the shell of st james
To open this blog up, let me first tell you a story of my first seafood epic fail. It was several years ago, and intrigued by the look of skate in the supermarket (yet not knowing what it was) I bought some and took it home to cook for my boyfriend, Max, and another friend, Anna. Upon doing some research, I discovered what skate “fish” actually are (stingrays) and that they contained neurotoxins. Delighted, I set to cooking them and immediately noticed a slightly acrid ammonia-like smell. While I don’t recall the exact recipe I used, I do remember serving them up only to discover that, while the smell had vanished, only true Windex-lovers could call the dish palatable. Surprisingly, after Max and I grimaced through a few bites and gave up, Anna finished her share happily, saying she didn’t mind the taste at all. This is probably because she’s from Russia, where they most likely add ammonia to baby formula to root out the weak.
I had hoped at the time that there would be a lesson in all of this involving learning how absolutely critical it is to buy and cook fresh seafood, but it took one more time of ruining dinner for myself (a hugely disappointing grocery-store scallop debacle) before the lesson sank in.
Luckily, I live within a few blocks of one of the best seafood shops in NYC, the Lobster Place. There are a few branches, the biggest of which is in the amazing Chelsea Market. This place has some of the freshest seafood available, is fairly priced, and has a helpful staff. Usually when I go, I have no specific dish in mind and buy what appeals to me once I’m there. Last night, it was scallops.
How many of you knew that the scallop was the symbol of St James? Chances are, if you are fluent in French (or German, Danish or Dutch) the name could have given it away. While we derive “scallop” from the French word for shell, a scallop to a Frenchie is a coquille de St. Jacques. So now you know!
If you are one of the millions of people not living right near the Lobster Place, let me give you a few tips on buying scallops. If you can, ask if the scallops are chemical free: while lots of frozen scallops are treated with phosphates so that they bind better and don’t “weep” liquid once they’re heated, fresh ones are treated this way primarily so that they soak up more water, thus increases their weight and your fishmonger’s profits. Another thing to look for is the dryness of the scallops: are they soaking in liquid? Is there a pool of milky goo beneath them? Those are both bad signs. You also want to look at the color: stark white scallops could be a sign of a heavy phosphate dose, whereas creamy or ivory colored ones are a safer bet. Sniffing to see if they have an overwhelming “fishy” odor is, as usual with seafood, a good freshness test.
Once you have found your perfect scallop purveyor, buy about 4 or 5 per person. There are a million recipes on the internet out there, so I will go ahead and give you THE VERY BEST ONE.
Seared Sea Scallops for 2
8-10 sea scallops
1/3 a cup flour, for dredging
2 tbsp oil (extra virgin olive oil or high heat)
2 medium cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp butter
2 tsp paprika, paprika
pinch of salt, pepper
Step 1) Check to see if any of your scallops have little muscles attached, and remove from the ones that do. Scallop muscles look like little appendages on the side of the scallop.
Step 2) Dry your scallops! Dry them good! You will not get a good sear if they are damp.
Step 3) Mix the flour and 1 tsp paprika on a plate. Now coat the big sides of the scallops in flour.
Step 4) Put a stainless steel pan (or, at least trying to avoid using a nonstick) over medium-high heat for about a minute, then add the oil and butter. Let this get really hot, waiting a little after the butter stops foaming.
Step 5) Place scallops in pan, DO NOT CROWD THE PAN. Flip after 2 minutes, remove after another 2 minutes have passed. While I generally find that 2 minutes on each side is perfect, really giant scallops could need a minute longer per side. Overcooking will make them rubbery and gross.
Step 6) Plate those puppies.
Step 7) Turn down the heat a little and add garlic. After the garlic cooks, drizzle the scallops with pan sauce and garlic. ET VOILA!