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Fiddling Around with Mac n Cheese

It is almost fiddlehead season. Serve them with whole farmed sea scallops you have a quintessentially Maine love letter of a dish.

You see preparation of the popular Okinawa street food they are calling scallop cheese sashimi. It’s not a big step from there to scallop mac n cheese. For each person served, figure 2 or 3 medium to large size farmed scallops. You will also want your pasta of choice, a small macaroni type. Tricolor penne rigate work well.

Just everyone has their own ideas about what belongs on pizza, so with cheese sauce. Pick your favorite easy-melting cheeses for the sauce. Consider smoked Gouda, a cheddar and Gruyere mix, or Parmesan. You may also be able to find the Blend, Monterey Jack with Fontina and Red Rind Muenster, the flavor of which goes well with the scallops. Slivers of Manchego make a nice garnish. If you like buttered crumbs on your Mac N’ Cheese, toast them in a frying pan and set them aside.

Cook the pasta just until tender, coat it lightly with olive oil and set aside. Make your cheese sauce and set it aside. In the Japanese video you will see the chef warming the flour for the sauce and then putting the butter in to melt. Clever. You want to coat the starch molecules with the fat so the sauce is less likely to lump. For each cup of milk or Half & Half, use 2 Tablespoons of flour and 2 Tablespoon of butter. Add the grated cheeses of choice, perhaps a cup of cheese for each cup of your milk/ Half & Half. A dollop of sherry is a nice touch

Now here is novel trick for this elegant recipe. Instead of steam shucking the live scallops, put your scallops— curved side down— on a broiler pan in the oven under the broiler for just long enough for the scallops to gape wide open. Turn the oven down to 250˚. Remove the scallops from the oven to cool a bit so you can handle them. Lay out a bowl to catch the brine when you are picking up each scallop to cut the meats free.

Remove and discard the black digestive gland. You will notice that the attachment on one side has more organs than the other. You want to slide your scissor in on the side with less “equipment” and lift the sac up and away. It is very tender and will likely disintegrate a bit. Fear not; you can rinse off these adductors. This dish is all about pretty.

Remove the mantle ribbons and save them along with everything but the adductors. Your scallops will likely have white (male) or red (female) roe. Set those aside with all the other parts you are not using in this dish- that is, almost everything that is not black. In your oven-proof dish or scallop shell, layer the cooked pasta and then the warm cheese sauce. The shells from the farmed scallops make containers appropriately sized for a small serving with room for an adductor or two. Top with buttered crumbs, nestling the prized adductors on top. In the Okinawa video you can see the chef carefully slicing the adductors. It works very well to slice your adductors almost all the way through, enough so your diners can eat separate bites but enough left to hold each scallop all together in the final baking.

Brush a tiny slick of melted butter on each of the scallop adductors just so they do not dry out in the heating. (You can see that this dish is all about subtlety, not upstaging the scallop flavor.) Put these creations back in the 250˚ oven for just long enough to see that the adductors look white rather than translucent, perhaps three minutes. At this point you are just warming the completed dish. If you need to, reheat the cheese sauce and cooked pasta but this dish is actually nice at room temperature. In any case, be careful not to overcook the scallop or you will lose the silky sweetness which makes these adductors so special.

Serve with your already-cooked fiddleheads, a glass of sparkling wine, and some decadent dessert, and there you have it. Happy Earth Day, Happy Mother's Day, happy Spring!

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