Sometime last season, a seafood stand appeared at my local Saturday morning farmers’ market. I live in Philadelphia, so the Jersey shore and its world of fish, clams, mussels and more really aren’t more than an hour or so away. Still, it took me a while to adjust to the idea that I could pick up a pound of cod along with my carrots, kale and apples.
However, once I made the mental shift, I’ve found that having regular access to seafood that’s no more than a day out of the ocean has been incredible. It’s so fresh and quick to cook, and the people who work the booth are fantastically knowledgeable about the product they’re selling.
It’s thanks to them that I finally took the plunge and learned to cook scallops at home. I’ve long been a fan of these sweet bivalves and frequently ordered them when eating at restaurants. But for the longest time, I had it in my head that they were hard to cook and easy to ruin. At $20 or more a pound, I didn’t feel like it was something I could experiment with.
But after a bit of encouragement from my friendly seafood stand, I decided to give it a go. I bought 2/3 of a pound (plenty for just my husband and me) and cooked them in a little butter until they were brown on both sides and just firm to the touch. It was a dining revelation that we’ve repeated regularly since then.
Now I find myself collecting scallop recipes. My confidence with them has grown to such proportions that I recently declared them the ultimate dinner party food. My approach is to make a couple of salads or sides in advance to serve with the scallops. Then, just before it’s time to serve dinner, the scallops get quickly cooked. It’s impressive, easy and quite delicious.
For the warmer months, I particularly like this recipe for Grilled Scallops With Orange-Scented Quinoa from Giada De Laurentiis. All you need to round out the meal is a green salad and a baguette. Ask a willing guest to bring dessert and you’re done. Why shouldn’t you turn your Weekender into an event?
Before you start grilling, here are a few things you should know:
— Giada’s original recipe calls for 1 1/2 pounds of scallops. In my world, that’s enough for 4-5 people (I estimate a generous 1/3 pound per person). Feel free to scale up or down depending on how many diners you’ll have.
— About 10 minutes before you’re ready to cook, line a plate with a doubled paper towel and lay the scallops out on it in a single layer. Place another towel over top and let them sit that way for a few minutes. This absorbs any water and will help you get a better sear on the scallops.
— Scallops contain quite a lot of natural sugar and so caramelize quickly when placed in the pan or on the grill. To prevent them from sticking, make sure to generously oil both the scallops and the pan.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, also called Food in Jars, will be published by Running Press in May 2012.