L.A. is street taco heaven. If it has been thought of, it is probably on some street vendor’s truck or on the menu at some hole-in-the-wall. Unlike the tacos I grew up with in Arizona which had fried shells that were folded in half and stuffed with ingredients, most California tacos are constructed on corn tortillas warmed on a comal so they remain pliable. The filling is placed in the middle, and you can fold it over any way you like just as long as the end result is the food going into your mouth. Some restaurants do dip their tortillas in some fat while others keep it strictly California healthy cuisine.
I must admit, I love the tacos I grew up with. I knew how to fry the tortillas just to the point when they approached a touch of crispiness, but they remained soft and chewy at the same time. It took me a while to appreciate the comal-warmed tortillas. However, if you stick seafood in them, I’m there. I can make you tacos out of many varieties of fish, out of lobster, shrimp, crab, but I hesitated when it came to scallops. Why? Scallops can be difficult to get right. You only have about a minute on each side to create bliss or a mess. There are rules to cooking scallops. I will share the rules for making these scrumptious scallop tacos.
1. Buy scallops from a store that sells sustainable seafood.
2. Do not use the small bay scallops. To me, they have the fishiest taste that can be unpleasant. Buy large or extra large scallops and slice them once they are cooked.
3. Gently wash your scallops in cold water. This does not mean put them in a colander and run them under water. Take each scallop in your fingers and gingerly rub each side while the water is running. Place clean scallops in a bowl and set them aside.
4. The scallops must be dried. Using paper towel, carefully pat them dry. If you skip this step, they will retain too much liquid and never sear to a golden brown in the pan.
5. Do not drown them in butter. A teaspoon of butter melted in the pan is enough.
6. Do not bury their naturally sweet flavor under tons of spice. Let their true fresh taste come through.
7. Do not overcook the scallops or they will become rubbery.
Now, if you follow all of these rules, you will be amazed at how easy it is to make some truly magnificent tacos. The only hard part I find is deciding when to warm the tortillas. If you want to double the tortillas (2 per taco,) you may, but I prefer to use one tortilla. I’m a bit carb-phobic so I don’t want that extra serving of grain.
(makes 8 tacos)
1 lb. large or extra large scallops
8 organic corn tortillas (or 16 of them if you are going to double)
2 tbsp. vegenaise
2 tsp. butter (more if needed)
1 cup shredded cabbage or cole slaw mix
1/2 cup clover sprouts (or other fresh sprouts such as sunflower or broccoli)
6 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1/4 tsp mace
fire roasted red chile salsa
lime quarters to squeeze over tacos
1. As directed above, gently wash the scallops under cool water. Thoroughly and carefully pat dry.
2. Place butter in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Once the butter has melted and is warm, place the scallops in the pan but don’t crowd them. It is better to do eight at a time and cook them in batches. Ever so sparingly, sprinkle the side facing up with mace.
3. Cook the scallops on the first side for one minute. Turn them over and cook the other side for one minute. remove the scallops from the heat and place in a plate. Repeat this process until all of the scallops are cooked.
4. Slice the scallops. If you purchased medium scallops, slice them in half, while large scallops can be sliced in thirds.
5. Warm the tortillas on a comal or shallow frying pan. If there are two cooks in the kitchen, one person can warm the tortillas while the other is cooking the scallops. Keep the warmed tortillas in a basket covered with a towel, foil or in a tortilla warmer.
6. Spread the inside surface of the tortilla with a thin layer of vegenaise.
7. Arrange two to three spoonfuls of scallops in the middle of each tortilla.
8. Top with cabbage, sprouts, green onions, cilantro and salsa.
9. Squeeze fresh lime over your taco if desired. Fold as you eat, and enjoy every fresh tasting bite!
Note: Mace is the outer membrane of the nutmeg. While the flavor may be somewhat similar, to me, mace has a distinct and strong flavor. Do not substitute nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon or any other spice you might put in a pumpkin pie in this recipe. Mace has a very special way of bringing out the sweetness of the scallops, so if you don’t have it or can’t find it, skip it rather than use a replacement.