Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bay Scallops ~ Two Methods

Before you make either of these delicious scallop recipes, you need to buy the scallops. Unfortunately, that's not always as simple as it sounds.  As I often post, getting good quality ingredients is the most important step to a good meal.  Even a great cook has trouble compensating for poor quality ingredients.

Bay vs. Sea Scallops:   Bay scallops and sea scallops are closely related members of the same family of shellfish. Both make extremely good eating. I particularly prize bay scallops, which are much smaller than sea scallops, for their tenderness and the sweetness of their flavor. Because they are smaller, bay scallops require considerably shorter cooking times and benefit from gentler methods. In other words, you can't really sear bay scallops the way you do sea scallops.  In both cases however, overcooking renders them tough.  Bay scallops are usually in short supply because of the degradation of their habitat by pollution and over-harvesting.  But if you do come across them, there are several things you must know in making your selection.
Bay Scallops
Frozen vs. Fresh Scallops:  You can get both fresh and frozen bay scallops, and the following comments apply to the larger sea scallops as well.  Don't assume fresh is always better, unless you live near the Atlantic coast of North America and know your fish monger well.  "Fresh" scallops in the seafood case are often simply thawed frozen scallops.  You do not want to purchase these.  Better to take home frozen and defrost in the refrigerator a day before using.  Check the point of origin, as scallops are imported from China to the United States and Europe.  I try to avoid these as quality control and lack of governmental oversight often mean you don't know what you are getting (and it has been known for these companies to use shark and skate cut into the shape of scallops.)  Vendors offer individually quick freeze scallops packed either "wet" or "dry." Choose dry ones (sometimes labeled 'chemical free') if possible because they have not been treated with a phosphate solution that whitens them and makes them absorb more liquid, increasing their weight by as much as 30 percent.  When you cook wet packed scallops you find that all of this additional chemical liquid is released into your pan and not only adds unwanted liquid to your recipe but imparts a somewhat soap-like taste.  If you can only get wet packed, I suggest that after the scallops are thawed you rinse and drain them well.  Then place them on several layers of paper towels and salt them liberally and let them rest for up to an hour, which will help to draw out the excess moisture. Once this is done, another quick rinse to remove the salt and a pat dry, and they are ready for preparation.

The Recipes:  The following two recipes can be made for an appetizer or main course.  The first, quite simple recipe, is always popular.  The second, made popular in America by Julia Child is a bit more complex but still easy even for the beginner. 

Adding the Bread Crums for the
Garlic and White Wine Recipe
Garlic-White Wine:   The simplest of preparation methods for bay scallops is to use the technique I describe for Shrimp De Jonghe.  After purchasing and preparing the scallops as noted above, placing them in individual baking dishes with minced garlic, white wine and butter; followed by a topping of buttered bread crumbs, is all that is required.  A quick bake (15-20 minutes) at 400F is all that is required to finish the dish.

The Baked Garlic White Wine Version
Coquilles St. Jacques:   The name of this dish, while French, is actually tied to Spain where, as the story goes Saint Jacques (i.e., Saint James of the 12 Apostles) saved a drowning knight’s life and the knight came out of the water covered in scallop shells. It is also said that the body of St. James himself was lost in the ocean on the way to Spain for burial and later washed ashore covered in scallops. The French dish was named in his honor.  What follows is Julia Child's recipe.

·        2 tablespoons minced shallots or green onions
·        1 cup dry white wine
·        1 bay leaf
·        1 teaspoon finely-minced fresh
·        tarragon (optional)
·        1/2 teaspoon salt
·        Pinch fresh-ground pepper
·        1/2 pound sliced fresh mushrooms
·        1 pound washed bay scallops (or sea scallops, cut into crosswise slices 1/8" thick)
·        3 tablespoons butter
·        4 tablespoons flour
·        1/4 cup whole milk
·        2 egg yolks
·        1/2 cup heavy cream
·        Salt and pepper
·        Squeeze of lemon juice
·        1/2 tablespoon butter
·        6 tablespoons grated Gruy√®re or Swiss cheese
·        6 scallop shells or ramekins of 1/3 cup capacity
·        Sprigs of fresh herbs for garnish: tarragon or flat-leaf parsley

The Cheesy and Rich, Coquilles St. Jacques

1.      Simmer the bay leaf, tarragon, salt and pepper in the wine for 5 minutes. Add the scallops, mushrooms and enough water to barely cover them.

2.      Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer slowly for 5 minutes. Remove scallops and mushrooms with a slotted spoon and set aside.

3.      Reduce the cooking liquid to one cup by rapidly boiling. While the liquid is reducing, whisk the egg yolks and cream in a bowl.

4.      In a separate saucepan, cook the butter and flour slowly for two minutes.

5.      Remove from heat; add the cooking liquid and blend; then add the milk, stirring to blend into a smooth sauce. Return to heat and boil for one minute.

6.      Beat the sauce from the pan into the egg yolk mixture, by driblets. Return to pan and boil, stirring, for 1 minute. Thin with cream if necessary. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a few drops of lemon juice. Strain.

7.      Blend 2/3 of the sauce with the scallops and mushrooms.

8.      Butter the shells or ramekins; spoon in the scallop mixture and cover with the rest of the sauce. Sprinkle with cheese and dot with butter. Arrange shells on a broiling pan.

9.    The recipe can be prepared up t this point. Fifteen minutes before serving, set the scallops 8 to 9 inches beneath a moderately hot broiler to heat through gradually, and to brown the top of the sauce. Serve immediately.

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