Friday, September 7, 2012

Food, Family, Friday: Scandalous Scallops

Our nest is not empty.  But, it is vacant at times.

The kids are old enough to travel alone.  So, we shipped them to their grandparents for a week.  During that time, we did that naughty thing that Moms and Dads do when the young ones aren’t around.

We cooked things the kids won’t eat.

And it was great if you know what I mean and I think you do.

I’m not sure how scallops became mollusks non grata around this house.  A story circulates that my daughter choked on one when she was much younger.  But, frankly, I don’t remember it.  My daughter groans with that “You are such a Dad” roll of the eyeballs when the story comes up and I protest my ignorance.

Fathers do that ignorance thing a lot. 

“What do you mean I was supposed to stop at the store?” 

“Complex math?  Between your mother and I we know everything there is to know.  That must be one of the things she knows…”

In fairness to my daughter (because, really, who wants to be fair to Dad), scallops can be tricky to cook and they will turn into little hockey pucks if they are over done.  Once upon a time, Chef Dad was in a trial and error phase with scallops and it’s possible that my daughter was unwillingly drafted into the National Hockey League on one occasion. 

Cooking scallops is one of those kitchen processes where you have to marry technique with instinct.  It’s like most key positions in sports and, indeed, it helps if you have a stopwatch handy.  No really.  The stopwatch function on your iPhone will do nicely.

You also need to pay attention.  The scallops will tell you when they are done.  But, they use sign language not a bullhorn.  When they say they are done, remove them from the heat.  Fast.  Pronto.  Lickety split.  Don’t worry that they have not been on the fire very long.  Most likely, you will need to develop an instinct about this precisely because your initial instinctive reaction will be that they are not cooked through.


You need a pan big enough that you will not crowd your scallops.  Get it quite hot with just enough oil to coat the bottom.  I use canola oil because you want the pan hot and olive oil might start smoking.

Place your scallops into the pan and start your stopwatch (and be sure to say “start your stopwatch” three times fast).  They should sizzle immediately.  When it gets to 90 seconds, check the bottom of the scallops.  You should see a golden crust.  Turn them over and restart your stopwatch.  You’ll notice that a few cracks have formed in what is now the golden top.  That’s good.  Cracks are how the scallops communicate with you.

When those cracks get more uniform across the top of the scallop, and that stopwatch nears the 90-second mark again, they are done.  Remove them from the pan.  As Julia Child once said, you need the courage of your convictions here.  Don’t wonder if they should have just a little bit more.  Don’t stop to feel like a dork because you’re using a stopwatch to cook mollusks.

Get those scallops off the heat or join the NHL.  It’s one or the other.

A properly cooked scallop can be cut with a fork with gentle pressure.  They are that tender.  Some people do a pan sauce afterward with butter and other stuff.  Some recipes call for wrapping them in bacon and good scallops are one of the few things that bacon does not really improve.  They are so naturally sweet that they really don’t need anything more than a nice chardonnay to go with them.