SPRING brings out cherry blossoms, tourist buses and a good supply of some seafood. The Virginia Citizens Consumer Council telephone recording (892-0330) reveals that scallops are among the best seafood buys right now (along with spanish mackerel--the best buy according to VCCC--sea trout and bluefish). While scallops aren't what one would call cheap, the price, as one D.C. area seafood marketer points out, is for 100 percent edible meat.
A quick survey of area fish markets showed Captain White Seafood (1100 Maine Ave. SW) and Custis and Brown (1200 Maine Ave. SW) to have the best specialty-shop prices--$4.50 per pound for bay scallops and $5.50 per pound for sea scallops. Chevy Chase Seafood Market commanded the highest price--$7.49 per pound for both types. (Scallop prices change often, however. It's best to call ahead.)
But last week the lowest scallop prices were found in supermarkets; at Giant and Safeway bay scallops (the smaller ones) were selling for the lowest price of all--$3.99 per pound. (Barbara Beiser, Safeway consumer advisor, says that the price of bay scallops usually runs about $5.29 per pound, but that Safeway is featuring them on sale through Tuesday).
Bay scallops as D.C.-area residents know them are, in fact, not bay scallops at all, but "calico scallops" from off the coast of Northern Florida, explains Derek Guthrie, seafood supplier and ex-fisherman. Real bay scallops are just a small version of sea scallops, which these days come from off the New England coast.
These "bay" scallops are cheaper because they are prolific and plentiful. They don't shuck easily, explains Guthrie, so supplies were neglected for a long time because sea scallops were readily available. But he recalls a recent Northeastern winter when fisherman received $6 per pound for sea scallops, resulting in prices of $9 per pound or more at the retail level.
Prices like that made shucking machines more feasible for the fishermen down south, and now "they're going at it full tilt," says Guthrie. Last November there were 200 or more 70-foot fishing boats off Cape Canaveral. The constant supply of "bay" scallops brings down the prices of all scallops.
Scallops--indeed most seafood--promise super-fast and easy meals, even more practical with fresh scallops just a supermarket away. The scallops should be uniform in size so they cook evenly. Remember that the smaller the scallops, the less cooking time they'll need.
Arleen Joyce, a registered dietician with the National Marine Fisheries Service, says about about saute'eing scallops, "I just stand right with them and turn them until they're done." Small scallops require no longer than four minutes in a hot skillet, she says, adding that they turn from shiny translucence to white and opaque when they are done.
Quickly prepared, these garlic-buttered scallops are definitely not low calorie. Something so rich should be served in small portions with generous servings of very fresh cooked vegetables such as snow peas or broccoli. If the big eaters in your family squawk at what they may deem inadequate portions, appease them by serving unpeeled new potatoes (in red skins) with the lightest touch of butter, freshly ground pepper and a sprinkling of fresh minced parsley.
All that's embellishment, though; we all really want to dunk, so be sure to buy a crusty, chewy bread to go along with the marvelous butter.
We expect that all kitchens are stocked with flour, sugar, salt, pepper and butter or oil of some kind.
EXPRESS LANE LIST: scallops, shallots, garlic, lemon, parsley, broccoli or snow peas, new potatoes (if desired), crusty french-type bread.
SCALLOPS IN ESCARGOT BUTTER (2 servings) 1/3 cup softened butter 2 tablespoons finely minced shallots (substitute scallions, if desired) 2 cloves garlic, finely minced 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 1 teaspoon lemon juice 3 tablespoons finely minced parsley 1/2 to 3/4 pound scallops
Melt butter in large skillet. Add shallots, garlic, pepper, lemon juice and parsley. Stir briefly over medium-high heat. Add scallops and cook, stirring frequently, until done--about 4 minutes. Remove to plates with slotted spoon, and allow any excess scallop juice in the skillet to evaporate (but don't let the butter burn). Pour butter over scallops and serve with fresh snow peas or broccoli, french bread and tiny red-skinned potatoes, if desired.