Scallops are divine, don’t you think? Sea scallops are these perfect orbs, rich and tasty, velvety on the tongue and Oh! so easy. I’m seriously not kidding when I tell you they cook in under 5 minutes. A searing hot skillet, a small smackerel of butter and in 5 minutes you can be sitting down to a terrific dinner. Pictured above are sea scallops; bay scallops are smaller, but these babies about 10 per pound. You want “dry” scallops. Scallops are very delicate and when they are caught at sea, sometimes they are soaked in a solution that prolongs the shelf life. If you see the scallops floating a milky looking liquid…take a pass on those. You will never be able to get that nice brown sear on the outside. Dry scallops are reasonably easy to purchase these days. Fresh scallops should have a moist look to them. Choose the largest ones possible and try to have them all the same size so they will cook evenly.
Next, you need to clean them. Many times there is a small flap on the side of the scallop; this is where the scallop was attached to the shell. This needs to be removed, as it can be very tough and chewy. Stupidly, I didn’t take a picture of this process, as I was caught up in the moment, but you will be able to see it, or simply ask the fish monger how to clean the scallops. Either slice it off with a small paring knife; I simply pull it off with my fingers.
Now, the skillet. I use cast iron and heat it over medium-high heat for at least 2 minutes. While it heats, I very lightly sprinkled South Shore Seasoning blend from, you guessed it, The Spice Mill. This is similar to Old Bay, but I like it much better. It’s much less salty and the flavors are more finessed. It’s important to not over-power the scallops, as they are so delicate and you want to enhance their flavor, not obliterate it.
Now, add a tablespoon of vegetable oil and 2 tablespoons of butter to the hot skillet. The butter will sizzle and begin to brown. This is a good thing. Swirl the skillet and quickly pop the scallops in a single layer, but try to keep some space between them; this helps them brown better. Now, DON’T move them for 1 minute. Then, I use a tongs, turn them over and again, DON’T move them for about 2 minutes. That’s it…they will be done. They will be slightly browned, plumped up, hot and meltingly tender. They will have a velvety quality when you bite into them, simply melting on your tongue. This is date food. This is “I love you” food. This is delicious-beyond-belief-food. This is sexy food and totally orgasmic!
Serve them immediately, so timing is essential here, if you want this to be a perfect meal. In order to achieve this, everything else must be ready to serve when the scallops hit the skillet.
In this case, I served them with pasta bathed in a maple-cream sauce (a simple béchamel with some Grade B maple syrup and dollop of Dijon mustard) with some peas and bacon with the blanched green beans on the side (they had been reheated in some olive oil with red pepper flakes added).
This is what a perfectly cooked scallop looks like on the inside. It opaque and shiny. The very, very center almost looks a bit uncooked. That’s a perfect scallop and I had this meal on the table from start to finish in under 30 minutes. Boiling the water for the pasta was the most time consuming part of this meal.
And that’s dinner!