If I ever leave New England, it will be the taste of a freshly seared Atlantic sea scallop that brings me back. Big, meaty, packed with marine flavor. When people talk about regional American cuisine and they trot out Texas or North Carolina barbecue or Virginia hams or Alaskan salmon, I always ask if they’ve ever tasted a genuine New England sea scallop. Most haven’t. This week: Sea Scallops, Peas and Chervil. The sea scallops are large, they take a thin edge of delicious sear while remaining moist and rare in the center, and they hold a delicious court with butter, peas and chervil.
Before I get down to the complicated business of buying scallops, a couple of pieces of fun arcana about this week’s ingredients. One: the scallop you buy is a small portion of the scallop animal. Scallops propel themselves across the sea floor by expelling water via the rapid opening and closing of their shells. The scallop we eat is the muscle that releases and contracts the two halves of the shell. Two: chervil, sometimes called “French parsley,” is a relative of ordinary parsley, but has a more delicate flavor and is one of the fines herbes (with tarragon, chives and parsley) you hear so much about in traditional French cuisine. Secondly (and I got this from Jody, who got it from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the English celebrity chef, BBC figure and food activitist) chervil is derived from the Greek chaerophyllon, meaning “herb of rejoicing” or, as you or I might put it, “the happy herb.” So if you’re shimmying around your kitchen while listening to Pharrell Williams, you might bear in mind that chervil is the ideal accompaniment.
On to rounding up your sea scallops. Sea and Bay scallops are different species. Their most obvious difference is size, but there is no official size designation that separates them, unlike say, quahogs and littlenecks. Scallops are sold by the pound, sized according to one of two systems. In one system you might see scallops listed as U30 or U50, meaning that under 30 scallops or under 50 scallops of that particular size would make a pound. In the other system the scallops are categorized with a fractional listing like 20/30 or 50/70, meaning that a it would take 20 to 30 scallops (in the first instance) to make a pound. Obviously the smaller the numbers, in either system, the larger the scallop. When I’m looking for sea scallops I’m generally seeking examples that are between 1.5 and 3 inches wide, with most of what I see around 1.5 to 2 inches. I want U12’s or U15’s. You’ll know them when you see them–they’re big. And they’re not cheap.
Why is all of this important?
Because you may be tempted to try this recipe with an equal amount of Bay scallops (they’re on sale!), and that, alas, would be a mistake. You’d write to us and tell us the recipe was a goopy snafu, clearly not worth all the gassy rapture I expended on it. The majority of Bay scallops marketed in the US come from China. In the early 199o’s the Chinese developed an enormous scallop-farming industry, which is now a scallop-farming export industry. If you’ve ever purchased “Bay scallops” from a large supermarket chain, there’s a better than even chance you’ve eaten Chinese scallops. This is all perfectly legal. Just as it’s perfectly legal to preserve these scallops by immersion in water laced with a phosphate compound. As soon as scallops are harvested they begin to lose some of their water. Scallops treated with a phosphate solution absorb water. The look plump–and they look white. American consumers seem to prefer their scallops white in the same way they prefer their hot dogs red. Untreated scallops range in color from white to a pronounced tan. Aside from my disinclination to eat seafood that has been chemically treated it means that up to 30% of these scallops’ weight is water. Once heated, the scallops release this water, causing them to steam, rather than sear. Enter goopy snafu. Ugh.
By law, scallops must either be labelled as “processed” or “dry.” “Processed” indicates the use of a phosphate solution. Buy only dry. If the scallops aren’t labeled as dry or processed, ask. Good scallops are never cheap. No matter what the sign says. Cheap = inferior scallops. American sea scallops have recovered from a state of decline by strict management of fishing areas, which in turn has lead to a restricted supply. Market scarcity drives the price up.
