As of late, one of my greatest joys is cooking dinner at Finn’s. This is, I promise, only in part because his kitchen is much snazzier than mine – though I do so enjoy wiggling my fingers under his automatic soap dispenser.
Finn works late, which is just fine by me, because I like to eat late. And though our new relationship is anything but routine, we have worked out a nice little course of events. At exactly 8:30 on the dot, I press his call button. “Hello?” his voice comes through the speaker.
“Hel-lo!” I say, smiling and striking a small sort of pose, as if he can see me. He can’t, though, because he’s pressing the buzzer that lets me into his building. I ride the elevator three flights up, knocking a reusable grocery bag against my knees and chewing the inside of my cheek. When I reach the third floor, the elevator spills me out directly in front of his door. I push on the doorknob – he’s left it open for me – and peek my head in. The windows have been thrust up and the double doors leading to his roof deck are marvelously wide open as well. There is a bit of late evening light left, and the breeze feels extraordinary.
He’s usually doing a lap around the loft, fixing this and arranging that, apologizing for it being messy (it isn’t), for the big paddle fans being inadequate (they aren’t), for him being sweaty (he is, but I like it). I stand on my toes and kiss him; sometimes I’ll set my groceries down and sometimes I won’t, wrapping them around him as my hands meet at his neck. He kisses back, and then I bound off to the island where I begin taking out his knives, his pans, his paper towels and bowls.
I like cooking for Finn because everything we eat together is a first-time adventure. I don’t always hit the mark, but he is always honest, and that is even better than lavish compliments.
The other day, I brought a handful of fat, pinkish scallops to dinner. I’d noticed that, on two recent occasions out, he’d ordered scallops. I’m a girl who pays mind to that sort of thing, so while at the grocery store, I’d quickly snapped them up and made plans to sear them for supper.
I rooted around in his pantry, searching for an oil with a high smoke point – canola, vegetable, even peanut’d do – but all I came up with were bottles of extra virgin and walnut oil. I could have clarified some butter – it’d tolerate the heat better without its milk solids – but I was hungry. And besides, I wanted to move dinner along faster so we could get to dessert. “This won’t do!” I muttered to myself, but I put on a pretty face and promised him that it wasn’t a problem at all. Of course I could sear the scallops in olive oil. It would be fine.
It was, really. The oil did get a bit too hot and smoky, and although I could taste a slightly nutty-edging-on-burnt tang to the scallops, he promised me they were cooked well. I thought nothing more of it and certainly assumed the matter was forgotten by him as well.
A few nights later, as I picked at the last of my arugula, grapefruit and avocado salad, Finn put both hands on my knees and grinned. “Did you see the present I left you in the pantry!?”
My eyebrows shot up. A present! “No! I haven’t!” I reached over and put my hands on his thighs. “What is it?”
“It is …” he paused for dramatics. “A big ol’ bottle of canola oil,” he said with a satisfied smirk.
“Ha-ha!” I laughed a real, genuine belly laugh. “I love it.” I rubbed my palms over his jeans and thought about how lucky I felt. For the first time, I wasn’t the only one with a good memory and knack for thoughtful, unexpected gifts. And that discovery was the best surprise of all.
Perfectly Seared Scallops for Two
- 6 plump scallops
- 1/4 cup pan-searing flour
- Kosher salt
- Fresh black pepper
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 sprig fresh lemon thyme, picked
Really pat the scallops dry; they should be devoid of any moisture. If you have time, placing them on a paper towel in the refrigerator for a half-hour will help things immensely. Season them well – on all sides – with the salt and pepper.
Place the pan-searing flour on a small plate and spread it out. Some people may accuse me of cheating by using flour, but I love how crisp and crusty the scallops get with a thin layer of flour. If you don’t have pan-searing flour, that’s all right. Simply sift some all-purpose flour onto a plate and proceed. Pan-searing flour is really, at the heart of the matter, just ultra-fine flour. Anyway, coat the scallops in the flour and shake off any excess. You want no more than a light sheen.
Heat a frying pan (I do not recommend non-stick for this; it never seems to do the job well) over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat until it just begins to smoke faintly. Add the scallops. Leave them be for a minute or two; a golden crust will form if you aren’t impatient. Once they’re able to be wiggled loose from the pan, flip them over and cook just a minute more. If they aren’t yet cooked through (the middle will look opaque if they are), flip them on their sides and finish cooking that way. Remove from the pan and divide among two plates. Place a leaf of lemon thyme atop each scallop for a sunny, bright burst. Serve with salad or, if you’re lucky enough to have a Finn who cooks steak well, a nicely grilled New York strip.