Ah, where to begin?
Well, it really begins with Alex. Alex and Bill. I've mentioned in the past that Bill is giving Alex guitar lessons. And the deal has always been that when Alex finishes the book of pieces he's learning, he gets sushi. It's not an easy gig. Alex doesn't get special favors just because his Dad's the teacher. The book he just finished has been a year-and-a-half-long learning project. So he definitely EARNED his sushi.
So this past weekend, we had a sushi feast. In the past, we've gone out to one of several yummy sushi places in the area, but this year, in the interest of saving money, we made everything ourselves and turned it all into a sushi picnic in the living room.
(Please ignore the messy couch and the look on Alex's face. Of course, now that I've mentioned these, those are the first things you'll look for. Duh. Actually, the look on Alex's face is worth viewing. He looks like he's singing something...maybe the opening from Oliver! but with sushi-themed lyrics..."food, glorious food/hot wasabi and tempura/while we're in the mood/cold tobiko and toro"...yeah, okay Jayne, that's enough of that)
Before I get to the scallops, here's what else we made, in case you're interested:
First, there's broiled tilapia with eel sauce. You know the eel you get at sushi restaurants? Bill makes the eel sauce, and then we use tilapia or fresh sardines in place of the eel. It's pretty yummy.
Then there were the tuna and salmon sushi and sashimi and maki rolls:
He didn't put any wasabi in anything, as the kids don't like it (yet). I mixed up some wasabi for Bill and I, and provided tiny plates of soy sauce for everyone.
With the leftover trimmings from the tuna and the salmon, Bill made this dish of sushi rice drizzled with sesame oil, and the tartare of fish on top. I cut up some nori as a garnish. It's similar to tuna or salmon tartare I've seen in some sushi restaurants, only we use rice, too, so that's kind of more like a chirachi bowl (assorted sashimi over a bowl of rice), and in the restaurants, the fish is topped, not only with some thinly sliced nori, but also with scallions and, often, a raw quail egg. YUM. One of my favorites. Unfortunately, we had no quail eggs kicking around, so this is what we went with:
And, to bring this post back to where it started, here's a picture of the scallops I made:
I wasn't even planning to make scallops, but when I went to Whole Foods to get the sushi-grade tuna and salmon, plus some tilapia, I saw the sea scallops and couldn't resist. I've been wanting scallops for a while now, and I figured if I just got a few, it wouldn't break the bank. By the way, we got less than half a pound each of tuna and salmon. You don't really need a big hunk of either to make a sushi feast. Just make sure, if you're planning to eat it raw, that it is sushi-grade.
Anyway, I bought a dozen sea scallops. Figuring three each (to be fair) or (fingers crossed) one each for the kids and they might not like them and then five each for Bill and me. I know. I don't always like to share. I recognize the flaw in myself and sometimes I work on correcting it.
I started thinking about what to do with the scallops. My first wisp of a thought was to sear them in some lime juice and sesame oil...something along those lines. But then I thought of the old tried-and-true scallops wrapped in bacon appetizer (my husband, who is a classical guitarist, plays his share of weddings through the year and has eaten his share of bacon-wrapped-scallops during his lifetime). I love bacon. I love scallops. But I didn't want to wrap the scallops in the bacon. I wanted something more in keeping with the sushi theme. Hmmm...and then, probably with visions of maki rolls dancing in my head, or tobiko sushi, where the little mound of rice is wrapped in nori and topped with flying fish roe - one of my favorites - I thought of wrapping each scallop in nori, which would be a kind of sushi-themed riff on wrapping them in bacon. But...BACON! Bacon is yummy and good and I didn't want to exclude it.
So then I thought I could cook the bacon to a nice, crunchy consistency and crumble it on top. Some days I am SO grateful that my brain likes to play with food while I'm doing other things. Anyway, that all seemed fabulous, but not quite there yet. I needed something more...another flavor, another texture...something...so I'm thinking kind of like this...I've got salty and crunchy...and meaty (the scallop texture, I mean)...I need something to balance that out. And I need something visual to balance out the brown/black colors (the scallop is white, but it would be hidden by the nori and bacon)...well, for a visual, I could chop some scallions or chives and sprinkle that on with the bacon. That would also add a sharper oniony aspect to the flavor. Good. And we still have both scallions and chives in the garden. Yay!