But oh, the flavor. Enjoy. Ken
Sea Scallops, Peas and the Happy Herb, Chervil
- Kosher salt
- Pinch sugar (optional)
- 1 cup fresh English peas, about 5 ounces
- 16 large sea scallops (about 1 – 1.25 pounds) abductor muscle removed (the tiny muscle on the side – it peels off)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (or substitute a tablespoon of a high-heat oil for a tablespoon of butter)
- 2 tablespoon minced shallot
- 1 cup dry vermouth
- ¼ cup chopped chervil
- Handful of pea tendrils, Claytonia, or other mild tender spring herb
- Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pinch of sugar, if the peas aren’t sweet, with the peas and cook until tender, about 1½ 1minutes. Scoop out the peas and transfer to an ice bath. Cool and drain.
- Season the scallops with salt and pepper.
- Heat 1 tablespoon butter of oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Adjust the heat lower if the butter is getting too brown. Add the scallops in a single layer with at least half an inch of space between each scallop and sear until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook on the second side about a minute. Transfer the scallops to a warm platter or 4 warm plates. At this point you will see the caramelized outline of the scallops in the pan. Work quickly so the caramelized bits don’t get too dark.
- Add a tablespoon of butter to the pan along with the shallots. Cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the vermouth to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom of the pan to dissolve the crusty bits. Cook until reduced by three quarters, .
- To finish the sauce, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the remaining butter, 1 tablespoon at a time.
- Add the peas to the sauce and heat through. Stir in the chervil. Spoon the peas and sauce over the scallops, garnish with pea tendrils and serve.
In the spirit of trying to keep the list of ingredients as simple as possible, I decided to use whole butter for cooking the scallops. I knew it would brown more in the pan than clarified butter or oil, which I could live with. But then I cooked the shallots too long–and allowed the crusty bits in the pan to get too dark. Aaaaarrrrrggggghhh. You can see in the pictures that the finished sauce is dark. Cook the shallots just 30 seconds before adding the vermouth. If you sear the scallops in a tablespoon of high-heat instead of butter you’ll have an even lighter sauce.
Perfectly browned scallops! Looks delicious.
Thank you. It was. Ken
Oh my gosh where is the rest of the scallop? The “foot” is only 1/2 of the shell fish what a complete waste. Please consider sustainable fishing. What your doing is like having one crab claw and throwing the rest away. It’s irresponsible in this day and age.
Thank you, Stefan. Actually, it’s more like eating both claws and throwing the body away. In scallops, unlike clams or oysters, the adductor muscle does make up at least half the weight of the scallop (not counting the shell)–the rest is gills, reproductive organs and a small amount of digestive tract. I’ve never seen whole scallops for sale–here or in Europe. What I have seen–very rarely in this country, but often in Italy or France–is the scallop sold with the crescent-shaped roe sac still attached, which I do eat and enjoy when I can find it. I have heard of of recipes of that use the entire scallop to flavor stock, but never seen one. As for the issue of irresponsibility in this day and age, sea scallop fisheries are managed to be sustainable now, although as far as I can tell we’re a long way from creating a whole-scallop market. But I take your point. Thank you for your comment. Ken
Great information about scallops – thank you! Recipe looks delicious!
Thank you, Valerie. I wish buying them weren’t such a needle to thread. Ken
Oh that’s right you just have to buy them that way! How do you think they dig, how do you think they eat? Not by one piece of muscle. Have you ever eaten one raw… Whole? I have it pulsed like a heart and tasted nothing liked cooked.
I have eaten raw scallops–and like them. For reasons I don’t understand, they are almost never sold to the public with roe sacs attached here. I suspect it has to do with issues of processing and expense–and taste. Most Americans have never seen a scallop roe sac, let alone eaten one. Should we ever get to New Zealand I’d be delighted to go scalloping.
In France they’re always sold with the roe sac which we call the coral! Delicious!
