Shell Game IV Transcript

The Kitchen

AB: [on the phone] What's that? Swimmer attacked off Spamity Island? By a scallop? I'm on my way.

    Although I know of no officially recorded scallop attacks, in French mythology Saint James did rescue a knight who fell into the ocean and emerged covered with scallops; which is why the French call that bivalve Coquilles Saint-Jacques to this day. Poppycock? Of course it is. But a trip to Spamity means getting to consume my weight in scallops. Meaty morsels, which are nothing, if not ...

["Good Eats" theme plays]

Meeting House: Spamity Island, ME - 10:45 am

GUESTS: Rudy the Police Officer
              #2 Police Officer
              About 17 Citizens
              Captain Squint

OFFICER #2: [to Officer Rudy] Here he comes.
AB: Chief Rudy, I got here as fast as I could.
OFFICER RUDY: Town folk are inside. They're scared.
O #2: Good and scared.

[all three walk inside, to find the citizens, seated]

AB: Folks, I realize that your town has suffered a terrible shock and that this nice lady has lost a toe.
LADY #1: It was my favorite toe.
LADY #2: It's OK, we'll get you a new one. Here. [hands L #1 a tissue]
AB:  Yes, but ... Look, I've got to tell you that the culprit was probably a piece of broken glass, or maybe a barracuda ...
MAN #1: There ain't no barracuda around here!
Lady #3: Trust me, there ain't nothin' around here but scallops.
MAN #2: I seen one eat a squirrel once.

[all assembled join in a chorus of dissent]

AB: I .. I just ... calm down, please. Please. Look, it's just not possible, okay? I mean, there are dozens, hundreds of different varieties of scallops. But around here, there are only two types. There are bay scallops, which is argopecten irradians, and then there are sea scallops, okay? And those are plactopecten magellanicus. Now they're different sizes, but they share the same unique design, okay? They have a very large adductor muscle and it rapidly opens and closes this symmetrical fan-shaped shell, via the central hinges.
LADY #4: Like castanets?
AB: Yes, exactly like castanets. By opening and closing the shell, water is forced through these valves thus propelling the creature through the water. No other bivalve can do this. And of course, this adductor muscle is the part of the scallop that we eat.
LADY #5: That muscle looks really strong.
MAN #3: Yeah, and that can take a toe off easy.
AB: Actually, this muscle lacks real clamping ability. The shell is held closed by a much smaller little muscle along the side and it's very weak. Which is why, unlike clams and oysters and mussels, scallops die very quickly when they're removed from the water. So even if a scallop could have gotten hold of your toe, ma'am, it wouldn't have been able to hold on to it, much less ... well, you know. Besides, the scallops 40 or so eyes are very primitive. It wouldn't have been able to find you.

[Captain Squint, makes a long, annoying scratching sound
on the blackboard a la Captain Quint in Jaws]

CAPTAIN SQUINT: Y'all know me? [takes a bite of a saltine] Know how I earn a livin'? I bet my hat this critter's the same one that took my ... [taps his scallop eye patch] ... eye in '73. I'll catch him for 'ya, but it ain't gonna be easy.
AB: Uh, excuse me, it's not really a him. Scallops are hermaphroditic. So it could be he and a she ...
CS: Whatever! I'll find IT, for three. But I'll catch it and kill it and cook it for ten.
AB: Dollars?
CS: Plus expenses. But I don't want no help. No mates. There's already too many captains on this island.
OR: Captain Squint, we agree with your terms, but with one condition. You have to take Mr. Brown here with you.

[those assembled join in a chorus of assent]

CS: Let me see your hand. [examines AB's hand] Soft. Looks like you've been playing with test tubes all your life.
AB: Oh bother!

The Dock / The Okra Houseboat

    [inhales deeply] Ahh. Smell that sea air. This is going to be fun.
    You know, since they are crazy perishable, the method by which scallops are captured greatly affects their freshness. Now ships that dredge the open ocean floor for scallops don't just mangle the sea bed, they have to stay out for quite a while in order to make the trip worthwhile. So they either shuck and freeze their catch or they treat them with chemicals. Either way, the quality is compromised.
    Now boats that go out in the morning and return to dock in the evening deliver far fresher scallops which are called "day boat" scallops. But the freshest of all are "diver" scallops, which, as the name suggests, are harvested by folks with tanks on their backs.
    [comes upon Captain Squint's vessel, the Okra] I don't believe this. A houseboat?

