Once again last week, a visit to the market offered up inspiration for this dish. The markets are full of fresh bunches of scallions (green onions). Peppers are starting to appear but I have frozen roasted red peppers in the freezer (for just the occasion like today) and a walk to the fish and seafood stand led me to fresh, plump and firm scallops. They smelled of the sea, they were not swimming in liquid and I was long overdue for them.
In Greek, scallops are called “Xτένια” (ch-ten-ya) and they appear in the market in the winter time, usually fresh and still in their shells. I don’t see scallops in their shells here all too often and that makes it harder when determining whether your scallop is fresh (preserved with the aid of chemicals).
When choosing scallops (like with any fish or seafood), your nose is the first sense that will never fail you. Take a deep sniff of your scallops. They should smell slightly sweet and of the sea. Any hint of “fishyness” should ring the the alarm in your head. Avoid them, pick something else and if still no luck, try another fish monger.
The scallops should be dry, not swimming in any liquid where they lay on display. Many fish mongers will add a chemicals or water (or both) to lenghthen the shelf-life. A weird aftertaste is usually the giveaway and liquid will leech out of the scallops when they are cooked. Obviously, both are bad.
To successfully sear, grill or pan-fry a scallop, they must be patted-dry – no liquid whatsoever. Simply seasoned and then placed over hot, hot heat. Remember: dry scallops and very hot heat = beautifully seared scallops. The seasoning I chose for this dish was a simple oregano fleur de sel (afrini) and fresh ground pepper. Last year I received a package of dried herbs and flavoured fleur de sels from Botano in the southern coast of Crete and I’ve used this oregano flavoured sea salt on fish, seafood and pork.
Today’s dish makes good use of your gas or charcoal grill: seared thick and juicy sea scallops, charred red peppers that are then sweated, peeled and then pureed. The red peppers are then blended with some grilled scallions, some fresh garlic and olive oil and lightened with just a bit of strained Greek yogurt. With me so far?
The starch in the dish is a saffron pilaf that has a wonderful crunchy texture with the addition of toasted angel hair pasta at the very end. In Greek, an angel hair type pasta is sold as “φιδέ” (fee-dai) and it’s often sold in dry nests. Fides can be purchased at your local Greek grocer or you may place an order with Christos Marketplace.
I heated some homemade seafood stock, added a pinch of saffron threads and allowed them to steep for a few minutes (or until the liquid turns gold from the saffron). I add the saffron-infused stock to the rice, some olive oil and some leftover shellfish I had and I baked the rice (I prefer baking to stove-top). The crunchy aspect of the saffron rice was made my toasting some “fide” pasta. Read the rest of the recipe and find out how I did it!
Grilled Scallops With Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
16 large sea scallops, patted dry
Oregano fleur de sel *
fresh ground pepper
Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
2 roasted bell peppers
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
the green tops of 4 scallions, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
salt to taste
1 tsp. of Boukovo (or chilli flakes)
2 Tbsp. of strained Greek yogurt
Crispy Saffron Pilaf
1 cup of long grain rice
1/4 cup of “fide” or angel hair pasta, broken-up with your hand
2 1/2 cups of seafood or vegetable stock
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
pinch of saffron threads
(handful of seafood is optional)
- Pre-heat your gas grill to high. Place your red peppers and scallions directly on the hot grill and char on all sides. Remove and place in a bag and seal or in a bowl covered with plastic wrap. Allow to sweat for about 20 minutes or until you can safely handle them. Peel the skins, remove the stem and seeds and chop up the peppers and place in your food processor and puree.
- Now snip the root end of the scallions and discard plus peel and remove any of the charred exterior and then coarsely chop. Place a small skillet on your stove-top over medium heat and add the olive oil, scallions, garlic and red pepper puree. Slowly bring to a bowl while mixing and then take off the heat, adjust seasoning, add your Boukovo (chilli flakes) and the strained Greek yogurt and stir until combined. Reserve and keep warm.
- In the meantime, let’s make the crispy saffron rice. Bring your stock (seafood, vegetable or chicken) to a boil and place in your baking vessel. Add a pinch of Saffron threads to the hot stock and cover. Allow the saffron to bloom for 5 minutes. Add your olive oil, the rice, seafood and stir. Place in a pre-heated 400F oven for 45 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed. In the meantime, add a Tbsp. of olive oil into a small pan over medium heat and crumble and add the “fide” (angel hair pasta) with your hands and stir.
- Continue to stir until the pasta is just translucent, after 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle a pinch of sugar, stir to coat for a minute and take off the heat and reserve. When the saffron rice is cooked, add the toasted pasta to the rice, fluff and mix the rice thoroughly with the toasted fide pasta.
- Pre-heat your gas/charcoal grill. Thoroughly brush the grill surface and ensure no residue remains. You are looking for a high heat. Take your scallops out of the fridge and pat-dry. Inspect the scallops to see if the muscle has been removed. If not, simply tear off this small flappy piece and discard (tough). Season both sides with the oregano fleur de sel and some fresh ground pepper. After about 15-20 minutes when your grill is very hot, wipe the grill surface with a towel that’s been dipped in vegetable oil and wipe the grill surface to lubricate.
- Place your seasoned scallops on the grill and cook for about 2-3 minutes a side (or until they do not stick). Remove from the grill and keep warm.
- Place your saffron rice pilaf into a funnel (or other mold of your choice) and pat down with a spoon. Place your plate over the mold and then invert. While holding the plate and rice mold, gently give a jerk to release the rice from the mold. Now spoon some roasted red sauce where each scallop will lay and place the scallop on the sauce. Garnish with chopped chives or scallions and a drizzle of extra-virgin oil.
- Serve with a Boutari Moshofilero white.
*You may purchase oregano fleur de sel from Botano.gr or simply take 2 parts coarse sea salt and 1 part dried oregano and pulse it with your food processor, store in a jar.
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