Two Years Ago: Moroccan-Spiced Chicken with Roasted Squash
Scallops make a wonderful special-occasion seafood meal as a change from lobster, shrimp or crab, and are often less expensive. They're easy to prepare and particularly delicious when seared to a caramelized crust in a very hot pan. There are two things you need to know about scallops - bay vs sea scallops, and wet vs dry.
Bay and sea scallops taste very similar - the main difference is in size. Bay scallops are much smaller and are available fall through spring. Sea scallops can vary from medium-sized to very large and are available year-round. Your best bet for consistently good quality throughout the year is sea scallops, although bay scallops in season are also delicious. I personally prefer smaller (vs giant) sea scallops because they're easier to cook correctly without over-cooking the outside or under-cooking the inside. You never want to overcook scallops or they become tough and rubbery.
The second question is wet vs dry scallops. Wet scallops are commonly treated with phosphates as a preservative. When scallops are soaked in phosphates, they absorb water making them weigh more and thereby costing you more. (Take in mind, that you are paying for added water.) The absorbed water evaporates during cooking and, in turn, shrinks the scallops leaving them smaller, dry and somewhat tasteless. Furthermore, the added water doesn't let scallops brown properly during cooking. It's generally easy to tell if they've been treated as they will usually appear snow-white in color.
Dry scallops are all wild and natural, and haven't been treated with any chemicals. They're harvested directly from the ocean, shucked on deck, then immediately frozen on the boat to capture their quality. Dry scallops generally have a natural vanilla color and will sear to a deep golden brown color. If in doubt, ask your fishmonger if their scallops are wet or dry.
I bought 10 dry medium-sized sea scallops (approximately 2/3 pound) for $7.99 at my local Costco weekend "seafood event", and it was plenty for two people as dinner with a big salad. Scallops are sweet and rich, made more so by the butter sauce of course. Both The Lawyer and I thought they were the best scallops we've ever had. And the recipe is very fast to prepare, which makes it perfect for a special occasion or romantic dinner.
Seared Scallops with Herb-Butter Sauce
For the scallops:
2/3 pound dry medium sea scallops (“dry” means no added preservatives – ask the fishmonger if they are “dry” or “wet”)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
For the Sauce:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
2 tablespoons finely diced shallot (1 medium)
¼ dry white wine
¼ cup finely chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley and chives
¼ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lemon wedges for serving
Tip: be sure to have all ingredients prepped (chopped, measured, etc.) before beginning to sear the scallops.
Remove the tough abductor muscle from the side of each scallop (if it hasn’t been removed already). Rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
Heat a large nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the 1 Tbsp oil and 1 Tbsp butter and heat until quite hot. Pat the scallops dry once more and put them in the pan in a single, uncrowded layer with one of the flat sides down. Season with salt and pepper and let sear undisturbed until one side is browned and crisp and the scallops don’t stick to the pan, 2-3 minutes. Using tongs, turn the scallops and sear until the second side is brown and the scallops are almost firm to the touch, about 2 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, transfer the scallops to a plate, and set them in a warm spot. Let the pan cool for a minute before making the sauce.
Return the pan to medium heat. Add one piece of the butter and the shallots and sauté until the shallots begin to soften, about 1 minute. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by about half, another 1-2 minutes. Add the herbs and lemon zest. Reduce the heat to low, add the remaining butter, and whisk constantly until the butter is melted. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve the scallops with butter sauce poured on top and lemon wedges on the side.