by Sean Keeley, culinary specialist, Lincoln Land Community College
It’s that time of year when the sun is out, but still not warm enough to grill and eat outside. I start to think of lighter things to eat and seafood is always at the top of that list.
When I was growing up here in Springfield, it was a real treat to go out for a catfish dinner. The whole fish, minus its head, was deep fried, and I would pick it clean leaving just the bones on the plate. I can’t imagine doing that now. After living in California for 10 years, I developed a taste for fresh ocean fish. Since seafood can be delivered overnight, it is pretty easy to get a hold of fresh seafood here in central Illinois.
Shrimp and scallops are my favorite seafood to cook and eat. Both are very versatile and stand up well with many styles of cuisine. Shrimp is highly perishable and almost always delivered frozen. What we see at the store that is ready to cook was once frozen. Scallops on the other hand have a longer shelf life and are best when fresh. Sometimes called dry scallops, day-boat scallops or diver scallops, these are bi-valves that have never been frozen or had water or phosphates added as a preservative or to increase their weight. They were harvested by divers, shucked on the boat, placed in a container according to size and immediately delivered to their destination.
Scallops are the only bi-valve that can swim. They have up to 35 eyes on 35 little tentacles to keep watch for their main predator, starfish. When they spot a slow moving hungry starfish, the scallops will open and close their shells like hands clapping and swim away to safety.
When buying scallops be aware that they often have an abductor muscle attached to their sides. This is what keeps them attached to their shell. It is a small tab that is easily removed, but may take some close looking to find them. It’s very chewy and after being cooked it is quite rubbery. Remove the abductor muscle before cooking scallops.
After cleaning your scallops they are quite easy to cook and are great on salads, pasta, steamed vegetables or anything in your diet regimen. Sea scallops are sold by “count” so if it says U10 that means under 10 scallops per pound, if it says 15-20 that means 15 to 20 per pound. This size is what I usually get, and I purchase 4 or 5 scallops per guest.
How to cook scallops
4 to 5 “15-20 count” scallops per guest, or three U10’s
Kosher or sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
Olive oil or butter, about 1 teaspoon per scallop
Choose a skillet that will allow 1 inch of space around each scallop. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on each side of each scallop. Heat skillet over medium high heat. If using oil, watch for a small wisp of smoke. If using butter, wait until it gets foamy. Place scallops in hot pan and do not move them. Allow them to sear and brown for two minutes. Turn the scallops over and cook 45 seconds, turn off the heat and let rest for 3 to 4 minutes. The residual heat from the pan will finish the cooking process. Serve the scallops with your favorite side dishes.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts.