What's in Season: Swank Shellfish

In fashion, there are Target and H&M, and then there’s Prada. In shellfish, there are clams and mussels, and then there are scallops. The former are strictly off-the-rack; the latter, sheer couture. We’re talking appearances here, and a scallop in its shell owns the catwalk. Bay scallops, in particular, demand a close-up, their fluted shells dabbed with red or ochre, their 36 eyes (yes, eyes—18 blue pairs, to detect light and movement) rimming the shells’ margins like sapphire pavé.

They’re not too shabby on the plate, either. Shucked, they reveal the firm adductor muscle we savor as a crisped, golden nugget or gossamer thimble seared to an amber gloss. Smaller and sweeter than sea scallops, bay scallops are harvested in the winter months from the shallow coastal waters of the Northeast.

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Unlike their bivalve brethren, scallops cannot survive out of the water and are shucked shipboard. Look for those labeled “dry,” which means preservatives have never come within splashing distance. You’ll know if they’ve been well tended; the meat will have a moist surface and an alluringly sweet smell.

At Caffe Regatta (133 Wolfs Ln, Pelham, 914-738-8686), chef Anthony LaBriola is smitten. He lavishes his bay scallops with a buttery sear, red-wine reduction, and bed of parsnip purée in one dish; with an herb- and Parmesan-laden risotto in another. “They’re the best type of scallop, so sweet and tender,” he says.

His visits to fish vendors have a covert agenda: he gets to savor the scallops raw. “They have the perfect balance of sweetness and ocean saltiness,” he raves. But LaBriola is no pushover; his rapture is conditional: “They must be cooked quickly, otherwise they splinter and dry out.” So his bay scallops get an under-a-minute sear, and on just one side. “That’s all they need,” he asserts. “Cook them at the last minute, never in advance.” Baking or broiling, he says, are out.

What with all the holiday season planning and preparation, quick and simple sounds rapturous to me.

Sautéed Bay Scallops with Parsnip Purée
Courtesy of Anthony LaBriola, Caffe Regatta
(Serves 4)

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6 medium parsnips, peeled and chopped
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream
Salt and fresh-ground pepper, to taste
1 lb bay scallops
1 Tbsp chervil or parsley, minced

Cook parsnips in boiling water until tender. Drain, and then pass through a food mill or ricer. Add 2 tablespoons butter, the cream, salt and pepper, and combine. Keep warm.

In medium saucepan over medium heat, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter. When sizzling, add scallops and sauté until golden, on one or both sides. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide parsnip purée among four warmed plates. Top with scallops and sprinkle with minced chervil or parsley.

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