CS: Eh, don't dis my ride, 'ya galley dog. She runs as smooth as the rear end of a porpoise. Now, what's all that stuff for, then?
AB: Diving gear. Thought I might do a little scalloping.
CS: You going ... in the water?
AB: That is the best place to find the scallops, Captain.
CS: You go in the water. Scallop's in the water. Our scallop. [sings] Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies ...
AB: You know that whole thing I said about this being fun. I take it back.
CS: Farewell and adieu to you ladies of Spain. [begins to laugh manically then goes into a hacking cough]

The Okra Houseboat

    Now in most major markets, you can find two types of scallops: big ones—that is, sea scallops—and little ones—bay scallops. Now in the Pacific Northwest, spiny and pink scallops make occasional appearances. If you're willing to do a little snorkeling down in Florida in the summertime, you can often find all the tiny calico scallops that you can eat. Just make sure that you are diving during the season and living up to the local laws, or you'll get your wallet slapped. Or worse, they'll make you take home one of those [looks at the ships clock which is mounted in the hole of a life preserver and says, "Welcome Aboard"]

Scallops are sometimes called the marshmallows of the sea.

The Okra Houseboat

AB: So, uh, Captain, will we be setting off soon?
CS: Nah, got to wait for the tide. Why don't you go downstairs and cook us up some grub?
AB: Okay. What do you have down there?
CS: Scallops.
AB: Yeah.
CS: Beer.
AB: Uh huh.
CS: [eats another saltine]
AB: And crackers
CS: Uh huh.

[CS grumbles and yells unintelligibly with the saltine
in his mouth, AB mockingly does the same and exits]

    Bay and sea scallops are available in both frozen and fresh form, and each one of those forms has its particular uses. But when it comes to fresh scallops, especially sea scallops, you need to be cautious. You must develop the ability to spot the difference between dry and wet scallops.
    Now dry scallops are usually ivory, or slightly pink, or even orange in color, not white. Of course, they don't actually look dry. The term refers to the fact that these lovely lozenges have not been soaked in any kind of chemical, say, sodium tripolyphosphate. This solution is used to help scallops retain moisture when frozen. Now there's nothing wrong with that per se, unless the scallop in question is not going to be frozen. You see, treating fresh scallops with S.T.P. causes them to gain moisture, making them heavier, which could be a good thing for a retailer, but it's never good for a cook. Because once this stuff is inside the scallop, they become very difficult to cook properly, and they are impossible to sear properly.

CS: [pokes his head into the shot] According to FDA regulations, any scallop with a water content of 82% or higher must be labeled as "water-added product". And those scallops with a water content above 86% cannot be marketed at all. [eats another saltine, exits]
AB: Well, he's certainly right about that ...
CS: [returns into the shot, grabs the bottle of S.T.P.] And gimme that, you liver-lovin lollygagger. [exits]

    Jeez, a little sensitive, huh?
    Untreated scallops are kind of sticky—really stickier than they are wet—and they're springy, kind of like ocean-going gelatin. And above all, when you shop for them, they should never be floating around in pools of milky goo like this. Fresh scallops should be kept in an airtight container, devoid of excess moisture, and preferably surrounded by ice. They should be used within a day or two of purchase at most. Frozen scallops can be kept two to three months in the deep freeze. And prior to using, just transfer them to the fridge and thaw them overnight.

CS: Chief, we'll be casting off soon. Hurry up with that grub. And be sure to make enough for the dockhands. Feeding them is good luck, you know.
AB: No, I didn't know that.

    The secret to cooking scallops, besides finding the right ones, is simple: sear them. This little guy is all muscle, like a tiny tenderloin. It's packed with amino acids and a substance called glycogen, which is a chemical combo that muscles use to store glucose. This substance browns up beautifully as long as it gets a high dose of heat from the right kind of surface.
    Now, take the average pan ... if you can find one around here. [looks around, takes a pan, looks at it in disgust, and replaces it] Luckily, I always travel with spares. Now that we have secured the proper pan, we can get to searing. I'm going to place this over high heat, and luckily, I brought my own heat source, because Old Smokey here [points to the houseboat stove], I think, would burn the boat down.

