Scallops are, without exaggeration, one of the most cosmopolitan mollusks as they are found in all the world’s oceans. Gastronomically, it is considered a VIP in its class, undoubtedly tasting superior to oysters, mussels and other shellfish – even the infamous lobster. They have been eaten from when man first understood his hunger and since ancient times have been considered a tasty treat. Aristotle commented on how they tasted better in spring during the breeding season, Anthimos used them as part of a dish that resembled soufflé, Xenocrates refers to the characteristics of the Mediterranean species (Food in the Ancient World from A to Z , Andrew Dalby , Routledge, 2003) and Apicius, in reference to the cuisine of ancient Rome, gives a recipe where the scallops are finely chopped, mixed with eggs, wild wheat and pepper, accompanied by a rich fish sauce and served as the most delicious appetizer (Apicius, Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome, edited and translated by Joseph Dommers Vehling, facsimile 1936 edition, Dover Publications, New York, 1977).
Inside the shiny shell with the emblematic shape linked with various legends, Saint Jacques (in France, all the ectinoid family are known as St Jacques) and fertility (see Botticelli’s “ Birth of Venus” as she steps out of the shell), is hiding the body of the mollusk that is often hermaphrodite –depending on family version and/or season.
The only edible part of the scallop is the adductor muscle that helps it swim (it’s one of the good swimmers), react to irritations to its 100 eyes, to open and close whilst it feeds on plankton and to generally move around. This muscle is meaty, white, juicy and tender. We also eat its white or red coral which is also soft.
Its international reputation as an aphrodisiac, as with most other molluscs (oysters, mussels, clams), is mainly owed to their similarity to the female reproductive organs. They have a high zinc content (22.6%) which is considered vital for more frequent sexual intercourse and performance especially in men. Nutritionally, scallops are protein rich (52.6%), selenium rich (45.2%), phosphorus (38.3%), vitamin B12 (24.5%), and iron (18.8%). They are also a good source of omega 3 oil (17%) and magnesium (15.5%).
Of all the different types of scallops, the tastiest ones are considered those that live in deep water and not close to the shore, although the last ones are slightly sweeter tasting. Also those that are “dry packed“, without liquid preservatives, which when added, make up 25% of the total weight so when cooked create a soup like consistency.
Seared scallops with orange juice, ginger and avocado
In this recipe, the combination of scallops with orange juice brings out their delicate flavour, the creamy avocado complements the aroma of the ginger which gives brightness and intensity which altogether creates a fresh contrast that ties the whole together. An enjoyable dish, also visually pleasing because of the warm colours.
Note: if you want to make this Lenten- replace the butter with olive oil.
Preparation: Half an hour total. The sauce can be made earlier and then reheated over very low fire at the last minute, whilst the scallops are being fried. Avoid cutting the avocado too early as it will discolour. If you must though, squeeze a little lemon juice over to prevent this. Quick and easy recipe.
Ingredients (serves 4)
250gr large scallops (8-10 pieces)
8 tbsp finely chopped leek (15cm from white part of med size)
280ml fresh orange juice
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
150ml white wine
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp finely chopped chives
salt, white pepper
few small green salad leaves (the photo shows baby spinach)
½ med avocado, cleaned and sliced
To prepare the sauce: In med frying pan and over med heat, put 1 ½ tbsp of the butter. As soon as it begins to bubble, add the finely chopped leek. Saute for 2-3 mins until soft but not change colour. Add the wine, stir and allow to evaporate, until only 3 tabs tbsps liquid remain (about 3-4 mins). Add the orange juice, the ginger, salt and white pepper and boil over med heat until the sauce slightly thickens (4-5 mins). Remove from the heat, allow to cool for 2 mins then make into pulp using the multi. Return to frying pan, on low fire, taste, adjust seasoning and add the chives.
Note: Half the sauce can be strained, pushing the mixture with a spoon to extract all the juice and then return to the pan for the final heating. This way the sauce is finer and thinner.
Make the scallops: In another frying pan and over a medium heat add the rest of the butter and olive oil and heat thoroughly. Lightly salt and add the scallops. Fry for 1-1,5 minutes on either side (depending on the size) until they are nicely browned on the outside and still moist in the middle. Do not overcook as they will dry out and toughen.
Note: The scallops in the photo are 3-4 cm high. Adjust cooking time if they are smaller.
To serve: Place the scallops on warm plates and add the sauce. Put a few green salad leaves on each plate and 2 slices of avocado.