Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Sea Scallops & Baby Fennel Provençal
Scallops are near and dear to our hearts in this house. I served them the first time I cooked for my future husband, 2 days after we met. A friend gave a dinner party, which I prepared the food for – fresh tapenade, bouillabaisse, and a tarte tatin.
When my date arrived, I asked him to pull the little muscles or “feet” off the sides of the scallops while I finished the broth for the bouillabaise. The only men I’d been around in recent memory were line cooks, so he seemed very slow in the kitchen, but incredibly charming and attentive. The rest, as they say, is history, and whenever we have scallops now, we seem to end up telling each other the story of that night again.
Coquilles St. Jacques à la Provençal just might be my favorite preparation for scallops. It’s a traditional, time-honored recipe that applies the addictive combination of white wine, parsley, and garlic – so well-loved by mussel eaters in bistros the world over – to fresh, sweet, barely-cooked scallops.
The PE & DD Seafood stand at the greenmarket has the best scallops in the city, as far as I’m concerned. They’re incredibly fresh, wild-caught, and smell so sweet that, as I rinse them under the tap, it’s always a challenge not to pop one in my mouth right then and there. On Friday, I picked some up. I had some beautiful baby fennel from Migliorelli Farm that would add just the right (though not as traditional) Provençal tinge of anise to the sauce. If you can’t find baby fennel, a thinly sliced mature bulb will work very well. I just couldn’t resist these baby ones, each a perfect miniature of the more familiar mature plant.
Mediterranean scallops are quite a bit smaller than the Atlantic scallops we buy in the northeast, and so for this recipe, I usually slice sea scallops into 2 rounds rather than keeping them whole. I encourage you to use whatever’s freshest where you shop: whole bay scallops, halved large sea scallops, or whole smaller ones. On colder days, I might sauté some thinly sliced bacon or pancetta until crisp and then crumble it back into the pan before adding the scallops.
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as an appetizer
1 large bunch baby fennel or 1 bulb fennel
¾ lb sea scallops
extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 good-sized glass white wine
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh minced parsley
juice ½ lemon
Clean the fennel bulbs and trim the roots and the tops. Reserve the leaves for soups, pestos, and anything else that might benefit. If using a mature bulb of fennel, slice it thinly. Rinse the scallops, peel off the muscle or “foot” on their sides, and pat them dry.
Heat a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add a glug of extra virgin olive oil and then the fennel. Sprinkle with salt and sauté, stirring often, until the fennel's slightly translucent – about 5 minutes.
Remove the fennel to a plate and refresh the olive oil in the pan. Season the scallops generously on both sides with more salt. Add to the pan and cook for 1 minute until lightly golden on the edges. Turn the scallops and add the minced garlic. Cook for 1 more minute, moving the garlic from time to time so it doesn’t burn.
Return the fennel to the pan and then pour in the white wine. Season with black pepper and let bubble for 1 – 2 more minutes until the liquid is reduced by ½. Remove from the heat, sprinkle in the parsley and lemon juice, and swirl the pan to combine. Check the seasoning with more salt and pepper if necessary, and serve immediately.