In Greek mythology Hermaphroditus was the son of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and Hermes, a son of Zeus and messenger to the gods. One day as an adolescent while roaming through the woods of modern day Turkey, he encountered the nymph Salmacis in her pool. Salmacis clearly had a screw loose. Having rejected the virginal inclinations of the Greek goddess Artemis, Salmacis was licentiously impulsive. She forced herself upon the comely Hermaphroditus, groping and kissing him. As he endeavored to fight her off, she called out to the gods that they may never be parted. The gods, obviously out to lunch themselves, granted her wish and merged the bodies of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis, thus creating one being who was both male and female. Hence the term hermaphrodite; an organism that has both male and female reproductive organs and secondary sexual characteristics. And before you conclude that this is all just mythology, allow me to introduce you to the scallop.
Scallops are bivalve mollusks and yes, hermaphrodites. Each one contains the female roe and the male reproductive organs. It certainly eliminates all the hassles of dating. In Europe, the entire scallop is eaten, gonads and all. The female roe is particularly prized. In America, with our more provincial palate, only the muscle is consumed. Indeed, in most American supermarkets the scallops are sold shelled and cleaned of everything but the abductor muscles.
There are many species of scallops but they are loosely divided into two broad categories: bay and sea scallops. Bay scallops are found mainly on the east coast. They are smaller, (approximately a half inch in diameter), sweeter, and more succulent than sea scallops. The peak season for bay scallops on the east coast is the fall. Sea scallops, which average one to one and a half inches in diameter, are a little chewier than their bay counterparts. Their peak season is mid fall to mid spring.
Scallops are highly perishable. To make matters worse, they may have been sitting on a fishing boat for a few days waiting for the crew to fill their hold before making port. Thus, some producers soak them in tripolyphosphate which helps preserve them but also causes them to absorb water. This practice is welcomed by merchants who can concomitantly cut their losses as well as glean more per pound for their water-weighted scallops. Treated scallops will appear whiter while untreated ones will be pale beige to pink in color. Fresh scallops should also have a moist sheen and only a mildly fishy odor.
Scallops are amenable to a wide range of cooking methods but searing them on a hot grill or sauté pan usually produces the most intense flavor. The goal is not overcooking them for they can easily develop a rubbery texture. The trick is to allow your sauté pan or grill to get very hot. Smoking hot. Season the scallops with at least salt and pepper, place them on the oiled grill or pan, and the instant the first side is browned, (about a minute or so), flip, sear the other side and immediately remove them and serve. If the heat is not high enough, by the time the outside is seared, the inside will have overcooked. By contrast, blisteringly high heat quickly browns the outside before the heat can penetrate the middle enough to compromise the texture.
HONEY-SOY GRILLED SCALLOP SALAD
This recipe comes from Chef Faith Alahverdian
(Makes 4 servings)
• 12 jumbo sea scallops
• 4 tablespoons soy sauce
• 2 tablespoons ponzu sauce*
• 2 tablespoons honey
• ½ teaspoon five-spice powder
• Salad, (recipe below)
• 2 mangoes, peeled and sliced
• Coarse sea salt, to taste
• Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• Vegetable oil, as needed
For the salad:
• ½ cup pineapple juice
• 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
• 1 tablespoon soy sauce
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
• 2 scallions, finely sliced
• Sea salt to taste
• White pepper to taste
• 3 cups fresh mixed greens
• 1 small jicama, julienned
• 1 red bell pepper, seeded and julienned
Place the scallops, soy sauce, ponzu sauce, honey and five-spice powder in a resealable plastic bag. Seal the bag and shake it to blend the ingredients and coat the scallops. Place the bag in the fridge for one half hour. Remove the scallops from the bag and discard the marinade. Place the scallops on layers of paper towels, drain, and refrigerate for another half hour before cooking. Use this time to preheat the grill and prepare the salad.
Prepare the dressing by whisking the pineapple juice, lime juice, soy sauce, garlic, olive oil, sesame oil, scallions, salt and pepper. Place the greens, jicama, and bell pepper in a bowl. Add the desired amount of dressing and additional seasoning if needed. Equally divide and fan the mango slices onto four plates. Place a serving of the salad on top of each one. Remove the scallops from the paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Generously oil the grill with vegetable oil. Grill the scallops on high heat for about one minute on each side or until opaque. Place three scallops on top of the salad on each of the four plates and serve.
*Ponzu is a soy sauce flavored with citrus juice, vinegar, rice wine, kombu, (seaweed), and katsuobushi, (dried bonito flakes). It can be found in the Asian section of most supermarkets.
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