C.J. Jacobson of Ema Credit: Julia Thiel

YouTube video

When Brent Balika (Margeaux Brasserie) challenged C.J. Jacobson of Ema to create a dish with dried scallops, Jacobson knew what he wanted to make. First, though, he had to get his hands on the scallops (also called conpoy). “It’s been a journey,” he says. “H-Mart didn’t have them, so I had to go to Chinatown, and finally I called Brent.” As it turns out, Balika dries his own scallops in-house and offered to drop some off for Jacobson. “Who just has dried scallops on hand that they do themselves?,” Jacobson asks. “He does. I don’t know why. I don’t think it’s on the menu at Margeaux.”

Jacobson says the flavor of the dried scallops is “superdank, musty umami . . . very caramelly seafood flavor. It’s really cool, adds a lot of flavor.” Traditionally, dried scallops are used in XO sauce, a spicy seafood sauce popular in China that also includes dried shrimp, garlic, ginger, chiles, and spices. Because Ema is a Mediterranean restaurant, Jacobson added tomatoes and herbs to his sauce to give it a Mediterranean flair.

After rehydrating the dried scallops and some dried shrimp, Jacobson pulsed them in a food processor with Fresno chile, ginger, garlic, shallot, green garlic, basil, and oregano until the mixture was roughly chopped, then panfried it in oil for about 15 minutes to caramelize it. He added white wine, fish sauce, and tomatoes and simmered the sauce over low heat until the tomatoes were broken down. “I’m not going to strain this,” he said. “I like how crunchy it is; I like that there’s shrimp faces in here.”

Jacobson used the sauce, together with lime juice and olive oil, to dress a simple salad of celery and chrysanthemum. For extra brightness and spice, he also added some lemon kosho (like yuzu kosho but with different fruit), which he made by fermenting lemon rind and jalapeño with salt for about two weeks. Finally, he microplaned a little bit of dried scallop over the top of the salad. “Kind of like scallop two ways, but not enough to really say anything stupid like that,” he says.

Tasting it, Jacobson commented, “It’s great and vibrant, has that umami I wanted, but hazelnuts would make it so much better. Shit.”

Shaved celery salad with dried scallop
Shaved celery salad with dried scallopCredit: Julia Thiel

Who’s next:
Jacobson has challenged Jimmy Papadopoulos of Bellemore to create a dish with argan oil, a Moroccan oil that’s extracted from the kernels of the argan tree.

Shaved celery salad with dried scallop

1 cup shaved celery
14 chrysanthemum leaves
2 T hazelnuts (roasted and smashed)

Mediterranean “XO” Sauce
3 dried scallops (hydrated in hot water for 2 hours)
1 cup dried shrimp (hydrated in hot water for 2 hours)
5 cloves garlic
1 Fresno chile (sliced)
2 T ginger (sliced)
1 radish (sliced)
8 green onions (sliced)
½ cup white wine
2 T fish sauce
Leaves from one sprig of basil
Leaves from one sprig of oregano
5 tomatoes (quartered)
Lemon juice to taste
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
1 cup olive oil

¼ cup lime juice
Zest of one lime     
1 T olive oil
2 T “XO” Sauce

1. Place the strained scallops and shrimp in a food processor.
2. Add ginger, garlic, herbs, onion, and radish, and process until a chunky paste forms. (It’s important to regularly scrape down the sides of the processor to incorporate all the ingredients uniformly.)
3. Saute the mixture with the olive oil until well caramelized, about 15 minutes.
4. Add the white wine and cook au sec (until almost dry).
5. Add fish sauce, tomatoes, and about a cup of water.
6. Simmer until the tomatoes are broken down and a thick red sauce forms.
7. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice, then chill.
8. Make the vinaigrette by whisking all ingredients together and adding salt to taste.

To plate:
Place the salad ingredients in medium mixing bowl. Drizzle in the vinaigrette vigorously. Place in a bowl and using a microplane, grate a little dried scallop over the top.