Monday, October 21, 2013

A Fish Story: Gemelli with Spicy Scallops and Snap Peas

You might want to hide
after what I turned up...
read on...
Here’s a food writer’s dilemma for you:  Say you discovered a great recipe so full of flavor and so easy to make, you literally jumped on your MacPro and started to extoll its praises the morning after you made it.  You were taken, not just with its ease of preparation, but with the price you paid for its key ingredient.  And its pedigree impressed you:  The Chef who created the recipe had a reputation as a 2013 “Rising Star” semi-finalist for a James Beard Award and was the winner of 2013 New York Rising Stars Award.  You were unfamiliar with his restaurant but quickly discovered that the New York Times’ Pete Wells had given it 2 stars in 2012.  Then you probed a little deeper and things got very dicey.

I am one of 40,000,000 people who downloaded the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app for my I-Phone.  It’s free!  You take it along and whenever you order fish in a restaurant or go to the fishmongers, you can quickly check the status whenever you want to.
But if you stupidly leave your phone at home, it’s no help at all.  Which I had done.  I purchased my fish.  Only the next day did I go to, the web page that, like the app, helps people make educated choices about what fish to eat and what to avoid.  Their recommendations are based on both what is healthy for our oceans and for ourselves.  Since fish stocks are diminishing at an alarming rate, they rank fish as “Best Choices” and point out ones to “Avoid”. But they don’t leave you hanging:  There’s a “Good Alternatives” given too.  Much to my surprise and disappointment, the fish I used the first time I made this dish was rated “Avoid”.  They could have added “Abysmal” to the rating. It turns out that not only is this fish in short supply and overfished, the method used to catch it, bottom trawling, ‘results in high levels of accidental catch and damage to the sea floor’.  But what explains why this fish was so modestly price at one of the best fishmongers in New York?  At 9.99 a lb., it was practically tilapia-priced.  Perhaps, every other seafood-conscious New Yorker had used the Seafood watch app and caused the fish to be un-sellable.  But that was not the only thing my research turned up. 
"B"s are often hidden behind plants
but here's a creative way of
hiding one. 
Right under the link to Mr. Wells’ review of our Rising Star Chef’s restaurant was another more shocking link: the 2 star place had been shuttered by the Health Department in July because “Inspectors observed food held at dangerous temperatures, contaminated food and food ready for consumption touched with bare hands” the department said in an email” reported the Times.  The restaurant’s owners blamed the July heat and said their walk-in refrigerator struggled to maintain a constant temperature.  I might cut the guy some slack but I read on.  The reason the inspectors were there in the first place was because the restaurant had received a “B” grade and 23 violation points when it was last inspected in January.  Now we’re not talking about the cringe-worthy Chinese Take-Out place around the corner from us where the “B” is no surprise.  This is somewhere where the cheapest bowl of pasta is $18. And where Zagat’s gives the average cost of a meal with a drink and the tip is $59.  I felt ripped off even though I’d never even been to the place.  But then there was the recipe…

Here was a bowl of pasta, using the corkscrew shaped Gemelli that was topped with an unconventional sauce. The heat of habanero chilies was tempered with a little garlic, a splash of vinegar and tiny bit of sugar.  The fish cooked in olive oil and lemon for just minutes. Crisp snow peas and some butter were added the last three minutes.  It was ambrosia in a bowl.  What was a fellow to do? Back to the Monterey Bay Seafood watch.  The “Alternative” to the fish I used was the scallop; and scallops are a “Best Choice”.  Farmed, they’re raised with minimal environmental impact.  And wild caught scallops also make the list because they’re filter feeders that live on tiny particles filtered out of the waters they live in.  They actually improve water quality and clarity.  So back to the kitchen I went and made the dish I am sharing with you today.  What was the fish that caused the entire ruckus?  Skate.  That strange sea world creature that’s as docile as it is frightening to look at.  Look, but don’t eat skate, please.  And as to that 2 stars “B” rated restaurant?  If you’re dying to know, email me at and I’ll tell you.  I just want to cut its Rising Star Chef a break for giving me the bare bones of a dish this good.  Here’s the recipe:

Recipe for Gemelle with Spicy Scallops and Snap Peas
Serves 4. Takes 30 minutes to make.
1 teaspoon seeded and minced habanero chile
1 teaspoon Champagne vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 pound sea scallops cut in half or 1 lb of bay scallops
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound Gemelli pasta
1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 pound sugar snap peas, thinly sliced crosswise
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes

In a small bowl, combine the habanero, vinegar and sugar. 

In a medium bowl, toss the scallops with 1/4 cup of the olive oil and the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

In a large saucepan of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, add the habanero, garlic and remaining 2 tablespoons of oil; warm over moderate heat until fragrant, 2 minutes. Spread the scallops in the skillet and cook over moderate heat, without stirring, until nearly white, 4 minutes. Gently fold in the sugar snap peas, butter and 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water and cook until the peas are crisp-tender, 3 minutes. 
Fold in the pasta until it is coated; add more pasta cooking water if the pasta seems dry. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the pasta to bowls, drizzle with olive oil and serve.