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Wednesday, July 9, 2008 03:38 pm

A raw deal

Everything you need to know about scallops, including a summertime recipe

Untitled Document Many years ago, I bought some sea scallops. It was a cool day, and I came home directly from the store and refrigerated them, but when I opened the bag to start dinner a nauseating smell hit my nostrils. Even now, remembering that smell makes my stomach turn. I resealed the bag and stuck it back in the fridge. We had something else for supper.
The scallops weren’t cheap, and the next day I returned to the store. I nicely explained the situation to the woman who’d sold them to me, handed her the bag, and asked for my money back. She opened it and immediately the disgusting aroma (now even worse) filled the air. “They seem OK to me,” she said. “They’re really not,” I replied firmly (but still nicely), trying not to gag. She looked at me with a scowl. “Well, I’ll give you your money back,” she said grudgingly, “but scallops are supposed to smell strong.”
No, they’re not. Scallops should have barely any odor at all; what odor there is should be clean and fresh, like an ocean breeze. Since then I have asked to smell fish or seafood before buying it. It’s totally appropriate to do so, and no reputable fishmonger will be offended. Another thing I always ask about, in a restaurant or buying scallops to prepare myself, is whether they are “dry pack.” Scallops are more perishable than many other types of seafood; consequently, they’re typically shucked on the boat as they’re caught. Most are then soaked in a solution of water and sodium tripolyphosphate, or STP. The chemical, which acts as a preservative, is generally recognized as safe when used in moderation. STP also plumps scallops up with water — and that’s where the problem begins. Strong solutions cause them to increase in weight by as much as 25 percent, which many sellers use to increase their “production.” Unfortunately, it also gives the scallops an unpleasantly tinny overtone, and the unnatural amount of absorbed moisture is exuded when they’re cooked, making it impossible to brown them. Even if they’re not to be browned, that chemical-tasting liquid flows from the scallops into the dish. Yuck! Dry-pack scallops are packed in ice and shipped immediately. Even without asking, it’s usually easy to tell whether scallops in the store are wet- or dry-pack. Dry-pack scallops are ivory or palest tan, usually with slight color variations. Wet-pack scallops are uniformly bleached white and sitting in a pool of milky liquid. You’d expect dry-packs to be costlier, but that’s not always the case. Whereas very cheap scallops (frozen or fresh) are sure to be wet-packs, I’ve seen wet-packs offered — sometimes even at places that should know better — at about the same price I pay for higher quality dry-packs elsewhere.
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Ceviche is a wonderful way to use fresh scallops and a perfect light dish for summer. Ceviches, which may be prepared with many kinds of fish and seafood, are found throughout Latin America but are especially popular in Peru. The lime-juice marinade “cooks” the fish or seafood.
Ceviche with Seafood, Avocado, and Grapefruit
1 pound dry-pack bay or sea scallops, or small shrimp,    either singly or in combination 1/2 cup fresh lime juice, plus more if needed 1 cup peeled, seeded, and finely diced ripe tomatoes 1 teaspoon habanero or Scotch bonnet hot sauce or to    taste, optional 1 tablespoon honey 1 medium jalepeño pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut    into thin slivers, optional 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion 1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro 1/4 cup loosely packed mint One large or two medium/small grapefruit, preferably    pink or red One large or two medium/small ripe avocadoes Olive oil for drizzling Soft lettuce leaves
 Seafood for ceviche should be as fresh as possible. Cut shrimp in half lengthwise. Leave tiny bay scallops whole; cut larger ones in half crosswise. Cut sea scallops into thin slices or small dice; this is easier to do if they are partially frozen (10 to 20 minutes in a single layer in the freezer). Combine the seafood with the lime juice in a bowl or resealable plastic bag and let it stand until the seafood turns opaque, about 30 minutes. If you are using two kinds of seafood, it’s best to marinate them separately (which may require additional lime juice), because their “cooking” times may differ. Soak the onion in salted water (1 tablespoon salt dissolved in 1 cup water) for 20 minutes, then drain it and squeeze it dry. Mince half of the herbs and tear the rest into pieces. Combine the tomatoes, hot sauce, honey, jalapeño, and minced herbs in a large bowl. Add the onion and mix gently. When the seafood is opaque, drain it well, add to the bowl, and toss the contents gently. The ceviche may be refrigerated for as long as 4 hours at this point. Cut each avocado in half and twist to separate the halves, then remove the pit. Cut the rind off the grapefruit with a large sharp knife, being careful to remove all of the bitter white pith. Remove the grapefruit sections from their casings, then discard the casings and seeds.
The grapefruit and avocado can be cut into bite-size chunks and mixed in with the ingredients in the bowl, or the grapefruit can be left in sections and the avocado cut into thin slices for a “composed” presentation. For each serving, lay a lettuce leaf on a plate (or use a handful of baby lettuce leaves). Divide the ceviche among the plates. If you are using whole grapefruit sections and avocado slices, arrange them decoratively around the mound of ceviche on each plate. Drizzle the dish with olive oil and scatter the remaining herbs on top. Serve immediately. Serves four to eight.
This recipe may be prepared as long as four hours ahead (refrigerate if not serving immediately), except for the avocado, which should be added just before serving. It can also be used as a dip with tortilla chips: Eliminate the grapefruit and cut the seafood and avocado into medium dice and the onion into fine dice.