D’accord! Although in the seafood section of the marché Bastille I’ve seen them with and without. Merci. We’re going to be there is 4 weeks – hope there are some left! Ken
I will agree with you on the gills part Ken. Sorry for my rant. I’m in New Zealand and the roe is always attached. If you and Jody are ever down this way please let me know and scallop hunting we will go. There is a limit on how many you can take though!
Same here, and in Florida, where commercial scalloping is now banned (there is scallop aquaculture in Florida, devoted to Bay scallops). There is a small stretch of Florida coastline where you can scallop recreationally–with (I think) a two-gallon limit, which works out to about a pound of scallop meat a day. Ken
Beautiful photography. The sauce looks delicious, too.
Thank you, Chaya. It’s old-school rich, but everyone deserves an indulgence once in awhile. Ken
Which high-heat oil would you recommend? I’d use half and half to maintain some flavor but reduce the b-fat.
Grapeseed would be our first choice, but it’s hard to find, and expensive. Typically I’d use sunflower or safflower oil. Ken
Sorry, being pragmatically-focused. This looks and sounds wonderful. When we finally are frost free, the chervil goes in. Should be able to make this soon. Yumm.
No problem. You don’t know until you ask–and cooking IS about technique. Good luck with the chervil. Ken
Looks delicious to me …
Thank you–although you’re weeks ahead of us in terms of spring/summer goodies coming into the market! Ken
My bag can be packed in 10 minutes! What time’s dinner again?? May you know a boat captain who goes ‘scalloping’- truly the BEST harvest!! In the meantime, this feast is a most ‘special occasion’ meal! Perhaps it’s time for me to explore new Asian market nearby. Ken, THANKS for the great post, recipe, and photos!! Nice having a short visit back to New England with my morning coffee.
Haha! Feel free to stop by, although in this house there’s no guarantee of dinner on any given day–that’s why we cook the way we do when we do have the chance to eat together. But even for us, this is a special occasion meal, when caution and expense are thrown to the wind. Glad to facilitate the visit back to NE. Ken
Every weekend I drool reading your posts. You know how much I love Jody’s cooking… Your photograhpy is amazing!
Hi, Tal–How’s Israel? I’m sorry you’re not here–we could shoot together. This IS pretty tasty. Ken
It is. Regional American cooking doesn’t get much better than New England sea scallops. Thanks. Ken
This looks really delicious – even to me as a non-seafood eater! Your post comes at a good time, too, because I once said that should I ever travel to New England, I will definitely give scallops and lobster a try (even if it’s only a bite so I can say I tried); will be visiting New England this June and hope I won’t chicken out on my seafood promise…
Make sure you add “steamers” and “littlenecks” to the list. The first are a softshelled clam that are steamed, before you peel away the sheath surrounding the foot, then dip them in warm salt water (to rinse away any remaining sand) before dipping them a second time–in butter–and then down the hatch. Littlenecks are a revered size of the quahog clam, best eaten raw. Enjoy. Ken
Thanks for that recommendation!
I really enjoyed this post (as well as the comments / discussion that follow). The dish itself looks incredible – if I could only ever have one meal, this would be it…
Just to clarify, when Stefan was talking about “throwing half the scallop away,” he was referring to the fact that the edible parts of the scallop are the large adductor muscle and the roe sac. In other parts of the world, but not often in the US, scallops are often sold with the roe sac still attached. And I agree with Stefan, this is the more preferable way of eating them. When Stefan mentioned an edible “foot,” I observe that not all scallops have a foot, and many of the ones that do only have a tiny one. But I agree with you, scallops are easily candidates for a single, ideal meal. Thanks for the comment. Ken
Hi Ken. Absolutely. It’s possible to find both here in the UK, and it’s certainly not difficult to find scallops sold with the beautiful, coral-coloured roe sac attached. And I agree that this is the more preferable way to eat them as well. My comment above was simply a reflection of how really lovely your dish looked, and if I could only ever eat one meal again, this would be it.
this does look delicious. One question about the scallops…I do so prefer bay scallops, if I go to my local fish market are the bay scallops still imported?? and if they aren’t would they still turn out goopy?
