Samui Wining & Dining
She Sells Seashells

Scallops are so good they’re even enjoyed by those who don’t like shellfish.

 

2-3The silky-smooth, soft fleshy texture of scallops has undeniable appeal. They’re always a popular order in restaurants, and a favourite for dinner parties where the host wants to impress. And yet ironically they’re one of the easiest shellfish to cook.

    There are three main types of scallop: bay, rock and sea scallops. Sea scallops are the largest, and therefore are the ones you tend to see on restaurant menus – often seared, and usually the focus of a dish. Fresh sea scallops are best from October through to March, but fear not, you can get your hands on frozen ones throughout the year.

      Not only do they taste good, they’re also very healthy too. Whilst they may look modest – being small and pale in colour – scallops actually pack quite a punch in the nutrition department. Inside these little guys you’ll find protein, selenium, phosphorus, vitamin B12, zinc, choline, iron,omega-3 fats, copper, magnesium, potassium and calcium. Not to mention they’re very low in calories. They’ve even been proven to promote cardiovascular health and help protect against colon cancer.

      The most common way scallops are harvested is by dredging, but this process of scraping up the whole seabed is not only bad for the environment – as it kills everything else in its path – but it also means the scallops tend to have debris mixed with the meat inside the shell. Diver scallops, on the other hand, are hand picked by professional scallop divers, so tend to be less gritty. You can also eat diver scallops knowing that no other marine life has been harmed during their retrieval. They tend to be fresher, too, as they go straight from the sea to the store that same day.

       A scallop’s life is a fairly simple one, but they do have the ability to swim, unlike mussels and clams. They move by contracting and thus clapping the two halves of their shell together. The water that’s pushed through the shell by this movement propels them through the water. Scallops are filter feeders (meaning they filter small organisms out of the water) and eat plankton. What few people know is that scallops have eyes, about 60 of them actually. These eyes are often bright blue and are used to detect movement, as well as changes in light. They also have a body, separate from the bit that you eat. This is the adductor muscle (the muscle that contracts the shell) which comprises a mouth, stomach and digestive gland. This unattractive part of the scallop is scraped away and discarded during the shucking process.

       If you plan on cooking them at home it’s worth knowing how to shuck one. You can buy a specially designed scallop knife, but a butter knife works just as well – and is a lot cheaper too. Place the closed scallop in the palm of your hand, dark side up. Lay it so that the hinge is facing your body, and the part that will open towards your fingertips. Slot the knife into the gap located on the right hand-side of the hinge, wiggling it until it’s a good couple of centimetres in. Next you need to manoeuvre the knife around the top shell to sever the piece of muscle that attaches the scallop meat to the shell. This will simultaneously unhinge the shell, and you can then open the top half of the shell and discard it. Scrape away the brown/grey innards and you’ll now be looking at your gleaming white scallop proudly displayed on the lower half of shell.

       You can eat them just like that, raw out of the shell. They’re sweet and have a smooth texture, but most people prefer them cooked. The most popular way to cook them is to quickly sear them in the pan, as overcooked scallops dry out and become tough and chewy. The way to do this is to preheat the pan and then place the scallops in only once it’s hot. Celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay, says, “Do not put the scallops in the pan unless it is piping hot. And I mean piping hot.” And you wouldn’t want to mess with him. Place them around the rim of the sizzling pan, that way each one gets the same amount of heat. Fry only until the outside is nicely coloured, but not until the scallop meat is cooked all the way through.

      Risotto is a populaar accompaniment to scallops. The texture and subtle flavour help showcase the delicate flavour of the scallop without overpowering it. Chopped asparagus can be added as well as Parmesan cheese, and if you’re feeling fancy then a drizzle of truffle oil can really bring the dish to another level. Prepare everything that you’re serving alongside the scallops before you begin cooking, only searing them at the very last minute and then serving straight away. Pop them on a plate and enjoy a restaurant-quality shellfish dish from the comfort of your own home – and you can even keep the shells for decorations!

 

Christina Wylie


 


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