Sunday, October 11, 2009

Scallops and scalloped potatoes

Hudson Fish Company sells incredible fish at the Thursday and Saturday farmers' markets, and also at the El Cerrito and Kensington markets just north of Berkeley. We buy their catches usually twice a week, and are particularly fond of their tuna. For the last month or so, they have been offering dry-packed scallops from Portsmouth NH (not available in Berkeley, where the market rules are stricter about non-local foods). We finally bought some (driving to El Cerrito before going to the Berkeley market for our vegetables, eggs, and coffee), since the weekly e-mail announcing the fish availability warned that this would be their last week with scallops.

Thus we were put in the difficult position of having to pick a side to pair with the scallops. Then B had a fantastic idea: how fun would it be to pair scallops with scalloped potatoes? We had two potatoes in the fridge, and some summer squash that was dying to be eaten, perfect for a rich au gratin.

Begin by preheating the oven to roughly 350°. Crush half a large clove of garlic into a large ceramic baking dish, and rub all over the inside of the dish. (Crush the second half into the bottom of a salad bowl, add a little salt, lemon, and olive oil, and viola: a very strong salad dressing that pairs well with anything.) Then coat the dish with butter. Slice thin two medium red potatoes and two or three round summer squash. Layer in the baking dish.

In a medium sauce pan, heat about 2.5 cups of some mixture of milk, cream, half-and-half, and butter. We had only butter and milk, so I used about 2 1/4 cups milk and a little under half a stick of butter, and felt like the dish was plenty rich. Add one tsp salt, and black pepper and nutmeg to taste. When the milk mixture is hot, pour over the potatoes and squash, so that the vegetables are just barely covered.

Cover the vegetables with whatever cheeses you have lying around: we used a mix of sharp cheddar, romano, and ricotta. Bake the casserole uncovered 45 minutes. Meanwhile, wash lettuce and finish making the salad, leaving it refrigerated and un-tossed, of course, until you are ready to eat it.

When the timer announces that 45 minutes have passed, remove the gratin form the oven and let cool while you prepare the scallops (which will take only a few minutes). In a medium cast-iron pan, melt a helluva lot of butter on high. The butter will begin to froth, but wait until the frothing subsides before you start to cook the scallops: you want the butter really hot. Meanwhile, wash and chop a bunch of scallions.

When the butter is hot, add the scallops and then the scallions. Scallops are a little hard to tell when done (they're already pretty opaque, and they don't turn pink). But trust your instincts; they don't take very long to cook. Turn once or twice to brown both sides.

Remove the pan form the heat and plate the scallops directly. With the pan still very hot, pour in a splash of white table wine (we paired the meal with a 2007 Chardonnay from Mondavi Private Selection), and spoon the wine-butter-and-scallions over the scallops.

Note: Always buy "dry" scallops. Most supermarkets only offer "wet" scallops, which have been soaked in soap-tasting chemicals to extend shelf-life. Joy says that live scallops are easy to shuck (the shells are plate-sized) and the rest of the critter (usually you can only buy the muscle) is tasty too.

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