Must Be Scallop Season

5 12 2008

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.

Three whole scallops

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.”

Look at all those juicy goods!

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 neverending winter squashfest 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.

Serrano-wrapped scallops

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.

Serrano-wrapped Scallops with Watercress, Butternut Purée, and Vanilla-Cider Beurre Blanc

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.




10 responses

5 12 2008
Andrew Maki

Scallops and Serrano ham! This dish sounds delicious. You’re right, scallops are hard to find in the US. I’ve only been scalloping once, and the few scallops (bay scallops) that I harvested were exquisite. Well done – I am going to try this recipe myself.


6 12 2008

Oh wow, this meal sounds amazing, mouth watering! I’m a bit afraid to cook with scallops from the shell because I don’t want to mess them up, but I bet they were delicious. I never would have thought of vanilla with them, yum!

6 12 2008

Hmmmm vanilla and scallops very interesting. Think it might be one of these just gotta try things. Nice photo’s

7 12 2008

Wow, that looks fantastic! I’ve never cooked scallops before, they’re just so expensive here. Now I’m tempted to splash out and get some!

7 12 2008
Ken Tomita

wow! the scallops look really beautiful in their natural form. thats so cool you are able to have culinary adventures that would not be possible here in the states!

7 12 2008

Andrew – Thanks! I bet it was great to eat scallops fresh out of the water like that!

Hopie – They were actually a lot easier to deal with than I expected, especially since I had the poissonier loosen the shells for me. 🙂

foodphoto – It’s an unforgettable combination.

Sam – I only cook them rarely, for the same reason. But it’s a great splurge for special occasions!

Ken – I love how you can see the little sea plants still growing on the shells! France is an excellent place to find adventures of the culinary variety, that’s for sure. 🙂

8 12 2008
Reuben Morningchilde

So lovely. Thanks once again for making me remember why I love cooking so much.

9 12 2008

Reuben – Thank YOU! What a compliment!

9 12 2008

Lovely dish! Thanks for continuing to bring the Parisian market into my home through your images.

10 12 2008

It’s my pleasure. 🙂

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