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Seared Maine Diver Scallops in Broth

Seared Maine Diver Scallops in Broth>


Winter seafood is great in Maine! The wonderful little Maine shrimp start hitting the docks just before Christmas and diver scallop season is open from November 15 until April 15. They're just what the name suggests: a diver goes to the bottom and hand-selects only the mature scallops he or she can find. A good scalloper (which means young and strong, since it's very hard work) can bring in as much a 100 pounds of scallop meat a day without disturbing any of the surrounding ecology of the habitat. (The more common way to harvest scallops is to drag the bottom, resulting in massive habitat interference and bycatch mortality.)

And not only are diver scallops a more sustainable seafood product, they are fresh and extremely tasty because the diver can select scallops from areas where the current is strong, which brings more food resources to the shellfish, making them healthier, with a good natural ratio of water content, firm flesh and good color. Also, diver scallops are less likely to absorb grit than they would if the were pulled up by dragging, and the time from catch to dock is shorter since the draggers tend to be larger boats that hold several days catch before going to market. Like lobster, Maine's diver scallop harvest is brought in primarily by small operators with simple, relatively cheap equipment, and so this fishery continues support the long tradition of making a living by hunting and gathering, which is still stong in rural and coastal Maine.

(Of course, they're not cheap due to this labor-intensive harvesting method: the ones I bought yesterday were $15.99 a pound, which by the way contained 9 scallops. Though a lot, this actually compares quite favorably to lobster, which typically works out to be about $25 - 35 per pound of meat, depending on the current price.)

Ok, those are all the reasons to love Maine diver scallops, especially if you're lucky enough, as I am, to live across the street from the dock! Wait: did I mention how easy it is to prepare them perfectly every time?

Anyway. These babies are so good that one of our favorite dockside restaurants (J's Oyster, a dive bar/waterfront hangout popular with the locals and fishing industry workers) serves an appetizer item called Scallop Cocktail that is nothing more than 5 or 6 huge divers sittting raw and naked on a plate with a wedge or two of lemon. Pass the salt and hot sauce! Elise loves the Scallop Cocktail, but I like mine just this side of raw: seared on both sides for a few seconds and served with a flavorful broth and some rice. I've made hundreds of variations on this idea. This is just the latest version.

Maine Diver Scallops in Broth

Serves 2.

1 lb diver scallops (8-10 per pound)
1-1/2 C lobster broth (see note below)
1/2 C dry white wine
1 medium carrot, peeled, cut in matchsticks
1 medium parsnip, peeled, 1/4" dice
2 very thin slices prosciutto, shredded
5" leek, white part only, cleaned and cut in 1/4" half rounds
4 crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 T butter
2 T frozen peas
salt and hot sauce to taste
olive oil

(Steamed Japanese short-grained rice, if desired.)

Wash the scallops and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Set in a large sieve, separated, to dry further while preparing the other ingredients. (The scallops must be very dry to caramelize when seared.)

Bring the broth to a boil. Turn the heat to medium low and add the wine, carrot, parsnip, leeks, and prosciutto. Cover and braise until the leeks are tender, about 15 or 20 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook 3 minutes more. Stir in the butter.  Turn the heat off and correct the seasoning. Add the peas and let stand, covered, while you prepare the scallops.

Heat a large heavy skillet until very hot. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, spread it around quickly and then place the scallops in the pan one-by-one in a circular pattern. After placing the last one look at  the clock and sear 45 seconds without disturbing them. Then immediately turn the scallops in the same order that you put them in the pan. Sear another 45 seconds and remove them in the same order, so that the last one to come out of the pan is the one that went in last.

If using rice, press it tightly into individual ramekins sprayed with a little vegetable oil and then unmold in the center of a wide, shallow soup plate. Spoon broth and vegetables around the rice, sprinkle the scallops with a  little salt and arrange them next to and on top of the rice and garnish with a few of the vegetables. Dribble another spoonful or two of the broth over the scallops and serve immediately.

Note: lobster broth.

The link above is to Jasper White's recipe for lobster broth. I freeze leftover lobster bodies when I have them (or sometimes you can buy them from lobster outlets) and then when they are threatening to take over the freezer entirely I make up a bucket of this delicious stuff, which I freeze in various sized containers for later use. But if you don't have any lobster broth on hand you can make some fish broth with some fish skin, trimmings, tails, etc. or shrimp shells if you have them (I freeze all this type of stuff for making broth too). Just simmer for 20 or 30 minutes with a lemon slice and a squirt of tomato paste, strain and proceed as above. No fish trimmings either? Use water. Or use half chicken broth and half water. Or beef broth. All of these work because the vegetables and wine make a pretty good broth on their own. In other words, don't shy away from this recipe just because you don't have the lobster broth! There are lots of other ways to make a flavorful accompanyment to the scallops....


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That sounds great!

Mmmmmm...the broth sounds amazing! Beautiful photo!

Thanks for sharing the background info comparing diving with dragging. As one who shops organically I don't mind paying more for reducing the ecological impact. Freshness is just a happy bonus.

That looks delicious! Thanks also for explaining how you make the little rice platform. Any suggestions for what to use if I didn't have any lobster broth?

Looks like something you'd find at a fancay restaurant!

It really kind of cruel and unusual for me to have to read this when I can't even buy fresh seafood in my small, one-grocery store Central Illinois town.

I love scallops more than lobster. When we were in Nova Scotia on vacation a few years ago, I had them every day. They were the size of golfballs. It's reason enough to go back there again.

And with proscuitto? It doesn't get any better than that!

Amazing! That photo makes you hungry :) I have to try. Thanks

Looks fantastic. I always windup searing the holy heck out of scallops and ruining them. One day I will get it right!

Mmmmm, scallpos. Some of my absolute favourite things! And once you've had fresh ones you understand what a waterlogged mess the frozen ones are... I also love my scallops seared and yours look fantastic. I'll have to time me next US visit to coincide with scallop season!

You're right on all counts about diver scallops, including the selectivity of the harvest. Unfortunately, the big, clean, protected scallops are also the "brood stock", and diver harvesting is beginning to be assessed for its impact on the overall population of scallops. I'm hoping they (fisheries managers) can discover a balance between what's good for the scallops and what's good in our bellies!

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