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Poslfit Recipes: Scallops and Fiddleheads

20 jumbo scallops
30-40 fresh fiddleheads
2-3 L water
1 t salt (to make salt water)
fresh black pepper, to taste
1.5 T garlic powder
1.5 T salt
3 T corn starch or flour
juice of one lemon
5 T butter
I make this recipe for several weeks each spring, when Ontario and New Brunswick fiddleheads are in season (in Toronto, look for them at the St. Lawrence Market in May and early June). Michelle used to go to Yamase on King Street West just to order this dish, but then they took it off the menu. That didn't stop her from ordering it, but did make it harder to get, and now Yamase is no more. It took me a few years to reverse-engineer the recipe, but we're pretty satisfied that this is as good as the original. Serves 4–6 (unless Michelle is hungry).
Put a big pot of salt water on the fire, to use to get the bitterness out of the fiddleheads.
Rinse and drain the scallops. If you have any really huge scallops, cut them in half so they’ll cook evenly with the rest. Since about 2008, I've been able to buy “dry” scallops at Mike’s Fish Market at the St. Lawrence Market; these have a lot less water in them than “wet” ones, and are a lot easier to cook. Wetness is their natural state, as they’re underwater filter feeders; but the problem with the wet ones is that if you don’t reduce their water content enough, the outgassing steam keeps the cooking temperature near 100°C, which is far too low. In either case, leave them in a colander while you work on the fiddleheads.
Rinse and trim the fiddleheads. Good fiddleheads should be tightly coiled, not show too much leaf, not have any brown or black bits, and since you're going to snap off whatever you can of the straight stalk, there's no point in buying ones with really long stalks.
When the salt water comes to a boil, put the fiddleheads in and cook them until they're not quite al dente (5–6 minutes). Then throw out the water (which will be brown), and leave the fiddleheads covered in a colander, so that they'll be warm and dry when you need them.
Mix together the garlic powder, salt and flour or corn starch on a dinner plate. Take each scallop, squeeze it in paper towel (if they were wet, squeeze them firmly) to remove remaining moisture, and roll it lightly on the plate. You'll probably want to do this in three batches, so just do the first batch for now.
Heat a frying pan medium-high, and add 2 T or so of butter. When it melts, add the first batch of scallops. There should be enough butter that the scallops look like they're sitting in 1-2 mm (1/16 - 1/8 in) of it. Now comes the trickiest part. If all goes well, in a few minutes, each scallop will brown slightly around the edges, and the butter near the scallop will brown too. Flip the scallop over and you should see its bottom lightly browned. If it's dark brown, or if the bottom is crisp, it’s overcooked; cook the other side less, and don’t cook the next batch so long. Let it cook for another minute or two until the other side is browned (it won’t take as long to do the second time) and then remove from heat to a large, warm bowl. If you're not sure if it's done, you can try cutting one open, but just one. It should look like it is just on the verge of losing its translucence on the inside, and it'll lose it completely in a few minutes even when removed from the heat. You can also use the jiggle test: if you tap it with a fork in the pan and it jiggles, then it's done. If it's raw, the shock wave from the tap gets absorbed by the uncooked middle.
That was if things go well. What can go wrong? If you're getting dark brown or black bits in your butter, the heat is way too high. Fish them out if you can, and turn the heat down. If you're getting a foamy mess in the pan, you didn't drain the scallops well enough, or had the heat too low. If you have enough uncooked scallops left, you can clean the pan and start over, but otherwise you're stuck, so don't let this happen. If the scallops are rubbery, you cooked them too long. If they're squishy, you didn't cook them long enough.
Do the remaining scallops in batches, adding butter as needed as the old butter boils off. At the end, put the fiddleheads into the butter, and finish cooking them, adding about half the lemon juice to taste.
Add the fiddleheads to the scallop bowl, add fresh black pepper and more lemon juice to taste. You can try folding (mixing) the dish a little, but be careful: the more you mix it, the more you’ll lose the garlic coating off the scallops, costing you both flavour and appearance. Eat immediately.