Though Mama’s a vegetarian, she does eat some seafood—and Papa’s become pretty adept at cooking it for us. For starters tonight, he sautéed some yummy bay scallops. They’re creamy white, firm, and fleshy. They can be as big as my hand or as tiny as my toes. Papa chose bite-size scallops for him and Mama (they were three-biters for me) as appetizers. I haven’t had many chances to pick up seashells on the shore, but Mama tells me that if you think of a “traditional” shell pattern, that’s what a scallop comes in! And because this round fleshy disk is attached to a shell, it sometimes comes with the connective muscle still on it. You can see it looking like a small flap alongside the muscle, and it’s very easy to peel off. If won’t hurt you if you eat it, but it is rather chewy.
A long time ago, Mama taught Papa how to sear scallops, and now he’s able to show me! There are two secrets: start with a dry scallop and a hot pan. You might be wondering how you dry your scallops since they come from the sea! If they’re very fresh, you just set them out on a paper towel, lay another paper towel on top, and let them sit for a couple minutes. If they’ve been previously frozen, it’s going to be difficult to get that crisp, golden restaurant-quality sear—but you can come close if you dust the scallops lightly with flour. Either way, be sure you salt and pepper your scallops before putting them in the pan.
Start with medium-high heat, melt a pat of butter, and add your scallops. (If your scallops are very small, they’ll cook quickly and can take a higher heat.) Now don’t move them! Leave them alone for 1–2 minutes. And if you don’t have a pair of kitchen tongs, don’t make these until you get a pair. They’re really the only way you can turn over the scallops without losing that yummy crust of deliciousness you just developed. You can very gently lift up an edge of a scallop with the tongs to check on its color, but that’s it. When ready, turn them and cook for just another minute or so, again without disturbing them. Be careful not to overcook them, or you’ll be eating rubber (though I don’t quite understand why this is a bad thing, considering all the toys I put in my mouth). This isn’t the time to be setting the table. Stay right there and man your scallops. Act like a chef and give them a gentle squeeze around the middle. If they’re supersoft, they’re not quite done. There should be a firmness with just the slightest bit of give. Scallops will continue to cook once you remove them from the pan, so you really want them to be oh-so-slightly underdone. Actually, a perfectly cooked scallop with have a small blush in its very center when you cut into it—which you should be able to do with child’s spoon.
Papa did a great job! The scallops were golden on the outside and supple on the inside. They tasted buttery and like an afternoon at the beach. I ate three of them.
Then, because it’s still halibut season, Papa decided to cook up a favorite dish of ours, something along the lines of this one. Mama apologizes for not having a picture of me eating this, but she was too busy scarfing it down herself. Of course I ate the oranges (even with all the green on it), and I had a few bites of the halibut—Papa got a good sear on it, as well—but I really took to the fennel. Did you know that it takes on a very different flavor when it’s cooked? It’s much sweeter. Mama tells me this is what licorice tastes like, and I hope I get to have some soon. What do you think my chances are?