Food writer and teacher Christine Rudalevige is a mother of two navigating a family move from agriculturally rich central Pennsylvania to coastal Maine. Eating locally now means more fish on the dinner table. In this biweekly column, she explores family-friendly ways to enjoy sustainable seafood.
This week, Christine plays with scallops and butter, a match she first made in Weight Watchers.
What’s Better Than Butter and Scallops?
There is a little town that sits on the western coast of Nova Scotia and dips into the Bay of Fundy where some of the richest scallop beds in the world subsist. There in Digby, the locals sear the scallops for just seconds a side to take the chill off. As your teeth slide through the flesh, it’s hard to discern what’s smoother -- the butter or the mollusk -- with a repeatable level of accuracy.
We landed in the preserved seaside town after a long day of travel with the kids (then seven and four) refusing to nap. At the time, we had a pretty strict Mama Rudalevige’s Sanity rule in place clearly stating that books on tape are only operational once long afternoon car-seat snoozes have been taken. Though we had worked our way through several of the Little House on the Prairie books on the trek north from Pennsylvania, this stalemate was a very bitter one. So that evening, the renowned sweetness of the Digby scallops on my plate was a perfect juxtaposition to the journey.
Digby scallops have been rated as a "Good Alternative" by Seafood Watch. The outfit does not render them a "Best Choice" because they are typically harvested with a heavy net called a dredge, which can harm ecosystems that marine life depends upon. Seafood Watch more highly recommends buying either farmed scallops (which don’t yet comprise a huge part of the market in the U.S.) or ones that have been harvested by divers, both of which carry with them a premium price.
Regardless of the source of the scallops, you should always ask that the scallops you buy be "dry packed," meaning they’ve not been dipped in a sodium tripolyphosphate solution, a chemical that helps extend the product’s shelf life, but also works like a bag of Doritos when your PMSing: it allows the flesh to absorb almost 20 percent of its weight in water. A bloated scallop won’t sear well and it will water down any compound butter you pair it with.
My own affair with the scallop-and-butter combination began six years prior to my Digby trip when I underwent my first post-partum Weight Watchers anti-binge. You see, a half-cup of scallops weighs in at only one Weight Watchers point. So you always have points to accommodate some butter in the pan. With a couple of scallops, a pat of butter, some form of allium, whatever herb is available, and a squeeze of lemon juice (I must note that all three of the latter additions came at no cost in the WW scheme in 1998), I am always sated.
As a line cook, seared scallop dishes always brightened my shift because I could get that right mix of caramelized color and sealed-in succulence in a very short time with very glorified results. And on a busy night, I was always relieved to see that it was a scallop dish I’d neglected to start on time, because I could always finish it before the waiter swung through the kitchen for pickup.
At home, I gravitate toward baked scallops when I need a 20-minute meal and there’s only a slim post-dinner margin for cleanup. I team them up with an interesting compound butter (like brown butter with sage in winter; tarragon and citrus in spring; or the spicy Asian ginger-lemongrass combo, written about below, in summer) and then I get 10 minutes of baking time to pull together the side dishes (typically just a double dose of veggies and some crusty bread to soak up the extra butter) that round out the family meal. My kids do find the dense flesh of the scallops a bit rich by itself, so baking them with a panko breadcrumb topping provides a good counter-crunch.
Baked Scallops with Spicy Ginger-Lemongrass Butter
1/2 cup room temperature unsalted butter
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1 teaspoon minced lemongrass
1 teaspoon minced serrano chili
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Sriracha sauce, to taste (optional)
16 dry packed sea scallops
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
Like this post? See Christine's previous topic: Barramundi, Two Ways.
Photos by Christine Rudalevige.
Christine Rudalevige is a food writer and mother of two who always fits in three square meals a day -- which occasionally means making up for a skipped breakfast with an ample late-night refrigerator raid.