    Now as for fat, nothing browns like butter. But butter also burns at a relatively low temperature. So, we're going to augment it with a little olive oil; not extra virgin olive oil, just plain old olive oil. It has a relatively high smoke point and certainly has a more neutral flavor. So we're just going to let this melt over medium high heat. I don't want it to melt so quickly that the butter starts popping and jumping all over the place. It contains some water and we want that to evaporate out nice and easy. We don't want any industrial accidents in here, so we'll do that over medium heat.

2 tsp. Unsalted  Butter
2 tsp. Olive Oil

    Meanwhile, we will face the scallops themselves. The key to this is that they have got to be bone dry. So I like to go over them with a paper towel just to make sure there's no moisture at all, and then give them some seasoning.

1 to 1 1/4 Pounds Dry Sea

    Salt, always a good idea. You can use any coarse salt. I like kosher, of course, but you could use sea salt. There we go. A little pepper. Not too much. Pepper can burn. I'm going to go with a relatively fine grind on this, not a coarse grind.

Season with Salt & Pepper

    Now here's something to point out. A lot of times scallops come with that small muscle—the one that keeps the shell closed—still on the side. It is pretty tough when it's cooked. So just tear it off gently and feed it to the fish if you like. A lot of times, they're already taken off. This one was still on.
    So I'm going to check the fat. All the butter is melted and we'll wait for the rest of the water in that butter to bubble out. Now once the bubbling stops, watch, and when you just start to see the first wisps of smoke come up off of the fat, you'll know that it's time to get the scallops in the pan. And you don't want to wait. Because once it starts to burn, it'll happen pretty quickly.
    There we go. Now they can go in. I'm going to work in kind of a radial, from the outside in. Now this is key: once those scallops are in the pan, don't go moving them around. If they're going to get a good sear on them, they need to stay put. And notice I'm not cramping them. If you don't have enough room in your pan, you can do this in two batches.
    A minute and a half has passed, so it is time to flip. And I'm going to go in the same order that I put them in the pan. And I don't want to fuss with them any more than I have to. So get them in position and leave them be. Nice sears there. Some of them are probably going to sear a little better than others. That's okay, especially if they have a little bit more pepper on them. Now these need to stay down for yet another minute and a half. And once again, no finicking, no fiddling, no poking, turning, or checking, okay? Because after all, the real goal here is to create ...

[pulls down a screen with a strata drawing of a scallop] ... a strata of textures by creating a strata of donenesses ranging from the outer sear, to pert near raw right slap dab in the middle. Now you will be tempted during the cooking process, to turn down the heat, because there's going to be some hissing, and splattering, and some smoking, and what not. But if you do that, the sear will take longer, and as a result, the interior might overcook. Do not let this happen to you. Keep the pedal to the metal, thermically speaking.

<-- SEAR -->
--> pert near raw <--
<-- SEAR -->

If searing scallops in two batches, clean the pan
in between and start with fresh fat.

The Okra Houseboat

    [cutting into a cooked scallop] There. Now that's what I'm talking about. Almost burned on the outside, barely cooked on the inside. And within that range lies all the goodness, the flavor, and texture that a scallop has to offer. I like to park mine on top a simple green salad tossed with a little spicy vinaigrette.

CS: [sticks his head through the window and takes the plate] Yeah, it's about time, dang 'ya! Don't 'ya know we've got hungry guests up there?
AB: Uh, no.
CS: Now, finish plating those salads and get to working on another dish.
AB: But I want to come up on deck.
CS: No, no, no. Coast guards coming and you're not wearing a life vest. Don't want to go to jail, now, do 'ya?
AB: No.
CS: No.

    [examines a scallop shell] Well, hmm, I guess I could use these scallop shells, and take some of those bay scallops over there, and, I don't know, make some kind of scampi kind of thing.
    Step one: crank your oven to 450 degrees. [opens the oven, which is filled with junk] Oh, good thing I brought a spare. [pulls a toaster oven out of his bag, sets the heat to 450] There.

