Dropping by Charles J. Russo's, my neighborhood fish market, for the shrimp that went into that sauté with new potatoes a couple of days back, some lovely fresh bay scallops caught my imagination and, like a child in the grocery, it started begging me to take some home.
A nice, simple gratin seemed like just the thing for them, with a touch of garlic, scallions, and a little hot pepper to season them, a few soft crumbs to soak up the juice they inevitably shed, and a few buttered dry crumbs to finish their top.
What could possibly go wrong? Well. It wasn't exactly wrong, but the garlic turned out to be way more than "a touch." It was just one large clove, which didn't seem like much, but as Goliath found out the hard way with David, little things can pack a big wallop.
The scallops were still quite nice, but they could've been better than nice if I'd been paying more attention to the pungent fragrance that one clove of garlic was sending up from the cutting board. It was a sharp reminder that more isn't always better.
We're often reminded of the joys of cooking with abandon, and there's a lot to recommend it, but we're not reminded often enough that there is also joy—and wisdom—in restraint.
Bay Scallops Gratinée
3 scallions or small green onions
12 ounces (¾ pound) fresh bay scallops
3½ tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small clove garlic (or ½ a large one—trust me on this), lightly crushed, peeled, and minced
Crushed hot pepper flakes
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
3 tablespoons finely crumbled soft breadcrumbs (crust removed)
3 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs
1. Wash the scallions and pat them dry. Trim away the root and any discolored leaves and thinly slice them, separating the white and green parts. Pat the scallops dry with paper towels. Generously butter to 8-inch individual gratin dishes.
2. Put 2 tablespoons of butter, the white parts of the scallions, and the garlic in a heavy-bottomed 9-to-10-inch seasoned iron or non-stick skillet over medium heat. When the scallions and garlic are sizzling, add a pinch of hot pepper flakes, stir, and add the scallops. Raise the heat to medium-high and toss until the scallops are opaque but not cooked through, about a minute.
3. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the scallion greens, soft breadcrumbs, and 1 more tablespoon of butter, then taste and season with salt and black pepper or more hot pepper flakes as needed. Divide the scallops between the prepared gratin dishes. Wipe out the pan and add the remaining ½-tablespoon of butter. Melt it over medium heat, add the dry crumbs, and stir until they're evenly coated and warmed. Remove the pan from the heat.
4. Position a rack 6-8 inches below the heat source and preheat the broiler for at least 10 minutes. When you're ready to serve the scallops, sprinkle the buttered crumbs evenly over each dish and broil until the scallops are just cooked through and the crumbs are lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.