From your local fish market? Possibly not. Find out where they’re from. Then, find out 1) Are they dry or processed with sodium tripolyphosphate; and 2) How fresh are they? If the answer to #1 is “dry;” and the answer to #2 is “within the last few days” then go ahead and buy some. Good luck. Ken
Faint moaning noises can be heard this side of the Atlantic: three of my favourite ingredients. Here, we just differentiate between Queen Scallops (small) and King Scallops (big), which last often comes with the roe attached and are by far the best. And how I love chervil – it’s weird but you can’t find it in British shops, you have to grow your own, but as it grows like a weed that’s not a problem. Our peas are still a gleam in the gardener’s eye but we just ate our first baby broad beans. Heaven.
“Faint moaning noises…” Ha! That may be the sweetest thing anyone’s ever said about a post. :-) Chervil is a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t kind of herb here, and often associated with tonier greengrocers. I’m jealous about your “roe scallops,” as they called here. I wish they were available more widely. They really are delicious and it would be nicer to eat more, not less, of any single animal. Ken
The odd thing is some people throw the roe away because they don’t want to eat “fish eggs”. :(
I think it’s one of the best bits. You can often buy scallops on the shell or half shell here, though we have our share of nasty frozen imports too.
I’m surprised the commenter didn’t expect you to grind up the shells to toss on your morning oatmeal. Nonetheless, a beautiful dish. I can’t believe how brown the sauce is, but then, there is a real chef at the helm!!! Good to know about the scallops, as well, although I have no choices where I live. Maybe the two of you should do a seafood immersion school with me… With photography as part of it….
…sprinkling the ground shells… Ha! Good one, Mimi. But we shouldn’t be hard on Stefan. We agree with him. This is a more complicated conversation, but I wish that people didn’t lump all scallops together–big and small, local and imported. Perhaps if more people recognized what a treasure sea scallops are – and regarded them more as a “special treat” food than as simply another seafood alternative – then we might be able to get them with the roe sacs still attached. It is a waste to discard them. So if you encounter them, buy them! At a minimum, insist on dry scallops. (Any time you pass through town you’re welcome to watch the photography happen…). Thanks for looking out for us. Ken
Ken, this as to be one of your most magnificent posts ever. We are blessed to live near the sea and to some of the best fish in the world. Scallops are a real treat. They are very expensive here too but well worth it. The ‘King’ scallops with the coral attached make for the most delicious food one can eat. The coral takes on a sweetness that once tasted, has to be repeated.
Beautiful photos as ever. But, you knew that, didn’t you!
Thank you, Conor–you’re too generous. Maybe some day we’ll have a chance to go cycling together, followed by a meal of sautéed king scallops. They really are a once-in-awhile treat. Ken
How do you manage to make the photography more stunning each week? Why is chervil rarely in the stores and disappeared from mesclun mix? Chervil butter for lobster is the best.
HI, Henry–Thank you. I missed this. I don’t know the answer to your question. We just bought more chervil at Whole Foods. As for its absence in mesclun mix–I don’t know. I have a feeling it’s one of those things that people probably included because they were modeling a European example, then later asked themselves, “Hey, I wonder if anyone would notice if we just dropped this out.” It is, unfortunately not well-known here, except perhaps by people who cut their first cooking chops on Francophiles like Julia Child and Madeleine Kamman. Ken
My mother just gave me a bag of fresh peas from her sister’s garden/farm. This might be the thing to do while listening to Pharrell Williams, the musical reference of which was unexpected!!