    Now place your favorite skillet over medium heat and melt two tablespoons of butter. That would, of course, be unsalted butter. And when that is thoroughly melted, add one tablespoon of finely minced garlic, along with just a little pinch of salt—kosher salt, of course, is nice. And this is going to cook very, very quickly. Only about 30 seconds.

2 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
1 Tbs. Minced Garlic

    That will give us just enough time to find one cup of freshly ground bread crumbs. And I'm thinking that, around here,  [opens a cupboard and finds CS's crackers] Ah. Seems that we found the Captain's wafers, if you get my drift. And that will be just fine. This size cracker, about 20, finely crushed, will do the trick. So hopefully, he won't mind [crushes the crackers in the bag].

CS: [hears this up on deck and suspiciously turns his head to the noise]

    And just dump these right on top of the garlic, and stir thoroughly to combine. You want to make sure that all of the butter is completely absorbed. And if the crackers brown a little in the process, that is okay. There. Now kill the heat.

1 Cup Fresh Bread or
    Cracker Crumbs

    Cut up two medium very, very, very ripe tomatoes, and about a quarter of a cup of Italian, or flat-leaf parsley. And we're just going to scoop that up and deposit it into the tomatoes, along with, eh, we'll say a quarter of a teaspoon of kosher salt. Give that a stir.

2 Medium Very Ripe
   Tomatoes, Finely Chopped
1/4 Cup Fresh Chopped
1/4 tsp. Kosher Salt

    And we're going to need some kind of containment vessel to bake in. We could use just any kind of oven-ready ramekin. But we happen to have some of nature's ramekins right here. That's right, sea scallop shells can be used for cooking, as long as you are gentle with them. So we're going to have, say, four of these and we'll just divide the tomato mixture evenly. Go around and kind of half fill the first time and then go back around with whatever remains.

    Distribute eight ounces of bay scallops right on top of that. And notice that I'm kind of making a little bed for them by pushing down. And the same kind of thing. I'm going to go around twice, until I've got them all used up.

8 Ounces Bay Scallops,
    Rinsed & Patted Dry

    Oh, the crackers. Excuse me. Not only will our flavored cracker crust provide a nice brown topping for the dish, they'll actually act as kind of an insulation keeping the scallops from drying out during their time in the oven.
    Because we're doing this in a toaster oven, we'll only be able to do two of these at a time. I've made a little cup kind of action or a little holder out of this foil. So just set them thusly. We'll put one facing in, and another one there. Good, that will give us good circulation of heat as well. Now this goes into the oven.
    In eight to ten minutes, your scallops will be cooked through and the top will be golden brown and delicious.

CS: [bursts in]
AB: What are you doing?
CS: I'm going to make a ceremonial offering to Poseidon to bring us good luck. Gimme that. [takes the scallops] You keep the dishes coming, you goody dry-pants. We need all the luck we can get. [leaves]
AB: Uh, once I fire off all these, all I've got left are those nasty wet-pack scallops of yours.
CS: [from off-camera] Well, what are you waiting for, then? Keep cooking!
AB: Okay.

    Although wet-pack scallops are definitely not my favorite, they are pretty good for making a mousse. And no, I did not mean something that you would put in your hair. Step one: crank whatever you have that passes for an oven to 350 degrees and then take one pound of wet-pack scallops for a spin in your friendly neighborhood food processor. Now we want to make a smooth paste here, not a soup. So work in pulses, okay?

1 Pound Wet Scallops, Rinsed
    & Patted Dry
    Four to five pulses will get our scallops almost smooth. And we'll open up and drop in two egg whites, and these we will process in until basically we can't see that there are eggs in the mixture anymore. 2 Egg Whites
    Then we will add the seasoning: a quarter teaspoon each of freshly ground nutmeg and freshly ground white pepper, and follow that with half a teaspoon each of lemon zest and freshly chopped parsley, and a teaspoon of kosher salt. Then we'll put on the lid, and then drizzle in a quarter cup of very cold heavy cream. 1/4 tsp. Each Ground Nutmeg
    & White Pepper
1/2 tsp. Each Lemon Zest
    & Fresh Parsley
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1/4 Cup Very Cold Heavy

    Cold is crucial because what makes mousses light and fluffy, of course, is air. And the fat phase of the cream will hold onto bubbles better if it's nice and cold. As for the egg whites, well, they're there to provide protein, so that the bubbles will set in place when cooked.

