood and fish.
But recently I came across a book called "Scallops: A New England Coastal Cookbook." This impressive cookbook, published this year by Pelican, is a 350-page hardcover that tells you everything you ever wanted to know about scallop. And it offers recipes for starters and entrées that will make your mouth water.
The book is almost encyclopedic in scope, giving the history of the scallop going back to 3,000 B.C. when scallop shells were used as decorative elements in Chile. Their graceful shape continued to inspire design, architecture and art throughout Biblical times and the Greek and Roman periods. The shell later became the symbol of European pilgrims making the trek to Santiago de Compostella in Spain in the Middle Ages. It also captured the imagination of the Renaissance painters like Boticelli, who portrayed Aphrodite in a scallop shell. By that time it was considered a symbol of fertility.
The authors of the book, Elaine Tammi and Karin A. Tammi, have dedicated their work "to all scallopers -- bay and sea -- who venture out to Georges Bank and inland waters and come back after struggling with the unforgiving ocean..." The lore behind the dangers of catching fish commercially is something we rarely think about as we savor their meat. Yet fishing at that level is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. And these women are generous in their descriptions and praise for it.
The scallops most commonly eaten here in the U.S. are the Atlantic sea scallop, which, according to the book, is the United States' most important economic shellfish. It's typically found in deep, offshore beds from Labrador and Nova Scotia in Canada to North Carolina, with the most important beds on Georges Bank, the Gulf of Maine and the mid-Atlantic area. These scallops are available year round, shucked at sea and with the muscle attached to the scallop removed.
Scallops are most commonly harvested using scallop dredges or bottom trawls; the cookbook features many photos of these fleets. Recently, scallops harvested by divers, hand-caught on the ocean floor, have entered the marketplace. In contrast to the ones captured by a dredge across the sea floor, diver scallops tend to be less gritty. They may also be more ecologically friendly, since the harvesting method doesn't cause damage to undersea flora or fauna.
The other consideration is that dredge-harvesting methods often result in delays of up to two weeks before the scallops arrive at market, which can cause the flesh to break down, resulting in a much shorter shelf life.
The book features pictures of various kinds of scallops, essays by chefs in the Massachusetts area and their favorite recipes. There is also excellent advice on shopping for scallops, which kind to buy, and explanations of some of the mysteries of this interesting seafood.
I see scallops frequently in France, always with the coral-colored roe attached. I thought the roe was an egg sac but according to the book it's the reproductive organ of the scallop. Here in the U.S., we remove that part of it and eat only the white muscle meat. Like oysters, the scallop has a central adductor muscle but it is larger and more developed than that of an oyster because it is an active swimmer. Scallops are, in fact, the only migratory bivalve. Most scallops are filter feeders and eat plankton.
The authors point out that scallops are the safest shellfish to eat because they are shucked at sea, with the muscle separated from the digestive system and then are frozen or iced immediately. They advise consumers to buy "day boat" and "diver" dry-packed scallops whenever possible. These are harvested and packed within a day and shipped quickly to seafood markets and restaurants. They are, apparently, the best ones you can buy. And they are more expensive.
The wet ones have been processed. Which means they were soaked or dipped in water containing chemicals to increase weight and shelf life, then frozen. The retail stores thaw them before selling them. They're safe to eat but they've had preservative chemicals added to them. Additives can impart an iodine-like taste to the scallop.
To my horror, the book also warns consumers that some restaurants will serve skate wings, cod cheeks and shark meat -- cut with little cookie cutters -- to sell as scallops! Since the real thing is so available and not that expensive, one wonders why they would bother.
The special little fresh-bay scallops are harvested in shallow waters from Cape Cod south to Long Island. They're small, hand-shucked, and have a delectable, sweet taste. Unfortunately, their season is shorter and their lack of availability makes them expensive.
My favorite way to serve scallops is to sear them in a little hot olive oil, season them and add them to a creamy saffron risotto. But there are lots of other great ways to serve them. Next time you're faced with planning something special for guests, consider one of these scallop recipes:
Scallops with Lime
(great as a starter or main course)
For honey-lime dressing:
about 1/3 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (2 to 3 limes)
5 tsp honey, or to taste
1 tbsp white wine or rice vinegar
1/8 tsp salt (about)
For seared sea scallops:
2 tbsp grapeseed or peanut oil (about)
1-1/2 to 2 pounds sea scallops, patted very dry
mixed greens (such as snow peas, watercress or arugula mixed with mesclun)
2 handfuls chopped vegetables, such as orange bell peppers and jicama
Dressing: Whisk together lime juice, honey, vinegar and salt. Taste and adjust. Set aside.