Concealed depths, Ayako, concealed depths. :-) Ken
j’adore cette recette !…
Merci, Lydie! Mais je crois que vous avez le meiller–les gros avec leur corale. Ken
What an informative post. I never new all that about scallops! I had some beautiful scallops in Cape Cod. Very similar fresh flavours to these which look beautiful by the way. I must pay a visit to my fishmonger and see what UK scallop varieties there are
Fresh scallops from Cape Cod–whether the small Bay ones, or large sea scallops, are great, especially if you get them within a few hours of them coming out of the water! From the comments of other readers it sounds as though sea scallops (“King scallops”) with the roe sacs, are available, although not cheaply. Good luck. Ken
I’m coming over for dinner. Thanks. ;) These scallops are seared to perfection!
Excellent. Aperitifs at 7, with dinner to follow. :-) Ken
Beautiful caramelization on the scallops and the peas look grand. We had our first first fresh English peas of the summer tonight here in SC on vacation, and what a starchy disappointment they were. I hope when we get home the KY peas are not in the same sad state (or worse, gone!). Seafood is such a fraught subject. We generally don’t eat it at home at all, but do with abandon when visiting the coast—just as we undoubtedly would on occasion if we lived where you do.
Hi, Michelle–That’s the one drawback to living inland. Unless you’ve got an extraordinary seafood vendor–and client base willing to pay the premium price for getting it to you–then most coastal seafood suffers. Squid and octopus seem unaffected by freezing and thawing, and you can buy tuna that has been flash-frozen for sushi, but of these, only the squid is still a bargain. I’d be eating local freshwater fish, I suppose. I was shocked, a few years ago when visiting my brother in Texas at the state of the Atlantic seafood in some very high-end stores–and for a lot of money as well. It made me realize how rare, in fact, the seafood is that we take for granted here. Thanks for the praise. Ken
I had good Australian scallops during the week, no gloopy snafu, just firm briny goodness. Happy herb would be just perfect.
Clearly Down Under relishes scallops–and their roe–at least according to Stefan. I think you’d like them with chervil, although I suspect you’re way beyond pea season now. Ken
What a gorgeous dish, and lovely photos! You got a perfect sear on those scallops by the way.
Thanks. Hehe… Jody’s only had about 10,000 opportunities to perfect her sear technique. TIps: Use “dry” scallops, don’t add them until everything’s really hot, and then don’t flip them until they release w/out sticking (which they’ll only do if you added them to a really hot pan). Ken
Hi Ken & Jody, I just made this dish for dinner tonight and wanted to say thank you – It was delectable!! I can’t wait to make it again and am looking forward to trying more of your fantastic Garum Factory recipes! Thanks so much for the inspiration!!
Great! Glad it worked for you – ramps are wonderful. Ken
Those scallops look divine – really large and meaty. I haven’t noticed the processed of dry labels so will look out for them. I rarely buy them to be honest but will keep my eyes peeled for ones that look as good as yours. I love the plate btw – where did you find it?
To be honest, I don’t know if scallops have to be labelled in the UK so I don’t know if there would be a label. If you find out, please let me know. The plate came from a clothing, home furnishing and lifestyle chain called Anthropologie (www.anthropologie.com; note the French spelling, presumably lending it that essential Euro cachet). We’re always on the lookout for props, especially plates and silver. Good luck with the scallops. Ken
Anthropologie is one of my favourite stores for homeware. I often wander in and just browse at all the wonderful crockery on display. They clearly have buyers with great taste.
Will let you now about the scallops.
I know you said you left the butter too long and it browned, but I quite I enjoy the look and nutty flavour of a brown butter sauce. The photo’s are amazing, I love them.
Thank you, Poppy. It tasted good to me too, but my finicky wife… :-) Ken
Hey folks. Just made this for the second time, both times special guests. Chervil?!? Combing local growers looking for potted plants I can trim within an ounce of it’s lifel No luck there either. But finally English peas instead of edamame. Thanks again for making us look good! And, full disclosure, no thanks to the ‘lovely coral sacks’.
Hi, Guys–You know, one of these days we’re going to find ourselves eating together and I’m going to MAKE you try bottarga–I think you’ll sing a different tune afterward. :-) I’m happy the scallops are working for you. Ken
Delicious and great photos.