Saturday, February 20, 2010
Seared Sea Scallops on a Bed of Baby Arugula and Kumquat Salad with Balsamic Dressing
If memory serves me correctly, my first seafood experience as a child involved fried scallops from McIntyre's, a seafood take-out/dine-in restaurant that was a popular stop for beach-goers and seafood lovers in Massachusetts' north shore area. Scallops are wonderful for their sweetness and their firm yet juicy texture. A great choice for introducing kids to seafood. Scallops are less fishy-tasting than even haddock, and unless you cook the hell out of them, they are hard to screw up. I really love them seared -- the crunchy crust is an attractive and delicious complement to the soft interior.
This recipe brings together some long-time favorites of mine, such as scallops, with some more recent loves, such as kumquats and whole grain mustard.
Favorite foods are often so because of the memories associated with them. I don't remember much of those meals at McIntyre's -- the scallops stand out as the most important detail. With ketchup, lots of ketchup. I also remember the excitement I used to feel whenever we would go there along with the agonizing anticipation as we listened for the girl at the counter to call out our number. My parents often bought me some fried chicken from the children's menu, and then they'd share their scallops with me from their fisherman's platter. I'd dip them into the ketchup (of which there was always a copious amount -- my dad and I are real ketchup hounds) and savor the fatty little chunks of fried goodness. I liked their juiciness and their fun, round shape. Even now, scallops remind me of day trips to the beach, riding the familiar back roads of my New England stomping grounds.
Kumquats are also sweet, juicy and pop-em-shaped . . . but they're also TART! Super-sour, kumquats really only appeal to those who enjoy a little pain with their food. I must be a masochist because I love them. Again, memory creates a special place for these tiny citrus fruits. I was living in Florida and going to school at the University of South Florida in Tampa. The decision to move and go to school in Florida was a bit of a whim -- I remember thinking, "I like summer [here at home in Massachusetts!], so I should love Florida!" Yeah. Summer in Mass isn't even October in Florida. Florida introduced me to such delights as heat index, fire ants, sand spurs, alligators at the bus stop, mega-churches with neon signs, and my personal favorite -- cockroaches.
Depending on how I look at it -- am I in a good mood or my usual mood? -- it was either the Year of the Cockroach or the Year of the Kumquat. I am a clean person, but here in New England, the threat of roaches is not nearly so threatening as to require immediate containment of all food waste. I shared my apartment with three other women, and we were all pretty clean, but the building became infested, and we suffered our share of unwanted guests. I was mortified and GROSSED OUT. We instituted some strict rules in our apartment: leave NO food out, ever; package up all grains and cereals in plastic; wipe counters down with bleach after cooking and take out the garbage nightly. We contained the critters, but I never wanted to eat in my own kitchen, I was so disturbed.
To escape, I visited the botanical garden on campus. Along with all the plagues I experienced in Florida, my displacement, my sense of inconguence, presented me with the greatest personal challenge. I was lonely and out of my element. Before Florida, I had been an avid gardener and spent lots of time outdoors in the sunshine. Now, it was so hot that I could hardly stand it outside -- I remember spending hours indoors in the A/C watching whatever was on TV just to keep cool. So depressing.
I started going to the garden regularly after a visit to learn about their community garden. It was the end of January and the fruit trees were approaching the ripe stage, and even though it wasn't peak, many flowers were in bloom. There were two places in the garden that became my fast favorites: the orchid house and the citrus grove beside the lake. If I had to do some reading for class, I'd sit in the orchid house for hours, my mind as airy and rootless as the air plants all around me. If I just needed to chill or I wanted to write poetry, I'd end up by the lake. There was always so much wildlife and beauty there. And when I was hungry, I'd wander over to kumquat tree and eat a few pieces. I was so attracted to their "cute" size, and the squat little tree itself was so inviting. This may seem excessively romantic (I was studying English Romanticism at the time . . .), but I felt as though Mother Nature herself had brought this tree to me for my solace and nourishment. Even though I was almost always alone there, I always felt a sense of welcome and peace in that grove.
The botanical garden saved my sanity. It gave me a place to be where I felt relevant and connected, and the kumquats, with their assertive flavor, stand out as particularly imbued with the spirit of the place. Their flavor, at once aggressively sour and at the same time surprisingly, blessedly sweet, seemed to symbolize my overall experience in Florida. And, they are one of my favorite memories of that time.
The Recipe: This is a meal that I feel is actually too easy to give a recipe for. Of course, the dressing can have several ingredients, but since I only made enough for myself, I'll have to just point you to the recipe that I sort of used as a guide. Here it is: http://www.grouprecipes.com/35534/sensational-seared-sea-scallops-over-baby-greens-and-balsamic-dressing.html
To the above, I added thinly sliced kumquats to the salad, and I have to say that the addition really takes the dish to another level. There is a startling contrast between the fatty succulence of the scallops and the bold sourness of the the kumquats and the balsamic vinegar. I loved it.
It's a recipe for uniting opposite poles, for remembering all our "homes," and for growing accustomed to foreign lands.