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A Fish Story: Gemelli with Spicy Scallops and Snap Peas

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You might want to hide
after what I turned up…
read on…

Here’s a food writer’s dilemma for you:  Say you discovered a great recipe so full of flavor and so easy to make, you literally jumped on your MacPro and started to extoll its praises the morning after you made it.  You were taken, not just with its ease of preparation, but with the price you paid for its key ingredient.  And its pedigree impressed you:  The Chef who created the recipe had a reputation as a 2013 “Rising Star” semi-finalist for a James Beard Award and was the winner of StarChefs.com 2013 New York Rising Stars Award.  You were unfamiliar with his restaurant but quickly discovered that the New York Times’ Pete Wells had given it 2 stars in 2012.  Then you probed a little deeper and things got very dicey.


I am one of 40,000,000 people who downloaded the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app for my I-Phone.  It’s free!  You take it along and whenever you order fish in a restaurant or go to the fishmongers, you can quickly check the status whenever you want to.
But if you stupidly leave your phone at home, it’s no help at all.  Which I had done.  I purchased my fish.  Only the next day did I go to https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx, the web page that, like the app, helps people make educated choices about what fish to eat and what to avoid.  Their recommendations are based on both what is healthy for our oceans and for ourselves.  Since fish stocks are diminishing at an alarming rate, they rank fish as “Best Choices” and point out ones to “Avoid”. But they don’t leave you hanging:  There’s a “Good Alternatives” given too.  Much to my surprise and disappointment, the fish I used the first time I made this dish was rated “Avoid”.  They could have added “Abysmal” to the rating. It turns out that not only is this fish in short supply and overfished, the method used to catch it, bottom trawling, ‘results in high levels of accidental catch and damage to the sea floor’.  But what explains why this fish was so modestly price at one of the best fishmongers in New York?  At 9.99 a lb., it was practically tilapia-priced.  Perhaps, every other seafood-conscious New Yorker had used the Seafood watch app and caused the fish to be un-sellable.  But that was not the only thing my research turned up. 

“B”s are often hidden behind plants
but here’s a creative way of
hiding one.

Right under the link to Mr. Wells’ review of our Rising Star Chef’s restaurant was another more shocking link: the 2 star place had been shuttered by the Health Department in July because “Inspectors observed food held at dangerous temperatures, contaminated food and food ready for consumption touched with bare hands” the department said in an email” reported the Times.  The restaurant’s owners blamed the July heat and said their walk-in refrigerator struggled to maintain a constant temperature.  I might cut the guy some slack but I read on.  The reason the inspectors were there in the first place was because the restaurant had received a “B” grade and 23 violation points when it was last inspected in January.  Now we’re not talking about the cringe-worthy Chinese Take-Out place around the corner from us where the “B” is no surprise.  This is somewhere where the cheapest bowl of pasta is $18. And where Zagat’s gives the average cost of a meal with a drink and the tip is $59.  I felt ripped off even though I’d never even been to the place.  But then there was the recipe…       

Here was a bowl of pasta, using the corkscrew shaped Gemelli that was topped with an unconventional sauce. The heat of habanero chilies was tempered with a little garlic, a splash of vinegar and tiny bit of sugar.  The fish cooked in olive oil and lemon for just minutes. Crisp snow peas and some butter were added the last three minutes.  It was ambrosia in a bowl.  What was a fellow to do? Back to the Monterey Bay Seafood watch.  The “Alternative” to the fish I used was the scallop; and scallops are a “Best Choice”.  Farmed, they’re raised with minimal environmental impact.  And wild caught scallops also make the list because they’re filter feeders that live on tiny particles filtered out of the waters they live in.  They actually improve water quality and clarity.  So back to the kitchen I went and made the dish I am sharing with you today.  What was the fish that caused the entire ruckus?  Skate.  That strange sea world creature that’s as docile as it is frightening to look at.  Look, but don’t eat skate, please.  And as to that 2 stars “B” rated restaurant?  If you’re dying to know, email me at [email protected] and I’ll tell you.  I just want to cut its Rising Star Chef a break for giving me the bare bones of a dish this good.  Here’s the recipe:

