Scallops Carpaccio with Creme Fraiche

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There are certain cooking maxims that I try not to worry about. To wit: “The more expensive the olive oil, the better.” Poppycock. My preferred e.v.o.o. is $6.99 at the budget grocery store down the street. It’s equally great on pane pugliese, in a Meyer lemon yogurt cake, or drizzled over broiled and smashed cherry tomatoes with a generous dousing of sherry vinegar. “Homemade chicken stock is a must.” Um, herro prease. I’ll make a special lamb or veal stock if the occasion calls for it. (Though let’s be real, I never make stock, the Hubs does. Roasting bones is his specialty; mine is creeping away and doing anything else.) But chicken stock? I run through quarts of it faster than tights from J.Crew (which is basically as soon as I put them on, blergh) so I have a hard time maintaining a steady supply. I use Kitchen Basics and Swanson every time, and I never think twice about it–even when I make matzoh ball soup. Goyishe and guilt-free are we.

But I do have certain inviolable beliefs, and one of them is that shellfish is best in the winter months, especially if you’re eating fresh and local. Oysters are my favorite bivalve, but there’s no point in posting a recipe. Shuck, slurp, repeat. Maybe get fancy with your mignonette.

Scallops are more satisfying to work with. My favorite preparation used to be seared and topped off with crispy lardons of thick-cut bacon, like this.

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But searing scallops can be difficult if you don’t do the requisite prep work. When you rinse them off, they eagerly suck up water and release it right back into the frying pan, preventing a good sear. You have to dry them thoroughly, which requires resting and more paper towels than I can personally afford.

I prefer this carpaccio recipe, which isn’t really a recipe so much as a technique inspired by an episode of Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word. I use the ceviche method of  “cooking” the thin slices of scallops with lime juice. When topped off with red onion, cilantro, and a dollop of creme fraiche, the dish almost tastes like summer, which, in these last days of winter, feels like a gift.

The dish has the spirit of an appetizer, but if you want to be a big weirdo and eat a whole plate of it for dinner (like me), learn from the Peruvians and serve with a baked sweet potato, which enhances the brininess of the scallops and bright acidity of the citrus and onion.

And perhaps this goes without saying, but I’ll say it: Buy the freshest scallops you can find, and make this the day you buy them. Don’t mess around with your crappy neighborhood grocery store. Go to a fishmonger or Whole Foods or some equally frouffy place. Your gastrointestinal system will thank you.

Scallops Carpaccio

Serves 4 as an appetizer, or 2 as a weird entree

1/2-3/4 lb wild dry sea scallops
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
1 lime, zested and juiced
1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
1 tablespoon creme fraiche, heaping (Recommended: Vermont Creamery)

Brush a large plate with olive oil.

Rinse the scallops and pat dry with paper towels. Using a super sharp knife, thinly slice the scallops from top to bottom. Lay the slices on the plate from the center outward in one layer.

Lightly and evenly sprinkle the scallop slices with salt, then lime juice. You’re not looking to drown the scallops in juice; you just want to get a thin, even coating. If you think you need more lime, go ahead and zest and juice another.

Sprinkle with zest, red onion and cilantro. Finish with a big spoonful of creme fraiche in the center.

*Note: Use the nose test to determine if your scallops are fresh. If they smell like the ocean, they’re perfect.

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