Monday, July 6, 2009

Scallops with Asparagus

Last weekend my best friend since babyhood crashed at my apartment as she stopped through New York after a writer’s conference upstate. Stef has the single girl status that I never really tried on in adult life since I met Will when I was 20 years old. Her stories are fun, her going out wardrobe is built for the hunt, and I enjoy the vicarious thrill of knowing her. Not only did she have a new crush to dish about, she actually brought him with her for the first few hours of her stay. He was gorgeous, Irish, and an honest to God poet. They met at the writer’s conference and he had the day to kill before his flight back to Ireland. Being the generous person that she is she decided the polite thing to do was to keep him with her as long as humanly possible. I was given 20 minutes notice of his visit, and had to do the apartment scan pretty fast. I had planned on a guest who had known me since diapers, so shoes on the floor and some empty wine bottles wouldn’t have been problematic. Now I had to make her gentleman caller believe he wasn’t in the apartment of both an alcoholic and a slob. The imposition was forgiven at the introduction, however. The man’s brogue alone was nearly enough to cause a girl’s clothes to just fall off. Stef and I could barely keep from swooning, and I think I even caught Will in a half swoon once…maybe three quarters of a swoon…it was at least five eights. I know that.

When I asked for the details, however, they were a bit disappointing. The connection had stayed one of artistic respect and cerebral discourse. So much for my vicarious thrill. When I delved for details I'm not sure what she would have done with that boy anyway, he was a vegetarian who abstained from both caffeine and alcohol. I’m not so sure he’s Irish…or a poet…let alone both at the same time. Damn him for not fitting into any of my cultural stereotypes. His dedication to forgo booze and coffee made it somewhat difficult to keep him entertained for 4 hours as it took both my cool bars and indie coffee shops off my list of “New York places to impress out-of-towners.” Thank God I didn't try to feed him.

Honestly, what does one do (outside the bedroom) with a man like that? Especially considering that you are immediately handicapped because you can't ask him up for a cup of coffee! Even if you get past the fact that you can't temper nerves and talk over a glass of wine, what do you do when your go-to seduction meal involves the death of a small animal? When one has a skill, they like to share that with the people they love. I find there to be two main reasons for this. The first is to win returned affection, to impress, to win praise and perhaps, yes, to seduce. The second is the belief that good food is good for a person, not necessarily in the nutritional sense—though that is certainly part of it—but in the sense that a well made dish will smooth away life's edges and create a feeling of safety and happiness. Like my mother before me I am fully committed to the idea the food can fix problems and heal pain. When Stef settled into my apartment I knew I had my work cut out for me.

Stef, like all those who graduated college in the past three years, has had the extreme misfortune to hit this workforce in the most god awful recession this country has seen in generations. On top of that she is 24, which just means the unpleasantness of navigating a mine field of men, life changes, and general grown up fuckery that they don't warn you about in the dorms. Under extreme stress lately she confessed that her appetite had completely abandoned her. I pulled on my apron (I own 2 aprons, yet another reason the women's movement should stone me) and prepared to fix things the only way I knew how. Sauteed Scallops and Asparagus in a White Wine Butter Sauce.

Stef and I share years of our mothers feeding us a steady diet of seafood every summer of our formative years; she's the only person I know other then myself who can rip a crab apart neatly in under three minutes flat. While Will mixed drinks and Stef tried to convince herself that a transatlantic booty call was a brilliant idea for the unemployed, I sliced asparagus into half inch pieces. As she dreamed about his gaze following her as we exited Penn Station in a scene similar to a 1940’s movie earlier, I sprinkled salt and pepper on scallops. And as she expressed displeasure over the fact that if fate didn't deal her a guy who was a distant emotional jackass then it just dealt her a guy who was just plain off at a distance, I simmered white wine and swirled in butter. One catharsis later and we sat down to dinner.

Scallops with Asparagus
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine

- 1 lb medium asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into 1/4 inch thick diagonal slices, tips whole
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 lb large sea scallops, tough ligament removed from side if attached
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 2 teaspoon white-wine vinegar
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces


Pat scallops dry and sprinkle with pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add 1 Tablespoon oil to skillet and heat over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then saute half of scallops, turning over once, until browned and just cooked through, 4 minutes per side. Transfer scallops with tongs to another plate as cooked.

Wipe out skillet with paper towels, then add remaining Tablespoon oil and heat until hot, but not smoking and cook remaining scallops as before. Do not wipe out skillet after second batch.

Carefully add wine and vinegar to skillet (might spatter) and boil, scraping up brown bits, until liquid is reduced to about 2 tablespoons, about 1 minute. Add any scallop juices accumulated on a plate and bring to a simmer.

Reduce heat to low and whisk in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until incorporated. Add asparagus and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until heated through, about 1 minute.

Serve scallops topped with asparagus and butter.

The dish was a savory, buttery, indulgent, and satisfying medicine. It didn't replace the man from Ireland, but it was delicious and it expressed exactly what I wanted it to express: That her best friend loved her and would exert effort to create something that would bring her happiness, if only for a few delicious minutes. On that night, that is what my cooking was all about. . Using food as a means of emotional healing. Well, that and I make damn good scallops. While being a culinary healer, why not satisfy yourself in the process?

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