Well, shellfish, that is. Specifically, scallops.
Scallops are really weird, as molluscs go. For one thing, they are the only migratory bivalve, merrily scudding along throughout the sea, while their cousins the mussels and oysters stubbornly affix themselves to rocks, muttering to themselves in their sea beds. They flap their shells like little underwater birds!
For another, scallops have a remarkably well-formed eye for a creature that doesn’t possess a backbone – it comes with a lens and a retina, allowing it to detect light and motion, although not, alas for the scallop, shapes. These same eyes are a gorgeous shade of blue:
Finally, their reproduction is truly bizarre! Some scallops, like most animals, are either male or female. However, other scallops are hermaphrodites, and still others change gender, beginning their lives as male, then maturing into females! All of which seems like a real headache when searching for a date, though I suppose kudos to them for refusing to be categorized.
Despite, or perhaps because of, all of its oddities, the scallop is a truly delicious creature of the sea. Even culinarily, it stands out among its shelled brethren. For one thing, they are not typically consumed raw – the edible muscle being too tough to slip down the throat ala the oyster. For another, they are known for having two kinds of meat in one shell – the adductor muscle, which is the white, meaty bit (this is the muscle it uses to flap around under the sea) and the roe, a red or white softer bit, also known as the coral, which are the scallop’s eggs. In the US we typically just eat the adductor muscle, so the roe can be difficult to procure.
When I was a kid, the first time I ate scallops I became quite ill, so for a long time I avoided eating them, convinced that I was allergic to them. However, over time it became clear that this was unlikely, because I could eat other shellfish with impunity. While it’s possible to be allergic to only one kind of shellfish, they are more commonly cross-reactive – allergic to one, you’re allergic to them all. So I decided a few years ago to give scallops another chance – and turned out to be just fine! Even better – they scallops were fantastic! Since they are cooked, scallops are chewier and more meaty than most other bivalves – closer in texture to lobster than to mussels. They also tend to be either sauteed, or breaded and fried. Few things can fail to be delicious prepared in either fashion.
Recently, Mr. Menace bought some scallops at Market Basket and prepared them in the former manner – but with a twist! Not content with simply cooking our beauties with a little bit of butter and garlic, he added a secret magic ingredient that transformed them from “quite good” to “transcendent.”
That’s right. I’m talking about bacon.
Now, I know that bacon has been overplayed in the past couple of years. We’ve done things to it that, frankly, it doesn’t deserve. We’ve covered it in chocolate. We’ve topped cookies with it. We’ve done things to it that are too unholy to even name. And in doing all of this, we’ve diminished bacon, cheapened it and made it trendy. Yet there’s no denying one simple fact.
Bacon is good!
Moreover, it’s really good with scallops. The saltiness of the bacon brings out the sweetness of the scallops like nobody’s business, and helps to form a rich sauce with very few other ingredients.
We were out of white wine, so I suggested he deglaze the pan with a bit of high-end vodka. Normally the wine adds a bit of flavor and character to this dish but with the bacon it wasn’t really needed.
When the juices had thickened into a shiny sauce, at last all was ready to be plated! Scallops don’t take very long to cook, and it’s important not to overdo it or you’ll get chewy little lumps. These took about five minutes due to being slightly frozen – you can cook them in as few as three!
The base is ditalini pasta – I liked how the pasta shape echoed that of the scallops.
All in all, this meal was just the right amount of richness – rather than being overwhelming, the flavors melded beautifully into a true sum of their parts. Even better, it only took about half an hour to cook everything! Hurray for the weird, wonderful scallop!