One of my most memorable scallop-eating experiences took place at 4,000 feet, in the grand dining room of Yosemite National Park's Ahwahnee Hotel.
Marian Morash, former assistant to Julia Child and celebrity chef of the long-running PBS series "Victory Garden," was the guest chef and had created an extraordinary meal. Course after delectable course had passed before us.
Then the scallop course arrived. The fresh, little mollusks had been plucked from Massachusetts' Nantucket Bay as the sun rose over the Atlantic, air-freighted cross-country and set before us a mere eight hours later, Pacific Standard Time.
There were, perhaps, two dozen 1/2-inch morsels, lightly coated in a delicate wine sauce, flecked sparingly with fresh dill. The flavor, texture, EVERYTHING was exquisite. I set out to savor the dish slowly, getting to know each perfect, little scallop up-close and personal.
Ever since, I've appreciated a well-made scallop dish. That means, of course, starting with great scallops. At the market, you'll find two choices. The large sea scallops, caught miles out at sea, are available year-round. Tiny bay scallops that live in shallow, coastal waters are at their prime in winter months (but, of course, they're available all the time in their frozen state).
When scallops are fresh and untreated with any preservatives, they brown nicely when sauteed and have an almost sugary flavor. As they age, that sweet flavor diminishes as does the browning aspect. Because it has become a common practice to soak shucked scallops in a water/tripolyphosphate solution, which can undermine the cooking and eating quality of scallops, it's not a bad idea to ask at the time of purchase if the scallops are preservative-free.
If you can't get your hands on truly fresh-out-of-the-bay bay scallops, and fresh-out-of-the-sea sea scallops, then your next-best option is to buy them while they're still frozen. That way, you'll be guaranteed of better quality.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.