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Seared Scallops with Baby Spinach and Crispy Bacon

ISSUE 5 ARCHIVE - COOKING THE CATCH

Andrew Maxwell

Seared Scallops with Baby Spinach and Crispy Bacon

And so here we are again. One year on from my first article for London Diver. The magazine is fast earning a reputation as the UK's leading dive magazine. I base this statement on a number of accepted facts:

It is free.

The journalism is simply exquisite, hilarious and for once, actually quite entertaining. It is printed on really good quality paper, not that flimsy shiny stuff that newspapers refer to as 'a free glossy magazine!'. It is basically just the club magazine of a small handful of the UK's greatest dive clubs, meaning that it is read by really cool people, or people who at least want to be really cool.

And so, once again, I find myself in a position whereby I can climb back onto my soap-box and have a rant!
Travelling Diver
Scallops, Just about the most wonderful things in the world! They are like little individual fillet steaks of seafood. Just the perfect size, and like all things great, (Liverpool football club, the English rugby team, a good Islay single malt to name but a few) when they are at their best, they are simply unbeatable!

However, it is with great dismay that I find that very often, they are not at their best.

Scallops can essentially be divided into two categories, dredged or hand dived. Let's start with the dredged variety. The animal is the same and the environment in which it lives is the same. The difference is the manner in which it is caught. Imagine a rake passing through gravel, picking out all the large stones and rocks, but on a much, much larger scale. Now picture if you will, a trawler with an innocuous looking line off the back. Nothing amiss there I hear you say, except that at the other end of the line is a vast sheet of interlocking chain with metal spikes that stick about 4 inches into the seabed. Scallops bury themselves in the seabed and settle there to feed, safely hidden away from the dangers that lurk above. The boat will drag its rake through the seabed, essentially ploughing up the life. And, in true 21st century politically correct manner, it does not discriminate.
What will be left of a beautiful expanse of life, colour and activity is an underwater desert? An area of death and destruction on an industrial scale.

Not only does this destroy the seabed, but it also results in scallops that are clogged up with the sand and mud that they have been dragged through. Scallops are like little tiny sponges. They will soak up the mud and sand (and any bacteria within it) and will become gritty, smelly and waterlogged. No amount of rinsing before cooking will remove this.

So we move on to the other category of scallops. The hand dived variety are simply a different product. I have already discussed (at length) in previous issues the sustainability issue and this is without question the answer to fishing scallops in a sustainable manner. It might take a scallop diver a full day of diving to find 200 scallops, of which many might be too small, in which case the diver simply leaves them until they have grown larger. A trawler will dredge up 200 scallops in 10 minutes.

In addition to this, the scallop diver will make a quick snap at a scallop to catch it before it buries itself further or swims away, (yes they do 'move through the water'). Once it is caught, it is not dragged through the seabed, but is put into a net and carried by the diver. I am sure you will agree, a very different, more humane, more sustainable picture. The results are scallops that are meaty, not waterlogged. Clean, not gritty. Fresh and clean tasting, not stale, musty or fishy.

So, how can the average person on the street identify hand dived scallops in the shop. Well if they are fresh and still in the shell without having been 'cleaned' (had the skirt and other bits removed), a diver caught scallop will have no grit in it whatsoever. If your scallop shows signs of mud, sand or other muck, it is dredged. If the scallops are already cleaned and removed from the shell (or sometimes cleaned and then put back into the shell), hand dived scallops tend to look much more white in colour, plumper, meatier and generally more impressive. (Although in this instance it is best to just ask. If your fishmonger is trustworthy, he won't take you for a ride.)

In a good restaurant, simply ask where the scallops are from (Scotland or the south coast of Ireland being the best answer, the south coast of England also being a good reply). Also, just ask if they are hand dived or not remember though, that some restaurants may be inclined to say that they are, when in actual fact they are not. Hand dived scallops are more expensive. (Restaurants pay about 1.50 1.80 per scallop for hand dived ones and about 1.00 1.25 for dredged).

The simple thing is, if you are in doubt, do not order the scallops.

(And the soapbox can go away for another few months!)
Ralf Tech
The recipe I have here is simple and stunning. Pork and shellfish are as exciting together as a couple on their wedding night! The fact that the bacon in this is crispy, merely adds texture to an otherwise relatively soft dish, meaning that not only does this dish consist of tantalising flavours, but also provides great texture. It has the whole package and can be a great starter, or in larger quantities, perhaps with some pasta, a delicious main course.

Ingredients

To serve 4:
  • 12 hand dived scallops
  • 8 pieces of pancetta
  • 7 tbsp olive oil
  • 40g (2 oz) butter
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 200g (8oz) baby spinach, washed
  • 25g (1oz) shaved parmesan (Grana Padano)

Method:

Brush 4 ramekins with melted butter and dust out with grated Parmesan cheese. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 3, 160C.

If you are buying your scallops whole and in the shell, remove the flimsy skirt that surrounds the meat, leaving only the orange coral attached. (You also need to remove the tiny white muscle that is actually attached to one side of the scallop this can be simply cut off with a pair of scissors.)

Wash and dry the scallops.

Grill the pancetta until crisp, but keep a close eye on it, as it will quickly go from 'crisp' to 'burnt'.

Use two tablespoons of the oil to coat a frying pan. Heat until it begins to smoke (it needs to be really hot). Lightly salt the scallops and add to the pan, starting at the top and working round like the numbers on a clock face, so that you know which one went in first and will need turning over first, and then removing first! Sear for 2 minutes until they are brown on the outside and slightly undercooked inside. Turn them over and drop the butter into the pan. It will start foaming. Using a large spoon, baste the scallops with the foaming butter for 1 minute before adding the juice of half a lemon and basting for a few more seconds.
OonasDivers
Remove from the pan quickly and drain on kitchen paper.

Mix the remaining oil with the balsamic vinegar and seasoning. Toss the spinach leaves in this and arrange on 4 individual serving plates.

Arrange the scallops and pancetta on the top, sprinkle with the Grana Padano and serve at once.
Adventure Divers La Manga

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