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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sustainable Seafood: Scallops

The other day I was paging through Cooking Light magazine (a great magazine for people who like cooking; they have lots of sustainable and vegetarian recipes) and I saw a little green fish next to a recipe. After some exploring, I saw that the green fish is a new symbol they are using to indicate recipes made from sustainable seafood choices.

I had been planning on making a shrimp salad from the magazine, but it didn't have the green fish next to it, so I tried the grilled scallop salad instead.

Why does sustainable seafood matter? Because 75% of the world's fisheries are overfished. When we catch fish and shellfish faster than they can reproduce, the entire ecosystem - not just that fish population - is impacted. For example, in the Chesapeake Bay, oysters have been overfished. Because the oysters kept the algae from growing too fast, the depletion of oysters disrupted the oxygen levels in the bay, creating large dead zones (want to know more? click here)

The same cycles of ecological disruption occur wherever there is overfishing. Luckily, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has a great consumer-awareness program called Seafood Watch. They publish pocket guides that you can take with you to the store to help you choose sustainable seafood. There's even an App for that - for both iPhone and Android operating systems.

Why are scallops a great choice? Well, the Monterey Bay Aquarium lists all scallops as "Good Alternative" or "Best Choice." That means that you can feel good about any scallops you find at the store.

I invited a couple of friends over for the scallop-cooking adventure. The recipe I chose was Grilled Scallop Salad, a beautiful mix of romaine, watermelon, and avocado (that's it, in the picture up above) with a lime dressing. I was kind of nervous about cooking the scallops, though - I've seen enough Top Chef contestants brought down by chewy scallops to know that cooking them is a delicate art.

I did what any amateur chef does when a cooking challenge arises: I Googled "how to buy scallops" and "how to cook scallops". Here's what I learned:

Buying: Buy your scallops within 24 hours of cooking them. Choose scallops that aren't too fishy smelling - they should smell a little sweet. Ask the "fishmonger" (a.k.a. the really nice girl at Whole Foods) to include some ice in your package so that the scallops stay cold all the way home. (Seriously, every website said "fishmonger". What is this? The Boston docks in 1775?) You can also buy frozen scallops - but again, Top Chef has taught me that frozen scallops will have you "packing up your knives" and leaving the kitchen faster than Padma Lakshmi can change outfits.

Storing: Store them, wrapped in paper, in the fridge. Remember... you want to cook them less than a day after you buy them.

Preparing: Rinse the scallops in cold water. Most scallops have a little flap of muscle on them that will end up chewy no matter what you do. Cut this off.

Cooking: I watched a great YouTube video to build my confidence. In the video, the chef sears the scallops in a skillet; I used a grill pan - the recipe called for using an actual grill, but I don't have one so I use my grill pan for all recipes that involve grilling. Even though the video had a slightly different cooking method, I learned a few things: salt and pepper the scallops, making sure that there are not big globs of salt anywhere; make sure your oil is hot-hot-hot before you put the scallops on; and watch carefully. The scallops will go from translucent to opaque. When the opacity has climbed halfway up the scallop, it's time to turn them over. This should take about 1-2 minutes. I had nice big scallops, so it was about 2 minutes per side.

The result? Perfect, sweet, and buttery-tasting scallops. I was really happy with the whole meal, especially because I knew that we weren't harming the ocean to fill our bellies. Scallops are expensive, so it will definitely be a special occasion meal, but I'm going to continue to experiment with cooking them.

1 comment:

Wombat Central said...

Thanks for the great info! I was just reading about what kinds of tuna are okay after a friend mentioned she was not going to eat it anymore because of all the bad fishing practices surrounding that kind of fish. Good to know about scallops. Love them and that dish looks fab! :)