Once a year, sometime in January, my aunt Ida emails to ask if I’d like to place an order for scallops. I mentioned no-brainers twice in last week’s column about chocolate cake with bourbon in it. This is another one.
A friend of hers, whose name I’m not allowed to reveal, as everyone and his or her brother would be knocking on his door, dives for scallops every winter. He sells some to retail markets and some to friends. And some to friends and relatives of friends. Lucky me.
The price per pound he gets is ridiculous, in a good way, for us lucky recipients. And he delivers them the day he harvests them. Scallops don’t get much fresher than that.
Ida’s friend dove for ours on Feb. 8 somewhere up around Deer Isle, in clear, clean, icy-cold water.
The scallops are the big, fat, Maine scallops that a lot of people call dry, or diver scallops. Togue Brawn, one of Maine’s leading authorities on scallops, told me there’s really no such thing as a dry, or diver scallop.
Don’t think you’re appearing knowledgeable, especially if you don’t have a Maine accent, when you strut into a fishmonger’s joint and order diver scallops. According to Togue, the term “dry” in relation to scallops is meaningless. It supposedly means that they haven’t been soaked in chemical solutions to plump them up. “If you’re in Maine, you should just ask for Maine scallops,” she said.
So even if you strut into the market and ask for Maine scallops, with a New York accent, the monger will probably be impressed. 🙂 Or he might just think you’re showing off. Try it and get back to me.
I only ordered 3 pounds this year, and of course now wish I’d gotten more. I picked them up at my aunt’s in Thomaston the same day the diver picked them off the ocean floor.
A scallop, or the part of the bivalve we eat, is really just the adductor muscle. It should be firm, translucent pinkish-white, with no odor other than the smell of the ocean. If I was spending $18-$20 per pound in a market, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask the fishmonger for a whiff. If it smells like fish, take a pass.
After cooking some for dinner the first night I get them, I always divide the scallops up into freezer baggies with around five big scallops in each. Did I mention the size of those babies this year? After I divvied them up, I weighed a bag. Five of them weighed around ½ pound. They are ginormous.
I always cook them the same way. I don’t mess around with recipes when it comes to fresh Maine scallops. Why do people add other flavors when the flavor of a fresh scallop is simply divine all by itself? You got me. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Not that I have anything against a scallop wrapped in bacon and broiled. That melding of those sweet and savory flavors is pretty awesome.
But I’ve never been tempted to cook something like Coquille St. Jacques, a popular menu item back in the ’70s. I’m sure it’s delicious, prepared with white wine, cream, and cheese, but what wouldn’t be? Why disguise the delicate flavor of a scallop? Make chicken St. Jacques and leave the scallops out of the mix.
Here’s how I cook scallops:
Make a martini. (I like martinis with seafood, instead of Manhattans.)
Coat the scallops in a dusting of half-flour and half-cornstarch with a healthy pinch of salt thrown in and pan-fry them, over medium heat, in a mixture of olive oil and butter till they’re golden brown on each side.
Put them on the pretty plate you’ve chosen for an elegant meal and squeeze a half-lemon into the pan to deglaze. If you’re right-handed, sip your martini with your left hand and stir the lemon juice into the brown stuff in the pan with your right. I find it really hard to stir with my left hand, but for some reason I can sip a Manhattan, up, with it. Go figure.
Anyway, stir that stuff around till you have a buttery brown sauce to dribble over the golden-brown scallops.
My favorite side dish with scallops is pasta with pesto. I make pesto with basil, olive oil, garlic, and pine nuts, or almonds, depending on how cheap I’m feeling when I look at the price of pine nuts.
I pan-roasted some Brussels sprouts in olive oil to go with the scallops and pasta this time. I served the ridiculously mouth-wateringly delicious meal on a really pretty turquoise and white plate, with a glass of rose in that same elegant pink glass I keep bragging about. The wine was Three-Buck Chuck.
P.S. Scallops are not only sweet and succulent, they’re one of the world’s healthiest foods, providing vitamin B12, magnesium, and potassium.
And the beat goes on. See ya next week.
(Suzi Thayer paints, feeds stray cats, eats good food, and drinks Manhattans. She’d love to hear from you with ideas and recipes for her column. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.)