Shit from My Potluck

Surprise! It’s still me! Fear not: the real SFMF column is certainly not defunct. I hear tell that Ms. Klein is working up a nice little piece. But in the meantime, I’d like to weave you a tale.

Once upon a time (last Sunday), a relatively swarthy yet utterly enchanting maiden found herself in quite a state. Home at last in her perch above the gentle Uptown bustle after a fortnight’s peregrination hither and, much to her weary disdain, thither, she concluded she had so missed her fond band of scalawag city cronies and had a mind to invite them to a grand feast in her tower. Flying to her refrigerator to see what delights could offer themselves to the evening’s convivialities, a crushing look of dismay landed upon her flushed face. The proverbial cupboard, it appeared, was practically bare. Half a bag of baby spinach here, a heel of asiago peppercorn sourdough there… To market, then! But, glancing at the clock as swiped her bike helmet from the kitchen table, it became clear there would not be nearly enough time to acquire the proper materials for this true-jam feast.

To Gmail, then! And the maiden composed a letter to her crew offering abundant wine and a charming dining location in exchange for a dish and the treasured company of each friend.

As the guests arrived and uncovered their dishes, it was shaping up to be a glorious evening. The maiden unveiled her store of wine with a grin and surveyed the procession of treats filing through her doorway: A platter of scrumptious nibbly things, a pot of pleasantly spicy chili, a bubbling eggplant parmesan, perfectly cooked salmon, a potato-fennel gratin layered with gruyere and indecent amounts of cream, and a charming apple custard tart with cinnamon gelato. With one guest set to arrive, it was hard to imagine what could possibly make the meal any lovelier.

Which kind of ended up making sense because the maiden was shortly presented with a pound of raw sea scallops.

No accoutrements, no garnish, no nothing.

(In his defense, the scallop-bearer arrived directly after a work shift, and hey– scallops are scallops.)

At this point the maiden thought quickly of the few items languishing in her meager store. Aha! she thought: Some pancetta! That spinach! But… but, when we sear these babies in the pancetta bits and then sort of want to wilt the spinach without burning it to death, whatever will we deglaze with? A major stumbling-block, since the maiden so loved the satisfying sizzle and ensuing light pan-sauce produced by a good deglazing. The maiden peered on the shelves of the refrigerator door for a suitable liquid… red wine vinegar, half & half, vanilla soy milk, some of thisCurses. But wait!  White wine vinegar?

Yes, yes… I mean, it would certainly do the trick with deglazing.  But wouldn’t the tartness of the vinegar overpower the delicate scallops?  Damn.  Maybe.  But listen, sister:  It’s either that or water.
Decision made.  We’ll just make sure to let the vinegar cook down to a more gentle pH before letting it out of the pan.
And so here is what I/we did (in a relative jiffy, I might add):
  • In a teeny bit of olive oil, since the pancetta will give off its own fat, browned about 4 very thin slices of pancetta, roughly chopped.  (Of course, this was concocted during some pretty lean times so if you’ve got more sitting around, it couldn’t hurt.  You just don’t want this to turn into a “some scallops with your pancetta?” situation.  Or… maybe you do.)
  • Seared the scallops– there were about 8 of them– in/on the pancetta bits.  This will only take about a minute per side if the heat is cooperating.  In this case, if you can’t get a perfect sear (I never can), you’ll want to err on the side of under-searing it since it will be sitting for a few extra minutes in…
  • A hefty splash or two (or however many it takes to just cover the very bottom of the pan) of white wine vinegar.  Make sure to rough up the bits on the bottom of the pan so they join everyone else on the dance floor.
  • Once the vinegar reduced by about 1/2, tossed in some fresh spinach and turned the heat down pretty low.  You want the vinegar to continue to reduce a little but you also don’t want to freak the spinach leaves out completely.  
  • Once the spinach wilted and the liquid looked like it had come pretty well together (i.e. looked nothing like vinegar), we put it all on a big plate and joined the crew in my dining room/living room/office/bedroom.
And pals:  It was GOOD.  The liquid did retain a bit of its tang, but it also picked up the pancetta-scallop-spinach goodness and lost some of its acidity in the cooking, so it ended up being a rather nice choice (under duress, of course, but still– aren’t you glad I test these things so you don’t have to?).  Also, since I fear equally the prospects of overcooked AND undercooked seafood, the presence of a liquid in which to sort of semi-poach the scallops ended up cooking them perfectly– they were seared a little bit on the outside but were still moist inside and not at all rubbery.  Because really, rubbery seafood is just a shame on so many levels… waste of time, money, emotional investment (that last one could just be me).
Moral of the story:  Necessity (or… a desolate refrigerator) is the mother of improvisation.
Theeeee End.

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