I love seeing the piles of whole in-shell scallops in the market. Partly because scallops in this form are very difficult to find in the States, so my experience with them is extremely limited, and I do appreciate a challenge. And partly because I love scallops so much.
Also, I know that when I buy them alive (as these were right up to the point where I cut their writhing adductors from their shells), they haven’t been frozen or treated with that stuff to make them retain water and weigh more. These are scallops as nature intended.
Now, I don’t need much prompting to order scallops in a restaurant, but cooking them at home is another matter. I want that golden-seared crunch on the ends while the center is rare as rare can be, without being cold. I’m happy to say that I’ve never had a total scallop disaster in my kitchen (In fact, my first-ever attempt at scallop cookery in culinary school was praised by a very-tough-to-please chef instructor), but I’m always slightly trepidatious that I’m going to ruin such a delectable, expensive ingredient. But when I saw this post with glazed diver scallops and fried prosciutto, I had to run out and get some scallops of my own. By the way, I couldn’t agree more with Peter’s statement that “nothing goes better with scallops than some fried pork.”
Except possibly vanilla. In my first (maybe only) true VIP dining experience, one of the off-the-menu courses served was seared scallops on wilted spinach with vanilla butter sauce. It still sticks in my mind, five years later, as a standout dish in an all-around incredible meal (in which we also ate a bowl of steamed cockles, a whole roasted branzini, and a rack of lamb).
As luck would have it, the first vendor I saw at the market the day I went to buy scallops was a guy selling Bourbon vanilla beans. I got five for two euros – not bad at all! So vanilla beurre blanc was definitely going on the plate. Since October through January is pretty much a never-ending winter squash-fest in our house, I ended up with a beautiful organic Butternut squash in my shopping bag, figuring I’d make a purée using crème fraîche and molasses to enrich and intensify its nutty sweetness. Picturing the plate in my head, I knew I needed something green. Sadly, the Parisian markets seem to be lacking in the leafy greens category. There are tons of lettuces, but I have yet to see mustard greens or kale. If you want to get your dark green leafy vegetable fix, you have the choice between spinach and Swiss chard. That’s about it. Bored of spinach and thinking that Swiss chard wasn’t quite right, I wandered through the stalls in hope of finding something different. A large stack of bundled watercress jumped out at me, and it joined the scallops, vanilla beans, and squash in my bag. I was about to head home when I realized I hadn’t picked up any pork products! Enter the Spanish-Italian-Portuguese specialty stand. I splurged on four slices of Serrano ham, and made my way home with an empty wallet and an exciting dinner just waiting to be realized.
When I asked Nick later whether I should wrap the scallop in the Serrano or chop it up and fry it into über-expensive bacon bits, the immediate reply was, “Why don’t you do both?” So I did. Crisped in a little olive oil, it provided a delicious crunch, while the whisper-thin slices wrapped around the scallops stayed tender enough to cut through with a fork. The Butternut purée went off without a hitch, as did the vanilla-cider beurre blanc, whose heady vanilla scent complimented the scallops every bit as wonderfully as I remembered, while the cider (along with the fresh, peppery watercress) provided a contrasting acidity that kept the dish out of overwhelmingly rich territory.
Oh, and the scallops? To quote an old teacher of mine, “very nicely cooked,” if I do say so myself.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.