CS: Chief, these Coast Guard fellows want to slap a fine on you for scalloping out of season. I think I can hold them off with a few snacks, if you get my meaning.
AB: Okay.

In the painting Birth of Venus, the goddess of love is
seen rising from the ocean in a giant scallop shell.

The Okra Houseboat

    Our scallop mousse is a daring multi-tasker, capable of many impressive feats. My favorite: piped mini-tarts. Now if you want to make puff pastry or phyllo tart shells from scratch, you certainly can. But the idea of working with that dough in here kind of gives me the willies. Of course, the fact that Captain Squint had store-bought phyllo cups in his freezer also kind of gives me the willies.
    Anyway, as far as piping goes, you could use a real piping bag with a metal tip, but you could do what I do too which is just snip the end out of a heavy-duty zip-top bag. Just remember that the goo will expand a little bit, so don't go too much over the edge there. Oh, and it's a good idea for this stuff to stay very very cold while you're working, so you might want to keep a bowl of ice nearby to park it every now and then, you know, in case it starts to get a little bit too loose.
    Ten minutes is all these little babies need to cook. But you want to let them sit and cool down for two to three minutes before you pop them in your mouth or, of course, you'll burn yourself. Now I need to find something to serve these things on. Hmmm. I wonder what's in here. [enters the lower galley]
    [opens a closet and pulls out a snorkel and mask] Dive gear. Curious. Hello. [retrieves a long-range clamp with two scallops welded onto the pincers] Scallop attack, huh? [hears laughter from above, goes above]

The Okra Houseboat on Deck

GUEST: Diners
            Times Food Critic

AB: [Climbs onto the top deck] Wha ...? What the blazes.

DINERS: [are on the deck, apparently enjoying AB's food]

CS: [is serving wine to a "customer", his sea "accent" is not present] Grapes, grapes, grapes. And that's the poem I wrote about wine. And I think you'll enjoy this wine. It's delicate, not pretentious. Has a hint of a smoky aroma from the Renaissance era. The paintings, that is, and I, uh [sees AB on deck] Wait! Wha? [with his accent] Come here. What in tarnations are you doing on deck, you scallywag? Get down below! Don't you know, um, a storm's coming?
AB: A storm's coming?
CS: Hmm.
TIMES FOOD CRITIC: Excuse me. Are you the chef?
AB: Well, yeah, I guess. Sure, heh heh.
TFC: Well, the scallops were delicious.
AB: Well, that's nice. I'm glad you liked them. [pointing his finger at Captain Squint] This is wrong. This man is perpetrating a complete and utter ...
TFC: Excuse me, excuse me.
AB: Yes, ma'am.
TFC: I'm a food writer for The Times, and I'd love to do an interview with you later.
AB: Oh. Well, maybe later. Here, you can have the rest of these [scallops]. [to Captain Squint] No, no. I can't do it. I'm going straight to ...
CS: Name your price.
AB: What do you mean, name my price?
CS: Look, business wasn't so good, so I made up the whole attack thingy, and look! Now people are lining up at two fifty a head. And I would have gotten away with it too, but it hadn't been for your meddling.
AB: Fifty-fifty.
CS: What?
AB: You heard me.
CS: Arrgh. Deal.

    Well, shiver me timbers, I guess I'd better get below and whip up some more of them scallops for you good folks. I sure would hate for you to run out of "Good Eats", eh. Ha ha ha ha. Woody, but pretentious, and, uh,  ...

Outtake: Meeting House: Spamity Island, ME

AB: [AB grabs Captain Squint and attempts a kiss, the townspeople laugh]

Outtake: Meeting House: Spamity Island, ME

CS: Looks like you've been playing with test tubes all your life.
AB: [looses it and laughs] I'm sorry.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010