The storm off the gulf is pounding us with rain, more than the usual amount we get in Florida this time of year. I’m thankful for it. The storm keeps the construction workers on their toes and rushing off roofs in a screaming frenzy because they wait until the most deliberate painful last minute, only recognizing the situation when the first flat plop of a raindrop hits their heads and the lightening fires up the sky. Then I hear them clamoring off the building right above my head, screaming incoherently to one another, piling onto the ladder which is perched leaning against (of all places) my lanai. It’s fun afternoon entertainment for me.
One can’t help but to think of the sea when the outside is drenched and the wind carries the faintest smell of the ocean down the street. The mind wanders to clam chowders, seafood paella and lobster risotto. Sunsets and sangria. I throw on my Dave Matthews Band or Sublime records (still loving vinyl) and think it’s been too long since I’ve been to the beach.
On one particular day, the weather drove me into thinking about scallops. Plump meaty mouthfuls. I prefer the larger scallop, personally; I like to cut into it and have smaller pieces and leave the bay scallops for soups mostly.
The trick to scallops, I’ve found, is to cook them just enough but not until they become too chewy – like you would with shrimp. The perfect sear and abundant flavor is all I ever worry about with these guys. You could literally just have them alone with some bacon and I don’t know a lot of people who wouldn’t be happy.
In this case, I decided to put them with some wilted spinach, potatoes and make a crumble to go with it that was the consistency of rice but was sweet to match the marinade. A strawberry almond amaretto crumble seemed perfect.
You will need:
- Soy sauce (low sodium)
- Ginger (I don’t bother with buying whole ginger; I use the dried but feel free to buy whole ginger if you prefer)
- Salt and pepper (we use sea salt, preferably smoked sea salt)
- Minced garlic
- Brown sugar
- Amaretto (a taster bottle is fine unless you want a larger bottle and will make a drink to go with your meal – Amaretto Sours?)
- Almond flour
- Strawberries (fresh or frozen)
- Olive oil
- Potatoes (starchier ones like baby yellows)
Potatoes are a no-brainer, no baby-sitter needed kind of food to cook. To this point, and because it’s just the starch of the meal and not the star, you don’t need to do much. Just cut them to the size your family prefers (for example, my husband likes his potatoes to already be bite-sized so he doesn’t have to have some huge mouthful or use a knife). Put some oil in a pan and keep them on medium with salt and pepper. Move them around so they don’t burn or stick to the pan, and if you want to steam them add some water and keep the lid on but partially open to let steam out.
As with the potatoes, spinach will basically cook itself. You will still want to make sure they are flavorful however, as potatoes still have some flavor on their own, spinach can be bitter or just bland. Place a lot of spinach (it will wilt considerably) in a skillet or pot and cook down the spinach in the same seasonings and soy sauce as the scallops.
Strawberry Amaretto Crumble
I usually purchase frozen fruit so it will last longer while I decide what to do with it and, it’s more cost effective. This dish will work just as well with fresh fruit, and you can even substitute the strawberry for a raspberry, blackberry or blueberry if you prefer. We had frozen strawberries this day. In a small pot, reduce your fruit down by allowing it to bubble and release it’s juices, and then smash the fruit to release even more. With a slotted spoon, separate the fruit pulp from the fruit juice, placing the pulp aside (my husband repurposes the pulp in his smoothies, you can find plenty of uses I’m sure) and to the juice in the pot, add brown sugar (about a tablespoon or tablespoon and a half). Stir everything till it combines, keeping the pot on medium low and then add your amaretto. Finally, add your flour in teaspoon to tablespoon increments, combining. Stop when you have enough to feed everyone, combining to almost a base for a pie or cookie. Crumbles the size of peas or slightly larger, taste and see if you want to add more brown sugar or amaretto.
I rinse the ones I get and then I pat them dry. On the top of each scallop dress with your dry seasonings: sea salt, black pepper and ginger. If you put the soy sauce on first, not only will the seasonings run off but, you won’t get that gorgeous sear you’re trying to create. I use a cast iron skillet or pot for this but, you can use anything so long as it’s really hot and then add your oil, minced garlic and soy sauce. Stir that all together to combine but make sure it’s not too much as the first side is the one you’ll want to see the sear the most.
Make sure your scallops are room temperature before putting them on your pan; you never want to cook cold meat/seafood because it will make it tougher. Put the scallop seasoned side down. Leave the scallop on the side you placed it and do not move it for up to three minutes. Make sure when you place your scallops you leave plenty of room between them to not touch otherwise they will steam and not sear. As it cooks, season the side now facing you. Once the time hits, flip the scallops and wait another two to three minutes.
Some people only cook them two minutes, careful to not go over that timeframe. Choose what you like. Don’t know what you like? Cook one at two minutes and one at three and try them. You’ll only need to do this once and then you’ll know moving forward and won’t have to fumble around wondering. Regardless, you’re looking for a nice evident sear on the scallops so, with this second side you can add more soy sauce if you’d like.
Scallops need to come off the heat when they’re deemed done. They will continue to cook in a hot pan and cool easily when taken off the heat so, try to manage your time accordingly: get your plates out and ready, your silverware, your beverages… Put the crumble down on one side, the spinach one the other next to the potatoes and place the scallops on top of the crumble.
I placed some additional herbs I had in the condo (parsley) on top of the scallops but, you can leave them clean with just the sear if you prefer.
This whole meal took only about twenty minutes (potatoes enjoying the largest amount of that time) and would be fantastic for a wet day like today. The crumble provides the balance of sweetness with the savory scallops. The spinach has the perfect mouthfeel with the potatoes. Complete everything with a soft Riesling or an Amaretto Sour, and some music… Life almost at the beach.