Now something else...what would go nicely with all the other elements...I thought of snitching some of Bill's eel sauce - we had more than enough - but no, I didn't want that, I wanted MY OWN sauce...and I'm thinking...bacon...bacon...breakfast...bacon and pancakes...bacon and french toast...MAPLE SYRUP! I don't like a ton of maple syrup on my french toast or bacon (I prefer to clog my arteries instead with lots of butter on them)...but I do like sausage or bacon with maple syrup. That contrast of salty/savory and sweet. MMMMMM! Okay! But I can't just drizzle maple syrup on. I need something more creative than that...so...again, it's sushi night...what would work...hmmmm...well, I could combine some maple syrup with some soy sauce...what else...some rice vinegar to brighten the flavors...and some grated fresh ginger, too. Done.
So that's what I did. And here, in a less stream-of-consciousness fashion, and with pictures, is the recipe I came up with.
3 strips of bacon
4 T soy sauce
4 T maple syrup
2 T rice vinegar
1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
12 sea scallops
2 sheets of nori
1 T chopped chives (or scallions)
What to do:
First, fry up that bacon! Cook the bacon til it's crisp, and set aside on paper towels to cool. Save the bacon fat.
Next, make your sauce. Combine the soy sauce, maple syrup, and vinegar in a small pot and simmer, over medium-low, until the sauce reduces and thickens a bit. Add ginger once the sauce is done cooking. Set aside.
Now, in the same pan you cooked the bacon, add a bit of the bacon fat back into the pan and heat on medium-high until it starts to sizzle. Sear the scallops on each side until they are nicely browned and the scallops are just barely cooked through. (You can look at the side of the scallop to check this - the cooked flesh will be whiter and more opaque; the uncooked flesh will look kind of translucent in comparison. DON'T overcook the scallops. In fact, removing them from the pan before they're entirely cooked is better than leaving them in too long. I mean it. If you want to eat something well done, go ruin a pork chop. Don't destroy a sweet, delicate little scallop.
Okay, off my soapbox. Here are my scallops:
Once the scallops are done, remove them from the pan and set on a plate to cool a bit before you start handling them. While they cool, you can crumble or chop up the bacon into bits, and chop your chives or scallions if you haven't already done that.
Now, first, get your sheets of nori - they usually come in sheets about 7" x 8" or so. Cut each sheet into 6 long strips. Set aside.
So here's what you should have before you start putting these guys together:
your seared but not overcooked scallops
your crumbled bacon
your chopped chives or scallions
your soy/maple glaze
your sheets of nori
a little dish of water
a clean work surface
a clean plate on which to place the assembled scallop creations
Okay? Got everything? Good.
Here's what you do.
Lay one strip of nori down on your work surface. Dip your fingers in water and very lightly, dampen the nori. This is to help it stick better. I tried making one without dampening the nori, and it didn't work so well. Place your scallop (which is basically shaped like a squat little cylinder) on its side at one end of the nori, and line the bottom of the scallop with one long edge of the nori.
Don't worry if they don't look perfect. Mine certainly don't! With practice, you'll get better, as will I. And regardless of appearance, they'll taste great. Remember - it's what's on the inside that matters!
But don't these look good already?
Oh, and don't use some store-bought jar of artificially concocted bacon bits. For one thing, yuck. And for another, you need real bacon so you can cook it and then sear the scallops in the fat. It's NECESSARY! At least, it is in my happy little world.
Next, divide your chopped scallions among the scallops. It's okay if a few hit the plate - people will think you're being artistic. And you just say thank you when they make note of it! It would be bad manners to say "Oh, no, I wasn't being artistic; I was just inaccurate with my chive sprinkling." Bow your head ever so slighly and, with a modest little smile, say "thank you." And then shut up.
Well then - you're done! You probably could drizzle some of the glaze around the plate, or zigzag it across the tops of the scallops, but I think that's a bit too flashy, personally. But if it suits you, then by all means, do it.
Serve them immediately - the nori will eventually get chewy the longer it sits. And if at all possible, you really should cook the scallops and do the whole assembly close to when you plan on serving them. It's nice to be able to make things ahead of time, I know, but I think they're best when the scallops are still a bit warm, or at least room temperature, and the nori hasn't had time to toughen up.
But, on the flip side, there were four left over the night we ate them (we had WAY more food than we could eat, despite Alex's "Boy vs. Food" approach to sushi-eating) and they were just fine warmed up for a few seconds in the microwave. Way better than a poke in the eye, right?
So that's my little creation. If you make them, please let me know how they turned out and whether or not you liked them, and what, if any, changes you made. I'd love the feedback!