Scallops with creamy oven-baked polenta and mushrooms
This combination of creamy (and incredibly easy) polenta with rich, salty scallops is absolutely magical. When I made this the first time, I topped with a tangy mushroom sauce, but I encourage you to experiment – top with a cream sauce or with crispy bacon pieces and bacon fat, a simple tomato sauce, or anything else your little heart desires. The winning element is the combination of the scallops and the polenta.
One pound Downeast Dayboat scallops
1-2 tablespoons olive oil, butter or coconut oil for searing
Creamy oven-baked polenta
Order of operations: start the polenta, cook the scallops 10 minutes after you put the polenta in the oven, set scallops aside and tent with foil to keep warm, make mushroom sauce (in the pan you cooked the scallops in). When polenta is ready, put scallops back in mushroom sauce, heat through and pour over polenta.
Pan-sear the scallops
Remove the sweetmeat (the small “toenail” attached to most scallops) and discard or save for making stock. Pat scallops dry with kitchen towel or paper towel. Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, add oil or butter, swirling to coat the pan. Place scallops in pan, working in batches if necessary so there is at least ½ inch space between each scallop and its neighbor.
2 tablespoons butter, coconut oil or olive oil
12-16 ounces sliced mushrooms of any sort*
One half of a small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
a splash of white wine
12 ounces (give or take) chicken or vegetable stock
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 to 2 teaspoons cornstarch
lemon wedges, if desired for garnish
Melt butter or oil in the (previously used) pan over medium high heat. Add mushrooms and onion and sauté for 10 minutes or until mushrooms have started to brown and onions are translucent, stirring as needed. Add more oil or butter if needed to prevent burning. Add garlic and cook 2 more minutes, stirring to keep garlic from burning. Deglaze with a splash of white wine, stirring well to incorporate any browned bits into the sauce. Increase heat to high and add stock. Cook until it has reduced by about half. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add scallops. If you like thin sauce you can use it just like this, but I thickened by making a paste with one and a half teaspoons cornstarch and a little water and mixing it into the sauce, then cooking until the consistency was to my liking. Garnish with lemon wedges.
*I used a mix of shitake, oyster and crimini but plain white buttons would be just fine.
Creamy oven-baked polenta
1 tbs olive oil or butter for greasing the pan
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 quart chicken stock, augmented with 2 teaspoons chicken-flavored Better than Bouillon*
1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
a few grinds of black pepper
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
2-3 ounces cheddar cheese (may substitute Parmesan)
*Note: I use homemade chicken stock augmented with 2 teaspoons chicken flavored “Better than Bouillon” to amp up the flavor. If you don’t want to use bouillon paste, be sure to increase salt to 1 full teaspoon, and if you must use bouillon cubes (I really recommend you don’t), then you may want to skip the salt entirely.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease a medium casserole dish (you can use a cake pan if you prefer) with olive oil or butter. Set aside.
Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and salt and cook until the onions start to become translucent, approximately 5 to 6 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, and sauté for a minute or two, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t burn.
Turn the heat to high, add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Once boiling, gradually add the cornmeal, whisking continuously. Turn heat to low and cook one minute, still whisking continuously. Pour the polenta into the greased pan or dish, cover with aluminum foil or a tight-fitting lid and place in the oven.
Cook for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so to prevent lumps. Once the mixture is creamy, remove from the oven and stir in the pepper, nutmeg and more salt if needed (you’ll have to taste it to see). Mix in the cheddar cheese. If you want you can also add 2 to 3 tablespoons of butter, but I don’t think that’s necessary.