Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Stylish Scallops and Soba Noodles

It was the middle of July – the fifteenth to be exact – when we decided we had been waiting to try scallops (and Seven Seas, the fresh fish place just around the corner from Alisha's) for far too long. Two recipes were called on to aid us in our quest for a scallop dinner. We settled on 1. pan-fried scallops with chicory and apples on parsleyed soba noodles and 2. a hijiki and edamame salad with creamy miso dressing.

Perhaps some of those terms need to be defined – I certainly didn't know a lot of them. Here are soba noodles. They are a Japanese noodle made with buckwheat, which gives them their greyish-brown colour. The other (and possibly better-known) type of Japanese noodle is the udon noodle, a thick noodle made with wheat.The reason soba are a sort of flat rectangular shape is that the dough is rolled flat and then cut into strips with a special knife (at least traditionally by hand, anyway).

Chicory, as we discovered, is actually endive. Well, sort of. It's a little confusing, but various types of the chicory plant are cultivated for use as salad greens. These include Belgian Endive, Curly Endive (also called Frisée – your favourite, Michelle!), Escarole and Radicchio. When we picture endive, we are usually thinking of Belgian Endive (see below). This is the blanched head of a variety of chicory known as witloof (Dutch for 'white leaf'), which is grown (and apparently, kept by Capers) in darkness to preserve its light colour and mild flavour. The lighter the leaf, the less bitter the taste.

Coincidentally, Mâche, which we just had last WeDine (some of us for the first time), is a member of the chicory family, and is also called lamb's lettuce in the UK, and was called for in my pretentious British salad. It's interesting to make all these connexions. Thanks to the Joy of Cooking for salad green information. I quite like its little pointillism drawings. I'm so glad I spilled banana cake batter on my mom's first copy, which she then gave to Michelle and I. (Sorry Mom!). Here are the light-hating endives under their stylish tea towel at Capers:

To get the scallops needed for the dish, we made our first visit to the fish shop near Alisha's (on Fourth), and it was a great success. They had a variety of fresh and frozen seafood and fish, and several sizes of scallops. We chose the mid-sized ones. The small ones were too small, and the big ones were gigantic, but the medium ones were juuuust right. The little fish-shaped signs in the shop were quite adorable.

The recipe called for the scallops, peeled apple slices and chicory to be variously pan-fried with clarified butter (butter that has been melted and separated by density into three layers – milk solids at the bottom, butterfat in the middle, and whey at the top – which are then skimmed off and strained to preserve only the butterfat). Also in the mix were light soy sauce, mirin (a slightly sweet rice wine) and nutmeg. I peeled and chopped some apples – in the wrong order! I chopped them first, and then had to peel all the segments. Whoops. Michelle did the sautéeing honours with aplomb.

Meanwhile we cooked and drained the soba noodles. Alisha's colander makes them look quite stylish, I think.

And we got to work on the salad. This involved reanimating the hijiki, a seaweed commonly eaten in Japan (a theme is emerging here!) in some water. It glistened in the summer sunshine. Also very stylish.

Meg peeled the daikon, a large Japanese white radish that is milder than small red radishes. Also in the salad went a pound of shelled edamame beans (an immature soybean), shredded carrot, spinach and soybeans. Alisha made a dressing with brown rice vinegar, olive oil, miso (soybeans fermented with mold), and garlic. The salad was colourful and incredibly healthy.

Finally, all the elements of the dinner came together on Alisha's lovely glass coffee table. The soba noodles had been sautéed again in butter with parsley and looked delicious. We dug in.

I went for the minimalist approach on my plate for the finished dish photograph, in honour of the Japanese theme, but had to go back for more salad later. It was all delightful – fresh and slightly spicy (there was also a pinch of cayenne as well as the nutmeg added to the frying pan that I forgot to mention!). The scallops were cooked perfectly, and for our first time attempting to make scallops, I was pretty proud. It was the perfect dish for summer – the right meal at the right time, as Nigel Slater says in his lovely book, The Kitchen Diaries. But that's another post for another day!


moyrad said...

I enjoyed the miso dressing salad and the scallops but could do without the noodles and the apples. Eww, cooked fruit. And I cooked it too.
We definitely have to do more scallops and seafood. Gambas al ajillo, anyone?

Laura said...

Well, the cooked-fruit impaired would say that...

I'm with you on the ajillo, though!

Meg said...

Thanks for all the new greens knowledge Laura! That's so crazy that all of those different things come from the chicory plant! I never would have thought... And I've been eating and loving mache for a while, yet thought I'd never had lambs lettuce. Wow. We'll have to make the pretentious salad again, with the right greens this time.

Those scallops were soooo good. I loved the apples, and the noodles, and everything.