Big Girls, Test Kitchen: Summer Scallops, Version 2008
EVENT: Ina’s On Island
VENUE: Phoebe’s Parents’ House, Martha’s Vineyard
TYPE: Casual Summer Dinner
MENU: Bluefish Potato Cakes; Summer Scallops with Sweet Corn & Tomato Succotash; Farm Greens with Spiced Shrimp and Lemon Vinaigrette
Last summer, I revealed my obsession with seared scallops. The recipe I shared, version 2009, included tomatillo guacamole and a corn salsa. The latter was a spin on my favorite version, the one I’ve been making ever since I got my hands on my first scallop—the dish that became permanently engrained in my repertoire in the summer of 2008, when Ina Garten came to dinner.
It took me a while to gain my cool when cooking for company. I used to be quite the nervous wreck, especially when certain boys, girl crushes, or parents’ friends were involved. And two summers ago, that was definitely the case when the parents’ friend at hand was a Food Network superstar.
I’ve cooked with Ina a handful of times. The first was for my dad’s 50th birthday, which I reminisced about in this post. The next was in Paris. I arrived at Ina’s apartment early and we made potato gratin and haricot vert with caramelized shallots to go with a mustard-crusted rack of lamb. I remember my hands shaking as I thinly sliced potatoes and tried to look competent and skilled. Then I was told to be careful of my fingers, as Ina handed me a mandoline to finish the task.
Back in the summer of 2008, we had yet to start the blog. Cooking was no higher on my list of hobbies than jewelry making or singing in the shower. I had yet to cook for Ina, and I was still searching for the kind of confidence in the kitchen that would prevent me from having a panic attack when entertaining important people in my life. But the time had come, and I had only a few days to prepare a menu and find my chi.
We were on Martha’s Vineyard, so I decided to resort to my favorite scallop dish—perfectly seared and plopped atop a colorful summer corn succotash with juicy heirloom tomatoes and just a hint of cumin. Though I usually don’t like to be stuck in the kitchen with friends over, I was happy to tuck myself away for the last minute scallop preparation–that way I wouldn’t have to nervously watch Ina take her first bite of my blue fish and potato cakes, I’d just hope for favorable sound effects.
The dinner turned out to be the perfect casual summer meal, and I managed to find some sort of cooking poise, the kind I’ve so often admired in my guest of honor. The scallops themselves have made a few comebacks since, most recently when my cousin Jason—a venerable home cook in his own right—came to dinner.
If you have a favorite scallop dish of your own, tell us about it. Who knows, it just might become Phoebe’s Summer Scallops, Version 2010.
From my kitchen, bringing back scallops from 2008, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
1 medium sweet vidalia onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
5 ears of corn, kernels removed
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
3 plum tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons chopped basil, plus 3 leaves julienned for garnish
1 tablespoon butter
Rinse the scallops under cold water and set aside on a dish towel. You want them to be dry by the time you are ready to cook, without breaking them by prodding with a towel.
In large nonstick or cast iron skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over a medium flame. Saute the onion slowly until translucent and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and corn and continue to saute until the corn is bright yellow and tender, about 5 minutes. Add the cumin, tumeric, and salt. Cook for another few minutes until the corn is beginning to caramelize. Turn the heat down to low and add the tomatoes. Stir slowly until the tomatoes heated through, but have not begun to release their juices, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon and the basil off the heat, and transfer to a platter.
NOTE: the corn can be served warm or at room temperature if you want to make it in advance.
In a large nonstick or cast iron skillet (you can remove the corn mixture to a platter, clean out the pan and use it for the scallops), heat one tablespoon of olive oil over a high flame. Once the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the butter. Gently pat the scallops with a paper towel to make sure they are nice and dry and season them with salt on one side. When the butter is melted and the pan is smoking, add the scallops, making sure not to crowd the pan (you will likely need to do this in 2 or 3 batches). Turn the pan to keep the butter and oil evenly distributed, but DO NOT move the scallops until they have properly browned, about 2-3 minutes depending on the size of your scallops. When they have a good sear (dark brown crust), flip them and cook for another minute. The scallops should still be slightly translucent in the center–if they are opaque throughout, they will likely be overcooked by the time you serve them. Remove finished scallops to the corn platter, making sure to put the beautiful seared side facing up. Repeat with the remaining scallops.
Squeeze a little extra lemon juice over the scallops and garnish with julienned basil. Serve immediately.