When winter starts to turn, spring changes my kitchen. Asparagus slithers in, artichokes make a big entrance. Strawberries begin to take the place of oranges and, most importantly, I start serving practically everything on a bed of greens. Lamb chops, pork, canned tuna, even steak. Peppery, spicy arugula is my green of choice, but butter lettuce, spinach, young kale, and even a mesclun mix can find its way to the bottom of my plate. I almost feel sorry for it—always underneath the protein, like the overweight girl on the cheerleading team, having to lift up the stupid thin, blonde ones, with their bird legs and super-cute boyfriends and well-managed ponytai—not that I have any personal experience or anything…
But unpleasant high school memories aside, I’d like to give the bed of spring greens its due. They are, for me, the best part of the meal. Greens make the perfect bed for protein—they can be dressed with a pungent dressing, too strong for a salad, because the protein’s fat and juices will even everything out. I like that it gives me a chance to wield heavy amounts of mustard, or use a tart balsamic vinegar with nothing else—I’m not sure why, but I like that.
This meal uses both mustard and balsamic, and they both—spicy and tart—compliment sweet scallops like nothing else. Scallops need a bit of muscle in the way of flavor, in my opinion, because their sea-scented sweetness, while great on their own or with cream, can become too much without any contrast. And as delicate as they look, a scallop’s flavor can stand up to the strongest mustard sauce.
But I’m inclined to say, all would be nothing if not for the arugula. Its peppery flavor is almost as strong as the mustard and vinegar it’s dressed with but it adds a new dimension—vegetal, fresh, biting greenness underneath it all. Kind of like spring, and the green grass that has been seemingly right under the snow and dirt all winter, that is just now peeping into the world, gearing up for the season.
Scallops with Mustard Sauce and Balsamic, on a bed of Arugula
- 4-6 cups arugula
- drizzling of balsamic vinegar
- 6 dry sea scallops, abductor muscle removed
- salt, pepper
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- a small handful of sliced scallions, optional
Arrange arugula on a serving platter and drizzle balsamic vinegar over leaves, without mixing and dressing them. Get a nonstick pan very hot, adding a bit of olive oil. Once the oil starts to sputter, place the scallops onto the pan. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until they are browned, then flip so that you can brown the other side, another 2-3 minutes. Remove scallops, arranging them on top of the arugula.
Add shallot to the pan. Stir to heat them and then add the white wine. Let the wine reduce by half, then turn off the heat and add the water and mustard. Reduce a little bit more, so the sauce begins to thicken, then add the butter piece by piece, whisking or swirling the pan so that it eases into the mustard and creates a thick, creamy sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over scallops and arugula, mixing everything together to get the sauce and balsamic to lightly coat everything. Sprinkle with scallions. Serve.
*Arugula can be arranged on platter and drizzled with balsamic a few hours a head of time.