Unlike our native bay scallops, local Shinnecock sea scallops are plentiful and available year-round. They may not get all the love that is showered on our favorite seasonal bivalve, but they are less susceptible to the environmental conditions that sadly ruined the past two seasons’ bay scallop harvest.
Though we are hoping conditions in the bay improve soon, I am happy to have this worthy substitute. Purchase your sea scallops fresh from a trusted source, such as your local fish market, and make sure they are dry packed and not soaked in phosphate solution, used to whiten them and make them absorb more water. The male scallop does tend to be whiter, while the females can have a pinkish-yellow hue.
For an elegant seasonal dinner for two, I have paired spring flavors to enhance the scallops. Local asparagus is blended with peas and mint for refreshing green coulis and the dish is topped with asparagus tips bathed in lemon brown butter. To complete the plate there is a delicate Boston lettuce salad with a light and creamy chive dressing.
Shinnecock Sea Scallops with Pea, Asparagus and Mint Coulis
Allow 5-6 large scallops per person and purchase the day you are serving them. Allowing them to come to room temperature will ensure quick and even cooking. Be careful not to overcook them. They should take between four and five minutes on medium to high heat.
1 bunch (approx. 14 stems) local asparagus
1 medium shallot minced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 ½ cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 ¼ cups frozen peas
1 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves chopped
12 large local sea scallops
Salt and fresh black pepper
About 45 minutes before cooking, remove the sea scallops from the refrigerator, trim off the connective muscle on the side and arrange in a single layer on a large plate.
Prepare the asparagus by trimming and discarding the tough parts of the stalk and cutting off two inches of the tips and setting aside. Chop the remaining tender stalks into one-inch pieces.
Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan and add the shallots. Add a generous pinch of salt and sauté on heat low for about two minutes, until they are softened but not browned.
Add the chopped asparagus stalks and cook together briefly, before adding one cup of the broth and simmering on low until the asparagus is tender (about 7-10 minutes).
While the vegetables are cooking, place the frozen peas in a strainer and pour boiling water over them to thaw slightly. Add the peas to the pan and bring to a simmer for one minute. Remove from the heat and pour into a blender together with the mint leaves and process to a smooth puree. Return the mixture to the pan over low heat and add the rest of the broth to thin the mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. If the sauce is a little chunky, smooth it out by pressing through a fine sieve. Set the coulis aside while you cook the scallops.
Pat the scallops dry and salt lightly on each side. Heat one Tbsp. of oil in a heavy cast iron skillet. Add the scallops and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Turn the scallops and cook for approximately two minutes on the other side. Scallops are cooked when they feel firm to the touch but yield slightly when pressed. Smaller scallops may need a minute less.
Gently reheat the coulis and place about 3 to 4 Tbsp. on each of two warmed dinner plates. Top with the scallops, scatter the asparagus tips on top and drizzle with a teaspoon or two of brown butter.
Serve with the spring lettuce salad and garnish with fresh mint leaves. For a heartier meal, this dish pairs well with a scoop of buttery mashed potatoes.
Brown Butter Asparagus Tips
Brown butter is simple to prepare and has a delicious nutty flavor. Drizzle it over fish, chicken and vegetables, or substitute for regular butter to enhance your baked goods. For a quick supper you could skip the coulis and serve your scallops dressed in the lemon brown butter. I use a light-colored pan to heat the butter, so that I can judge when it has reached the right shade of deep golden brown. Do not discard the milk solids as they will add extra flavor to your dish.
2 oz. salted butter
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Fill a bowl with water and ice and set aside. Bring a small pan of lightly salted water to a boil and add the asparagus tips. When the water returns to a boil, cook for a further 30 seconds, remove from the heat and plunge into the iced water to cool. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
Place the butter in a small stainless-steel skillet over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, it will slowly start to change color. Once it reaches a deep golden brown, the milk solids will separate and fall to the bottom of the pan. Do not allow the butter to burn or darken too much. Stir in the lemon juice and a pinch of salt, fold in the asparagus and add a grind or two of fresh black pepper. Serve with the sea scallops.
Boston Lettuce Salad with Chive Cream Dressing
I like to pair the soft leaves of Boston lettuce with a mild flavored, creamy dressing. Mellow seasoned (sushi) rice vinegar has a pleasing sweetness and is very versatile. I use it in many salad dressings and at the end of cooking to add a hint of acidity to dishes. (Add little butter and a splash of seasoned vinegar to cooked white rice for a great side dish or simple comforting supper).
The final touch is fresh cut chives, and a teaspoon of cream. Chives are very versatile and if you have a few spare inches in your garden, add a couple of plants. They are perennial, need no careful tending and you will have a wonderful flavor enhancer for years to come.
2 small Boston lettuces, trimmed of outer leaves
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. seasoned rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. safflower oil
1 Tbsp. heavy cream
Handful of chives
Fine sea salt
Fresh black pepper
Separate the leaves of the lettuce hearts and wash and dry thoroughly. Whisk the mustard and vinegar together before adding the oils and blending thoroughly. Fifteen minutes before serving, whisk in the cream and finely snip the chives into the dressing, using kitchen scissors. Add sea salt to taste and a twist or two of black pepper. Place the lettuce in a bowl and mix with the dressing, reserving two tablespoons. Divide the salad onto two plates and drizzle with the remaining dressing.