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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Confessions of a Scallopaholic


You know I love seafood, right? I can't imagine life without it.  Fish, shellfish, caviar...just about anything that comes from the sea. For me, it beats any kind of red meat, pork, chicken, pasta...anything.

One of the most under-appreciated forms of sea-worthy goodness is my longtime friend, the scallop. I think the scallop, be it the bay scallop (the teeny tiny tender variety) or the sea or diver scallop (the big mamma jammas) are extremely versatile and can adapt to just about any recipe, are easy as pie to prepare, and are a nutritionally sound choice to boot. 

I have made numerous dishes with scallops, finding any way I can think of to incorporate them into many a menu. I've put them in pastas, stir fry, soups, risottos, stews, side dishes and (one of my absolute favorites) ceveche. Scallops are sweet and tender and are just as good raw as they are cooked. Their mildness lends a compliment to just about any dish.

Now, I have a confession to make. Let me 'splain... There is one dish that is a simple, perfect way to eat scallops that I have eaten many, many times at various restaurants. Let's just say if I see it on the menu, I always order it. It is available at most restaurants and is usually orderable in an appetizer form, or in an "add-on" side. If you have never tried scallops, this dish is the perfect introduction to them:  Bacon Wrapped Scallops.  Say a hearty "Hello!" to your new favorite. Not only does it have scallops, but they're wrapped in bacon...c'mon! There are quite a few variations on this dish, but simple will win out every time.

But what is my confession you ask? Well, I will tell you now.

I have never actually made Bacon Wrapped Scallops myself.


Yes, I know. Calm yourself. I am rectifying that right now.

A lot of people, and in certain cases myself included, are a tad intimidated to attempt to make certain dishes. Scallops don't frighten me at all, but there are things that do - which we will get to in other posts, as I shall attempt complete and utter humiliation in front of the masses in hopes of confronting my fears and making it not so scary so maybe you will give it a try! I know lots of people who won't try to cook scallops themselves because of the myths floating around about these little beauties.

Myth #1:  They are fishy smelling and tasting! Yuck!!

If you have had scallops that smell fishy, you're buying bad scallops! And they so do not taste like fish. If they taste like fish, either (a) you're eating surimi - a fish based food product (shudder!) made from white fleshed fish intended to mimic the texture and color of certain shellfish, (b) you've purchased bad, bad scallops, (c) you need to have your taste buds checked out STAT, or (d) you don't like any seafood and will not budge..."Everything from the ocean tastes like fish! Eww! I already know I won't like it because it will taste like fish!" If this is you, my advice is to grow a pair and try them. You might surprise yourself.

Myth #2:  Scallops are too hard to clean! No matter where I order them, how they are prepared or how much I try, I always get that grit between my teeth. Yuk!

Yes, these little creatures love sand. Picture a puppy rolling around in the dirt and grass, happy and playful. That's what scallops do on the ocean floor. They're just not as cute as a puppy.  Now ask yourself, "How am I ever gonna get that puppy clean? It's filthy!" Think of your scallops as a puppy. Heck, name them if it helps. You'd really wash that pup, right? Well, the same approach applies to the scallops, just without the perfumed dog soap.

When you "wash" a scallop, there are a few methods that I have heard of that you could choose from. I will share with you the method I always use and works great for me every time. When you buy scallops, you have two choices: fresh or frozen. If you have fresh available to you, always opt for that. If not, frozen will work too. Looking to the frozen kind, you also have two choices: dry packed or wet packed. Scallops that are without any additives are called "dry packed", while scallops that are treated with a chemical called sodium tripolyphosphate (STP) are called "wet packed". STP causes the scallops to absorb moisture prior to the freezing process, thereby getting a better price per unit of weight. I always try to find dry packed, but both types are workable.  Dry packed or Diver (hand harvested by divers) are of a higher quality and will generally have way less sand and grit to begin with. Whatever you get, take them home and thaw them in the fridge for about 12 hours.

