Off the Fork: Giving thanks like it’s 1621

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO
Thanksgiving Shelter Island style: scallops and Brussels sprouts.

If pilgrims and Native Americans actually had a feast of Thanksgiving in the fall of 1621, they probably ate bay scallops, and probably did not eat turkey. Certainly, the Butterball had not yet been invented.

I was well into my 20s before I tasted my first Peconic Bay scallop, and I still remember wondering, why have I never tasted a scallop before that was even remotely this good?

Prior to my revelation, I’d been trying to eat bay scallops that filled my sauté pan with milky liquid, refused to brown, and sometimes had a strange chemical taste from a preservative used to make them hold up longer. These were not fresh local scallops from the waters around Shelter Island.

In my opinion, the crowning glory of a well roasted Thanksgiving turkey is the bronzed skin, and the same rule holds when I’m lucky enough to have bay scallops on my holiday table.

Browned food not only looks great, it tastes great, because getting that brown crust develops umami flavors. Browning requires high heat (it only happens at temperatures over 285F) and food that is not wet — a challenge with scallops, since they readily soak up liquid. 

This dish marries local Brussels sprouts with local scallops, and can be a side dish, or a main dish, especially if you’ve got one of those pesky guests who like to pardon turkeys. 

Bay scallops sautéed with shredded Brussels sprouts

Four servings

1 lb. bay scallops, not previously frozen, soaked or washed

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

2 ounces speck, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon caraway seeds 

1 pound of Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, coarsely chopped to make about 3 cups of shredded sprouts.

Salt and ground pepper

1. Place the scallops in a strainer, remove any bits of shell that remain, and let any liquid drain off, but do not soak or wash them. 

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a cast iron skillet, and test to make sure it’s hot by putting one scallop in the pan. When you hear sizzling, add about half the scallops to the pan. Space them out and let them cook undisturbed until they are brown on one side only, and not cooked all the way through. Remove the scallops one by one to a platter and cook the other half in the same way. Cover the scallops with foil, and set aside while you sauté the sprouts.

3. Add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet, and then the speck and caraway seeds. Sauté the speck over medium heat for two minutes.

4. Turn the heat up a bit and add the shredded Brussels sprouts, stir to coat them with olive oil, and then let them cook undisturbed until the bottom layer starts to brown, and sprouts are bright green. Stir the sprouts to give a new bottom layer a chance to brown, only 5-10 minutes total cooking time.

5. Add the scallops to the sprout mixture, toss well, and let them cook another minute or two while you add ground pepper and salt to taste. Serve immediately.

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