Friday, March 13, 2015

Quick, Midweek Dinner

Grilled Scallops on Risotto of Israeli Couscous

Last night was Thursday March 12 and the first beautiful evening after the spring clock change, the glorious first evening of the year when the weather and the light were both good enough to grill out. From long years of experience at the restaurant, I know that this means an empty dining room. I used to get so twisted up about this phenomenon and the cashflow implications, but after more than a decade of it, I now subscribe to the old adage, if you can't beat them, join them.

Accordingly, I left the restaurant to the crew (poor, poor bastards) at 5 p.m. with a few scallops and stopped by the store on the way home, searching for something. I left the restaurant with the idea that I would grill the scallops and serve them over an Israeli couscous risotto, something that would take 20 minutes or less to execute, but I needed something to go in the risotto or at least a vegetable garnish. Being in a very spring mood, I grabbed some sugar snaps, a leek, and some dill for the risotto.

Scallops, Sugar Snaps, Dill, Pecorino, Israeli Couscous, Leek, Saffron

Risotto of Israeli couscous is shorthand for saying that I cooked the couscous, a small, round pasta, in the same manner as I would have cooked Arborio rice for a risotto. First, I sweated the leek and saffron in some butter and once the leek had gone translucent, I added the couscous and water to just barely cover. As the couscous absorbed the water and the water evaporated, I added more water bit by bit until the pasta was cooked and the liquid incorporated. Next I added the raw chopped sugar snaps (chopped to mimic peas and to not be significantly larger than the pasta), a handful of chopped dill, and a half a cup or so of grated pecorino romano cheese. I stirred well, seasoned to taste with salt, and added a bit more water to achieve the texture I wanted.

Before I started the risotto, I fired up the grill and let it get good and hot for about 15 minutes while I prepped and started the risotto. Then I sprayed the grill down with Vegalene and placed the scallops on for about 4 to 5 minutes. They turned out as you see in the initial photo above.

Tips I have learned from years of grilling scallops (they are not the easiest thing in the world to grill because they want to stick mightily):

1. Start with dry scallops. Dry is a trade term for a shucked and rinsed scallop. Wet is a trade term for scallops that have been treated with a chemical (sodium tripolyphosphate) that acts as a preservative. Not only does it extend the shelf life of the scallops, it helps it retain water, and a scallop that retains water is a heavier scallop and one that nets more money for the seller. Unfortunately, when you cook said scallop, it oozes that retained water back out and you'll never get that scallop to brown.

2. Start with large scallops. U-10s to be exact. That is under 10 to the pound. You need a big scallop to stand up to the heat of the grill.

3. Start with a very hot grill. The grill bars need to be very hot to sear the scallop. Once seared, the scallop will release from the grill.

4. Just before placing the scallops on the grill, spray the grill and the scallops with Vegalene, a commercial pan spray. Don't screw around with inferior grocery store pan spray. If you're serious about grilling, go to the Internet and get some Vegalene.

5. Leave the scallops longer than you think you should. As I said, for these big boys, they were on the grill 4 to 5 minutes. It takes time to get that great sear so that the scallop will release. Don't rush it.

6. Cook the scallops on one side only. After you have left the scallops on the grill long enough to get great stripes on the show side, they don't need any further cooking.

Beautiful U-10 Dry Scallops

These scallops are gorgeous and you'll notice that some have a pink, orange, or coral tint. If you've ever shucked a female scallop and you've seen the bright coral color of the ovary (which we call the roe and is delicious), you have a good idea where this color comes from. Sometimes the females produce too much of the carotenoid zeaxanthin that colors the ovary and it leaches into the adductor muscle, the part that we eat. Hence, the colored meats are from female scallops. There is no difference in taste.

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