In Botticelli’s famed painting, The Birth of Venus, the goddess of love can be seen emerging from a giant scallop shell.
Scallops, a feast for the eyes, also are a feast for seafood lovers.
The entire sweet and luscious bivalve is edible, but it is the marshmallow-shaped muscle that hinges the two shells (called the nut) that is usually eaten. In Europe it is common to find live scallops with their bright coral reproductive organs still attached.
Lightly dredged in flour and seared quickly in a hot pan so the outside gets crisp and brown and the insides remain tender and creamy, scallops can be served with a sauce made in the same pan.
Although there are hundreds of species of scallops, only a handful are commonly available. The largest and most popular are sea scallops, primarily harvested in the Atlantic from Eastern Canada to North Carolina, but they also originate inPeru, Japan, and Russia. They are usually harvested year-round by dredging. Since they cannot hold their shells closed once they are out of the water, they are usually shucked on board and quickly lose moisture.
Hand-harvesting sea scallops by divers is less destructive to the scallops. Known as diver scallops, these are much preferred to any other. Pink scallops are harvested in Washington and British Columbia all year long.
Ask for dry sea scallops at the market. This means that they haven’t been soaked in a sodium solution that whitens and enlarges the scallops up to 50 percent. Not only are you paying for this moisture, when you cook them, all that liquid leaks out, making it impossible to get a good sear.
Store scallops in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Pat them dry with paper towels before frying; surface moisture impedes browning. Dredging them in Wondra flour promotes browning.
SEARED SCALLOPS with PEAS AND BACON 21/2 cups shelled fresh peas (from 2 pounds peas in the pod) or frozen peas
3 slices thick-sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide strips
1/2 cup chopped shallots
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
12 large sea scallops, tough side muscle removed and patted dry
1/2 cup Wondra flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the peas and cook for about 2 minutes, or just until they are bright green and tender (cook frozen peas just 30 seconds). Drain and transfer the peas to a bowl of ice water to cool. Drain well.
Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but a thin layer from the skillet.
Add the shallots to the skillet and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes, or until softened. Add the peas and cook, stirring often, for about 3 minutes, or until they are heated through. Stir in the bacon and mint. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm over very low heat.
Place flour on a flat plate, season scallops with salt and pepper, and dredge scallops in flour. Heat another large heavy skillet over high heat until it is very hot. Add olive oil, then add scallops and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the underside is golden brown. Turn scallops and cook for about 2 minutes more, or until the other side is golden brown but scallops are still translucent when pierced in the center with the tip of a small knife. Transfer the scallops to paper towels to drain briefly. Divide the pea mixture and scallops among four dinner plates and serve. Per serving: 238 calories, 36 percent from fat, 10 g fat, 2 g sat fat, 6 g mono fat, 24 mg cholesterol, 15 g protein, 22 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 944 mg sodium.Serves: 4 Adapted from “Curtis Stone’s What’s for Dinner?” (Ballantine Books $35)