Scallops: Heat oil in a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When bubbling and beginning to darken, add a few scallops to skillet, being careful not to crowd pan (if scallops are too close, the moisture they emit can't escape and scallops will steam, not sear). Cook 2 to 4 minutes per side until golden brown on the outside and scallops can be turned easily. Turn and cook just until opaque throughout. Transfer to a plate; repeat with remaining scallops.
To serve, arrange greens and vegetables on individual plates. Place scallops on top, whisk dressing to recombine, then drizzle sparingly over top.
Yields 4 to 6 servings.
Scallops and Pasta
(Really fast and simply delicious)
1 (16-ounce) package angel hair pasta
1/4 cup butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds sea scallops, rinsed and patted dry
3 tbsp chopped fresh basil
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
1 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese to taste (optional)
Fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling, stir in the angel hair pasta and return to a boil. Cook the pasta uncovered, stirring occasionally until the pasta has cooked through but is still firm to the bite, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain well in a colander set in the sink.
Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and cook just until fragrant and softened, about one minute. Slice any scallops over 3/4-inch thick in half so they'll cook evenly; stir scallops, basil and parsley into the skillet. Cook and gently stir just until scallops feel slightly firm when pressed with a finger, 2 to 3 minutes. Scallops will become tough and chewy if overcooked. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and black pepper. Pour in cream if you like a thicker sauce. Bring the mixture just to a bare simmer. Serve over hot angel hair pasta; sprinkle to taste with Parmesan cheese.
2 tbsp butter
2 shallots, minced
1/2 pound mushrooms (reserving one), minced
8 spears asparagus (reserved tips), minced
2 tbsp flour
4 cups milk
concentrated fish (or scallop) base, which would dilute to 4 cups
1/2 pound ocean scallops, cut into mouth-sized pieces
reserved mushroom, cut into 8 thin slices
reserved asparagus spears
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup dry white wine
paprika for garnish
In a saucepan, melt butter, add minced shallots, mushrooms and asparagus and sauté on low heat for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. When flavors are concentrated, stir in the flour and cook for a minute or two, then slowly whisk in the milk. When the soup heats and begins to thicken, whisk in the fish or seafood stock base and let simmer for a minute or two.
Add the scallops, asparagus tips and mushroom slices and simmer for 3 minutes. Pour in the heavy cream, reheat and simmer for a few more minutes.
When ready to serve, pour in the wine, then ladle the soup into soup bowls, evenly dividing the scallops, mushroom slices and asparagus tips. Garnish with a pinch of fresh paprika over each bowl and serve immediately.
Coquilles St. Jacques
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
1 bouquet garni (bundle of thyme and parsley tied together)
2 pounds scallops, washed and drained
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms
6 shallots finely chopped
1 small onion finely chopped
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp parsley finely chopped
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup heavy cream
Bring to a boil 1-1/2 cups dry white wine with a bouquet garni. Add 2 pounds scallops and salt to taste and simmer the scallops for 3 minutes or until they are tender. Drain them, reserving the broth, and cut them into fine pieces.
Clean and chop 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms. Put them in a saucepan with the shallots or onion, 2 tbsp each of butter and water, 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley and lemon juice. Cover the pan and simmer the mixture for 10 minutes. Strain it and add to the wine broth.
Melt 1/4 cup butter in a saucepan, add 1/4 cup flour and stir the roux until it is well blended. Add gradually the combined hot broths from the scallops and the mushrooms and cook the sauce, stirring constantly until it is thickened and smooth. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in egg yolks beaten with the heavy cream and a little of the hot sauce. Correct the seasoning and stir in the scallops, shallots and mushrooms. Fill scallop shells or ramekins with the mixture, piling them high in the center, sprinkle with bread crumbs and dot with butter. Brown the filling in a hot oven (400¬°) or under the broiler.
Joanna Schmida is author of the Key West historical novel "The Woman at the Light." Visit her at www.JoannaBradySchmida.com.