Under The See!

I got hooked on seafood when I was a kid.

My dad and his friend had feasts in our apartment in New York. I was under 5, but I can remember the shrimp and fried bay scallops.

Moving to Florida introduced me to a treasure trove of the ocean’s offerings. My dad had crab traps hanging below the dock behind our house. He’d dump all our dinner scraps on them to attrack blue and stone craps. He went fishing all the time, too.

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Every Christmas Eve, he and my stepmom fill their table with crab legs, mussels, shrimp, and lobster tails.

In college, I dove into the raw realm of sushi, and never turned-back.

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When I moved to Arkansas, I got worried. I was in a land-locked state that had sushi restaurants?! I know, right? But, they were good!

Moving to the Upstate of South Carolina brought me closer to the coast, and a chance for fresh fare.

The truth is, though, that a lot of seafood you see has been frozen. Unless the store or restaurant has a pier poking out its back door, chances are the catch of the day spent a day thawing. And that’s OK!

Just be careful. Know what you’re buying. If it stinks, leave it alone. If you’re really worried, find a shop with a fish monger – that’s a seafood seller, not a cartoon character or an instrument used to mutilate Shamu. Whole Foods and The Fresh Market have a nice selection and someone behind the counter who can help.

Crab and shrimp are my favorites. I love mussels that are cooked in a flavorful broth or fiery marinara. Lobster is good, but not worth the cash – in my opinion. I can take or leave fish, fish – like tilapia and salmon. My rule of thumb, or fin, is to try it all and then make a decision.

Mahi-mahi wouldn’t usually make me happy-happy, but at Hoskins’, a quaint diner-like treat in North Myrtle Beach, it’s used in tacos that I can’t stop craving. Fish tacos? Try them.

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A friend of mine recently asked for pointers on scallops, a muscle that opens and closes its beautiful namesake shell that dubs as its home-sweet-home.

Sea scallops are big (golfball), bay scallops are little (mini marshmallows).

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The bay variety lend themselves to frying, I think. It’s sister from the sea can be fried, but is best left without an oily jacket built from breadcrumbs. You can overcook a sea scallop just by looking at it. Seriously.

They’re buttery and sweet with a smooth, tender texture. Unless you cook it to death. It’s dead already, OK? I can’t make that point enough.

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This candy of the sea is actually good for you (most seafood is healthy, until you fry it or cover it in some goopy sauce). Scallops are more than 80% protein! They can be pricy, though. I’ve seen them at about $19.99 per pound. Two of them recently cost me just under $7.

You want dry-packed scallops. That means they were shucked and frozen, not bathed in chemical preservatives. The dry kind is better for you and will cook better, too. Ask before you buy.

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The scallops I bought were in a showcase, but they were hard as hockey-pucks. To thaw, put them in a resealable bag and then submerge them in COLD water. They’ll thaw pretty quickly.

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To cook, get a few sheets of paper towels and dry the scallops on both sides. If they’re wet, or wet-packed, they’ll give off water during cooking and they’ll steam, not sear.

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Season the scallops just before you cook them. Don’t marinate them. I used salt, fresh-cracked pepper, and garlic powder.

Put a pan over medium-high heat and add a tablespoon of butter. Let the butter melt. The pan should practically be smoking hot. Add the scallops.

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Let them cook for 3 minutes. Don’t move them, talk dirty to them or wink their way. Leave them alone. After three minutes, flip ’em. You’ll notice that the side that just cooked is golden brown – there’s almost a candied-crust on it. Cook the other side for a minute and quickly spoon some of the butter, which will be brown and deeply flavorful, over the scallops. Then move them to a dish. They’ll continue cooking. If you leave them on the heat and overcook them, you may as well just save the money a and buy a pack of No. 2 pencils, then chew on the erasers.

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That crust on top is Heavenly. You almost have to break it. When you do, you’ll get a soft, sweet treat.

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We went with one scallop each, because we also had a tuna steak.

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Tuna is similar to scallops in that you don’t want to frazzle it. If that’s the case, buy a can of Bumblebee and make a sandwich.

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The best way to cook a tuna steak is to sear it in a pan or on the grill. It’ll take just a few minutes per side. You’ll want the middle to remain a vibrant pink.

I made a wasabi sauce:

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1/2 Tbsp. wasabi paste
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 Tsp. ground ginger
1/2 Tsp. sesame oil

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I brushed the sauce onto the tuna, sprinkled on some sesame seeds, then seared the steak in a hot pan coated with sesame oil.

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That kind of oil is a little pricy, but it’s worth it. You’ll get a deep flavor from it. Wasabi (Japanese horseradish) paste, like the sesame oil, can be found in the Asian section of your favorite store. The paste comes in a little tube that’s tucked in a box.

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So you don’t feel bad about buying a tube of wasabi just for this, here’s a tip:
Make this dip and serve it with blanched asparagus (boil water, toss in the spears, wait 2 minutes, take them out and put them in a big bowl of ice water to cool).

1 cup mayonnaise
4 tsp. soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
3 tsp. lime juice
4 tsp. wasabi paste

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My mom introduced me to this. You’ll adore it. Incidentally, my mom hates seafood. Back to that now. That’s why we’re here, right?

There’s always a deal – if you catch it. The other day, I found crab legs for $4.99 per pound. I would’ve paid $35 for 3 1/2 pounds, but I paid $17 instead. At a restaurant, one pound will run you at least $17. These were already cooked. I just had to thaw them and steam them.

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Don’t be afraid to throw caution to the sea and cook! If you screw it up, try again. Start with 1 or 2 scallops. Once you get the hang of cooking them, go for a pound.

Either way, doing it yourself will be cheaper, tastier, and healthier than letting Mrs. Paul, Gorton’s, or the local shack do it for you!


Tip: Let’s talk sauces. Cocktail for shrimp (or crab) and butter for crab (or lobster).

I always have ketchup and Sriracha in my kitchen. Sriracha is a Thai chili paste that’ll light you on fire faster than a Bic. Mix the two and you’ve got a good cocktail sauce. Who needs a bottle of the red goop, anyway? And, you certainly don’t need a jar of horseradish taking up space in the fridge.

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My dad and my stepmom eat crab so often that they bought little contraptions that keep a small butter dish suspended over a tea-light. If you’re a butter-lover on a budget, try this: Once your crab is almost done steaming, use the microwave to melt a few tablespoons of butter in a ramekin. When the crab’s done, take a coffee cup and scoop out some of the water you used for steaming. It’ll be hot, so be careful! Set the ramekin on the mug. The hot water will keep your butter nice and runny. Don’t have a mug or ramekin? Try it with two bowls, just don’t overfill the bottom bowl with the hot water!

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