11 thoughts on “A Fish Story: Gemelli with Spicy Scallops and Snap Peas”

  • What a story Monte. I am one of 40,000,000 people who does not have an iPhone, hence, no apps for me. I hear that app is fantabulous! The website is pretty darn good too. I do have a MacAir though. Is there an app for that:)

    I have always been very leery of Skate. I once heard that some fish mongers use Skate as a "substitute" for scallops. I don't know how true it is or where I heard it but ever since, I've avoided it and scallops unless I am positive of its "provenance."

    Living in central PA is quite challenging when it comes to seafood of most kinds. Unlike when I lived on the east end of Long Island where I knew my fish monger "up close and personal" so to speak.

    I do like this dish though and as you say, the resource, the mysterious Chef, comes highly recommended. It's disappointing to learn that a top rated restaurant in NYC can have such low standards. It's simply unacceptable.

    I'm going to save this recipe just in case. Hey, you just never know when you will get your hands on some tasty fresh scallops. (I hold on to that thought knowing a local small town airport flies in fresh lobster from Maine:)

    Thank you so much for sharing, Monte. You have a tasty blog and I will be back! Louise

    P.S. I'm adding your link to my sidebar so I have a tasty reminder to return:) Also pinning this recipe for others to enjoy…

  • Dear Louise, Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful reply. I am wondering…do you have a Trader Joe's near you? They sell "previously frozen' scallops that won't break the bank. I was not a fan of frozen anything until I took a food handling course this summer and freezing has a very positive effect on the safety of any fish you buy. Where did you live on the East End? You do know that I am in Bridgehampton much of the time! All best and again, thank you for taking the time to write–it means so much to me to know that my writing is appreciated. Monte.

  • I do have a Trader Joe's thank heaven! I've seen the frozen fish selection they offer but I've hesitated to buy any. Some of the choices look so inviting, I'd love to feel fairly safe buying it.

    When I lived on Long Island, I lived in Westhampton. My favorite local fish store was Cor-J in Westhampton Beach. I must admit Monte, I do miss New York food, immensely! (especially the seafood:) I moved permanently to PA five years ago after taking a buy out that Newsday offered:) PA is a beautiful state but central PA is lacking in good food, big time! Traveling to State College, which is about 30 miles away, is just not like taking a trip to Gossman's Dock for fresh seafood but when I'm really looking for more than boiled sauerkraut and pork, I make the trip.

    I really do enjoy reading your blog, Monte. I'm actually surprised I haven't stumbled upon it before. You're in my sidebar now so I will be back to visit. Thank you for sharing your experience and of course this recipe. I'll be going to Trader Joe's ASAP. (that store and Wegman's are my salvation:) Louise

  • Dear Louise, anyone lucky enough to live near both a Wegman's and a Trader Joe's will never go hungry and they have some fantastic food. I don't buy prepared food at all anywhere but TJs vegetables, the bag o salads, the spices, the stocks, the dairy is all terrific and the prices are hard to beat. Have you ever bought the frozen Almond Croissants or Pain au Chocolat there? I cannot beat them at any bakery. So happy you found your way here Louise and welcome back anytime you'd like! Monte

  • Both Wegman's and Trader Joe's are more than 45 minutes away. It seems a long way when you're use to going down to the neighborhood deli in a flash, lol…(no delis here) We do have a milk store that sells farm fresh milk in bottles though. I'm making yogurt "as we speak." Love the Pain au Chocolat. Haven't tried the Croissants yet. Hooked on the Chimichurri rice too. (actually I like many of the frozen rice medleys)

  • That's what we call "Up Island" on Long Island! The milk is a big plus! And I bet you have a freezer the size of Detroit. Well I am shutting down for the night. It's been fun talking to you! All best Monte

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