A brief statement of purpose

There are already about a billion food blogs, so what might be a justification of yet another one, and who am I to do it?

What I aim to do in this blog is more than simply provide recipes. While recipes of my own will, in fact, be posted, some of the blog will consist of a variety of comments about restaurants and their practices, food preparation tips, personal annoyances (such as loud restaurants and the epidemic of misspellings on menus), and whatever else pops into my head relating to what we put in our mouths (and swallow, I hasten to add). The whole thing is meant to be somewhat provocative. I hope, if nothing else, it won't be boring. I, of course, solicit reader participation.

As for who I am and why I think I might have something to contribute to public discussions on this essential and pleasurable activity - eating - you'll have to click here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Scallops with maftoul and Romesco sauce

Scallops are among my favorite edible aquatic animals. In fact, they’re among my favorite edibles, period. I’ve prepared them umpteen different ways over four-plus decades. Regrettably, they’re expensive. The consumer has choices, though, in terms of just how much to spend on them. (I’m referring here to sea scallops, not to bay scallops and certainly not to calico scallops which are frequently and fraudulently sold as bay scallops.) To overgeneralize just a bit, you may pay $20 or more for a pound or you may pay around $10 or $15 a pound. I made a scallop dish recently with frozen $14 a pound scallops labeled “dry” scallops. It was edible but quite unsatisfactory because the scallops were wet, not dry, with the result being that they refused to brown, choosing instead to spend their time in the pan releasing all kinds of liquids. So we have a case of incorrect labeling here, perhaps a product of ignorance or perhaps deliberately. In this case, one gets what one pays for.    
After all these years I’ve reached a firm conclusion. Some might say, “Well, it’s about time. How many decades did you say you’ve been cooking scallops?” Belatedly or not, here it is: If you want to prepare a scallop dish wherein they remain whole and are the focus of the dish, buy fresh, dry scallops. It’ll cost roughly the equivalent of filet mignon, which, for most of us, means it’ll be a relatively rare treat. Scallops, though, are, oddly, quite rich, so two people don’t need a whole pound. So, go to a good grocery store or fish market with a service counter staffed not by a kid born any time within the past twenty years or so who would’ve been back in the stock room trimming lettuce if the regular lettuce trimmer had showed up for work. 
Now about those terms “wet” and “dry”. I’ve explained this elsewhere on this blog, but I don’t expect you to go searching for it, so here it is again. Wet scallops are treated with a phosphate preservative to extend the shelf life of the product. Problem is, the scallop absorbs this stuff only to release it in the form of excess liquid when it’s subjected to heat, thereby preventing browning. They steam instead, so there’s no brown, crusty scallop. Plus, they simply don’t taste as good as dry scallops which are not so treated. Never, never - knowingly - buy wet scallops. I’ve found that previously frozen dry scallops are fine, though. For more interesting information on this delectable morsel, take a look at this web site: http://www.sallybernstein.com/food/columns/harlow/sea-scallops.htm
This recipe involves “maftoul” as Lebanese, Syrians, and Palestinians call it. Israeli couscous is another term for it. It’s couscous, which is very small pasta, but it’s larger than more ordinary and commonplace couscous, and it has a nuttier, more solid, taste. It’s well worth seeking out. Romesco sauce originates in the Catalan region of Spain and usually involves nuts, olive oil, garlic, and red pepper in the form of pimientos or red bell peppers. There are many variations, of which mine is one. The whole thing comes together pretty nicely in this recipe, I think . . . as long as you don’t get wet scallops, that is.

Sea scallops, about 8 for two people
Butter, 1 Tbs
Olive oil, 1 Tbs
Maftoul (aka Lebanese or Israeli couscous), 1 cup
Basil, several leaves
Almonds, blanched, or walnuts, 1/4 cup
Pimientos, one 2 oz jar, undrained
Sun-dried tomatoes, several
Paprika, 1 Tbs
Olive oil, 1/2 c
Red wine vinegar, 1/4 c
Salt and pepper
Toast the nuts by putting them in a small pan over medium heat, watching them carefully because they burn quickly. As soon as you smell them and/or see them beginning to brown, remove them. 
Place the almonds and the next 6 ingredients in a food processor and puree. 
Cook the maftoul according to package instructions. Keep warm.
Warm the Romesco sauce.
Now it’s time for the scallops. Salt and pepper them. In a saute pan over medium high, heat the butter and olive oil. Just as the butter-oil begins to brown, put in the scallops. Do not toss them about. This isn’t stir-fry. Leave them to brown on the first side, checking after a minute or so. If they aren’t browned, leave them a few more seconds. Then turn them and repeat the process. When they’re done, remove them immediately to another plate. Remember: “Tis far better to undercook scallops than overcook. Verily, tis an abomination and an affront to all that is Right and Good to overcook scallops.” (Russ 6:14)
Combine the warmed maftoul and the warmed Romesco sauce and distribute it among the serving plates. Place the scallops atop, and scatter about some shredded basis leaves. 

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