On the Sunday before Labor Day I spun my wheels thinking of that perfect summery meal to welcome the holiday. It's far too hot to stand over the grill here in Orlando, not to mention the constant impending rain storms, grilling outdoors was easily eliminated. I was pretty certain seafood would dominate the plate so I made my way to the local fish market. Giant scallops and jumbo shrimp staring me in the face...I was on my way. By now, almost everyone has seen bacon wrapped scallops or shrimp on a menu somewhere, it's a very common pairing. I wanted to use those two ingredients without being too cliche. As I thought about what I'd like to do, it dawned on me that I could make bacon breadcrumbs for which I'd use to crust the tops. I knew that encrusting only one side wouldn't over power the scallop, and I wanted the original sweetness of it to be the primary flavor. The shrimp would be grilled in some spices but the scallops still needed something more than just a pretty little salad to accompany them. It is the end of summer after all and what better vegetable to use than sweet corn! A few weeks back I made a creamed corn comprised of roasted corn and jalapeño. I loved those flavors together and thought this time I'd blend them in a polenta cake to perch my scallops. This meal was a pretty quick one to prepare so I started with what I knew would take the longest, the corn and jalapeño. First heating my oven to 425, I buttered and salted each ear of corn and wrapped it tightly in a piece of foil. Then, creating a little foil pocket, I placed two whole jalapeños drizzled with a bit of olive oil and sealed it shut. These would both lay on a baking sheet in the oven for about 40 minutes.
While my veggies are roasting I grabbed my bacon and fried up 5 slices till somewhat crisp but not too burnt. Since I planned to encrust my scallops to sear, the bacon will hit the pan once again, this is the reason for not frying too crispy initially. I allowed them to cool on a paper towel and move on to the next order of business. I pull the shrimp from the fridge and clean them well, I chose to leave the tails on, they always look so pretty on the plate with those little tails. I tossed them in a large bowl with some salt, pepper, cayenne, smoked paprika, chipotle, olive oil and three cloves of crushed garlic. Mixing well, I return to the fridge to soak it all up.
I hear my oven timer go off and pull my veggies from the heat. They look gorgeous! They've got that dark golden glow that signifies one sweet bite after another. I give them ample time to cool then begin to remove my kernels into a large bowl. The real care comes from peeling the skin of the jalapeños and scooping the seeds from the center. It's not a tough job but can be difficult since the pepper is slippery.
It's now time for the polenta. Polenta is such a great product to work with, it's highly versatile and can be used for savory or sweet. It can also be eaten firm when it's chilled or warm as a porridge. I wasn't yet ready to make the decision of the consistency so I went ahead making it and thought it would come to me as I prepared it. Filling a pot with 3 cups of water, sprinkle of salt and nub of butter, 5 minutes later it came to a boil. I then poured in about 3/4 of a cup polenta. Stirring for the next few minutes as it began to thicken. At the sight of the thickening, I poured in about a cup and a half of my corn and jalapeno mixture. Still stirring, I added some cream and another nub of butter. It's looking beautiful and has the desired consistency. At this point I could have set it aside to serve as a porridge but I realized the dish would look much prettier as a cake. I poured the contents of the pot out on to a small baking sheet and set it in the fridge to firm up. It sets up pretty quickly so as long as you have at least 30 minutes, you'll be okay.
On to the special guest of the show, the shrimp. I heated the oven to 170 so that I could keep my shrimp warm after I've cooked them and moved on to the scallops. Heating an indoor grill pan, the shrimp cook up in no time and I transfer them to my baking sheet, give a quick squeeze of lemon and set it in the oven.
I pulled my polenta from the fridge and cut a nice healthy square in anticipation for my scallops. It's a good thing to pull it a bit early so that it warms up to room temperature and won't be too chilled. I'm bummed that I don't have a photo of the bacon breadcrumbs to share, I guess in the heat of all other preparations it slipped by me. Earlier when my bacon cooled, I crumbled it up, along with some panko in a food processor and pulsed it to a nice chop. I was careful not to make it too fine, as I wanted to showcase some larger bits of the bacon. Back to the stove top, I prepared a hot pan with some melted butter and in a bowl, a few drizzles of olive oil over my scallops. The fresh jumbo scallops smell so sweet before they are even cooked, I can tell they will be outstanding. Dipping only the top portion of the scallops into the breadcrumbs, I then sear breaded side down first. Scallops, much like shrimp, cook quickly and it's really important not to over cook them to avoid toughness. As I start to see a crisped edge, I know it's time to flip for another minute before plating.
They look fantastic and the house surprisingly smells like a steakhouse. Getting hungry now, I put together a quick salad and it's dinner time!
The meal was wonderful, the polenta was both creamy and a bit smokey from the roasted vegetables. Even though the scallops were seared with the bacon breadcrumbs, the dish still felt light since it wasn't completely surrounded by an entire strip. With each bite you got the crisp, porky saltiness of the bacon and the buttery, sweetness that is pure scallop. The shrimp, and the simple seasonings had a perfect pop and that unmistakable summery grilled taste that I love. What was really so great about this meal was the fact that each component wasn't over complicated. The seasonings and ingredients used for each element perfectly highlighted the flavors and didn't mask them with an unnecessary cover up. When you cook with fresh ingredients there's no reason to overpower them with too much nonsense. Keep it simple, and the food will speak for itself.