After they are thawed, take a plate out and stack several sturdy paper towels on it. Please do not use napkins - trust me on this.  Rinse the scallops really well under cold water while removing the little piece of meat on the side that connected the scallop to the shell. You can't miss it...it looks freezer-burned and slightly shiny. Just pinch it between your thumb and first-finger, and tear it away. Don't worry too much if you can't find it on all the muscles. It often gets dislodged and washed away during the harvesting process. Those little skin tags are really tough and chewy, so you want 'em gone. Shake off the excess water and lay the scallops on the stack of paper towels. Stack several more paper towels on top of the scallops (and yes, you can do this in layers of scallops and paper towels on the same plate. Just end the tower with paper towels). Top with another (same-sized) plate. Use a can of soup or can of something and place it on top of the top plate to add some weight to the tower. You want these puppies dry, and the paper towels will help suck out most of the moisture.  Place your tower-o-scallops in the fridge for 20 minutes. Take them out and rebuild the tower with fresh paper towels. Put everything back in the fridge for another 20-30 minutes. Prepare according to whatever recipe you choose.

Now, I can't promise you that you won't collide with a grain or two of sand ever, but it is a very few and far between occurrence that you will. Hey, nobody's perfect, especially me.

Myth #3:  Scallops are way too easy to overcook! I don't want to end up with rubbery balls of ick!

Scallops can be seared, grilled, poached, or even eaten raw if they're very fresh. They do cook very quickly and become tough and chewy if overcooked, much like shrimp. In my opinion, it's better to under cook them slightly, rather than cook them too long.  My favorite way to prepare scallops is to simply melt a little butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and sear the scallops. We sear them for about two minutes on both sides, just enough to get a golden crust and barely cook them through. To get a really crispy crust, make sure the scallops are dry as possible before going into the pan and salt them only at the very last second. The same goes for grilling.  As long as you don't walk away or get sidetracked while cooking them, you'll be fine.  If you can cook shrimp, you can cook scallops.

Now back to my regularly scheduled confession...

I can be somewhat slow when it comes to certain realizations...like the real reason they nail coffins shut. Zombies, dude! When it dawned on me that I had never attempted to make Bacon Wrapped Scallops, I hopped right on it!

I made my special seasoning mix, which is loosely based on Emeril's Bayou Blast spice mix, but with my own twists. I will include the recipe below.

I made the bacon ahead of time in a 350 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper and load 'er up! I used thick cut applewood smoked bacon for this. Eating this bacon will change you...

After the scallops have their day at the spa and are dried, I season both sides with my spice mix.

After the bacon cooled,  I cut the slices in half vertically. Some slices I actually had to cut in half horizontally because the pieces were so wide.  Then I just wrapped a piece of uber-yummy bacon around the scallop and speared it with a bamboo skewer that I soaked in water for about 30 minutes.

Heat a nonstick pan to about medium high heat (I added some butter and a smattering of olive oil too) and sear on all 4 sides so the scallops and the bacon cook. Since the bacon was 75% cooked in the oven, you're just looking to crisp it up a bit.

And voilà! I call it perfection on a stick. But you can call me for dinner when these are ready.

My Special Spice Mix

This can be used on anything...fish, beef, pork, chicken...anything you want to make a smidge more flavorful.

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons seasoned salt
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon allspice
  • 1/2 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg
Combine all ingredients thoroughly. You can store this in any airtight container for up to 3 months.
Yields about 2/3 of a cup.

Bacon Wrapped Scallops

You'll need:

6 slices of applewood smoked bacon (or another thick-cut bacon)
12 sea scallops, washed & dried
Special Spice Mix
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
Bamboo skewers, soaked in water for about 30 minutes

Now do this:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Honestly, I can't live without parchment paper!!  Place the bacon strips on the parchment paper and bake until just beginning to get golden around the edges but still pliable, 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.

Season the scallops on all sides with the spice mix. Cut the bacon in half vertically so that you have 12 slices. Wrap each scallop in 1 piece of the bacon, securing it through the center with a bamboo skewer. Repeat with the remaining scallops, putting three scallops on each skewer.

Preheat a large skillet (or can be done on the grill) to medium-high heat.  When pan is hot, add the butter and olive oil. If grilling, make sure to brush the grates lightly with oil so they don't stick.

When the pan is hot and the butter has completely melted into the oil, place the scallops in the pan and cook, turning frequently, until just cooked through about 7 minutes total. Transfer to a platter and serve immediately.

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