Nantucket Bay Scallops

Tender Morsels of Seafood Love


With Valentine’s Day approaching, we in the food and wine writing business start to focus on the obligatory food and wine article designed to guide you all to foolproof plans for seduction. We’re supposed to be writing about all the great foods that are aphrodisiacs -- oysters, chocolate, papayas -- but you want to know what one of the greatest aphrodisiacs is? Nantucket Bay Scallops.

These succulent, sweet, silky morsels of the sea offer one of the most sensual dining experiences on the planet, and if they don’t get you in the mood, check your pulse. Fresh scallops are at their peak from the earliest days of winter right through to the onset of spring. The coldest waters of the Atlantic coast offer the sweetest, most tender scallops, perfect for sharing with your loved one, or ones, I’m not one to judge, this Valentines Day. 
With such a delicate nature, prepared bay scallops are often seen as a challenge by many, and over-cooking them into soulless, rubbery lumps is a sin for which you will be amply punished. Check out these fine suggestions, with wine pairings of course, and you’ll have a worry-free evening of silken bliss!

Winter Salad and Scallops

Here’s a beautiful preparation for scallops bathed in a citrussy vinaigrette. While this recipe looks fine on it’s own, I am tempted to add some creamy avocado and drop the balsamic vinegar completely. Let’s keep this salad light and delicate, perhaps substituting a splash of sherry vinegar in its place.

With the citrus and herbal flavors dominating this dish, I would definitely be looking for a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc, though not one that is too aggressive. A nice bright wine will support the sweetness of the scallops without overpowering them. South Africa is my go-to place for this style of Sauvignon Blanc and these two wines are among the most reliable performers.

Nantucket Bay Scallops with Bay-Scented Butter

This is my style of scallop dish; simple, light and unadorned. This looks like an addictive dish, the highbrow version of popcorn shrimp that you won’t be able to stop popping in your mouth, and your lovers' for that matter, but even love can’t always compete with mind-bending deliciousness!

There’s a little butter here, and touch of toastiness from panko breadcrumbs, so this might be a perfect match for a Chardonnay with a kiss of oak, something crisp and pure, and preferably from Chablis one would think. 2010 was a wonderful vintage with just the kind of focus one should be looking for, and while the wines are not inexpensive, I’ve found two great values worth checking out.

Stir-Fried Bay Scallops with Ginger, Red Onion, and Toasted Walnuts

Now we’re getting exotic, and while I tend to prefer the simplest preparations for bay scallops, I can see the appeal of these decisive flavors being used to help showcase the purity of flavor scallops bring to the dish. I would tread lightly here, especially with the ginger, but this does sound like a delicious and slightly exotic dish.

Accordingly it should be paired with a slightly exotic wine, one that can stand up to the savory umami flavors introduced by ingredients like sesame oil and hoisin while handling the pungency of ginger. It’s a tough call, and while reaching for an off-dry Riesling or a Gewürztraminer might be an impulse, a dry Gewürztraminer being a very apt impulse after a moment's reflection, I still would opt for something a little different. In fact, a Pinot Grigio that has seen some skin contact, almost a rose in fact, would be my first choice. It has a bit of spice and a savoriness extracted from the skins, but retains the general delicacy Pinot Grigio is known for. Try either of these great options. 

Shrimp and Bay-Scallop Risotto with Mushrooms

Now we’re talking about a sensuous dish, silky on silky, and while I really do love the flavors and plump texture of beautiful shrimp, I think I would just add more scallops to this dish and save the shrimp for some fra diavolo the next night. Penance for what I’m planning on doing after devouring this classy risotto!

With a dish like this, a riff on traditional Venetian fare, I would have to look to the hills of Veneto for a wine pairing. Yes, we’re talking Soave, but the really good stuff, and there are plenty of good finds out there. Look for something that reflects the volcanic origins of the region, which lend a smoky, mineral edge to the wine. Soave is one of those wines that we all tend to drink young, fearing what may come. With these top quality Soaves you can certainly enjoy the wine in its youth, but five years or even a decade of age will add subtle nuance to the wines, making it an even better partner for the earthy mushroom festooning this dish.

Linguine with Bay Scallops, Fennel, and Tomatoes

Finally, we get to the dish that is particularly well-suited for a sneaky Valentine’s day. This is as simple, fast, and foolproof as cooking gets, and while I for one am not a fan of Angel Hair pasta -- it’s virtually impossible to get it cooked properly, tending towards the overcooked side of paste on many occasions -- on this date I might make an exception.

I like this recipe, with one modification. The instructions to “Add scallops and sauté until just opaque in center” is not ideal since you’ll be cutting open scallops while cooking to find that point, at which point every other scallop in your saute pan will now be on it’s way toward being over-cooked, and then you compound the problem by reserving the cooked scallops and letting carry over cooking taking them over to the dark side. No, this is not the way to make this dish! Go ahead, use angel hair pasta, do all the other steps, but save the scallops until the last step. Add them to the saute pan and give them a few tosses before adding the pasta. Finish up the recipe, it should take about a minute, by which point the scallops should be mostly cooked, and while you’re plating the dish the scallops will continue to cook, stealing some heat from the angel hair while they’re at it. Result? Perfectly cooked scallops and pasta that might still have a little bit left!
With such a light, simple dish, look for something fresh as a sea breeze. A nice vermentino from Sardinia or Tuscany has that squeeze of lemon freshness. Herbal nuances along with a hint of seashell will add brightness and snap to the sweet fennel and pernod inflected flavors of this dish.
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