I couldn’t do it.
Who in their right mind bakes a scallop?
If you look around at recipes, y’know, scour the internet, as it were, you will find dozens, nay, hundreds of baked scallops recipes. These recipes all seem to be a variation on a theme: drown the poor hapless scallops, possibly breaded with some cheap butter crackers or cornflakes, in a heavy buttery/creamy sauce and then bake the hell out of them until they’re rubber tire tough and flavourless. Possible exception: Coquilles St. Jacques. But really, so easy to screw up (read: overcook the scallops) and ultimately over-rated.
To all of which I say a big, fat *MEH*. That’s right. *MEH*.
Scallops are tender, delicate, sweet, precious. It is so easy to overwhelm them and even easier to overcook them. As far as I am concerned, the only way to cook a scallop is to sear it. It’s fast, easy and preserves the sweetness and texture of the scallop. End of story. Don’t mess with a good thing I say!
This is how you do it:
1. Try to buy dry scallops. They haven’t been soaked in a preservative solution (sodium tripolyphosphate, or STP) and therefore aren’t packing a load of extra water that keeps them from caramelizing when you sear them. Unfortunately, they can be pretty tough to find as most places sell the STP preserved kind. If you can only get STP scallops (you will be able to tell because they are very white and opaque looking even when raw), rinse them well and pat them dry before seasoning them. They won’t brown up as nicely as dry scallops, but you can fake it by turning the heat up a little extra.
2. Season the scallops. I like to use a tiny bit of olive oil, kosher or sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper.
3. Heat equal amounts butter and olive oil (1 – 3 tbsp. depending on # of scallops) at the high side of medium-high in a frying pan. I actually prefer a regular, heavy-bottomed pan, not a non-stick pan (but you have to make sure you use enough grease!). When butter is melted and sizzling, add scallops. Cook for 1 – 1 1/2 minutes, turn over and cook on other side for 1 – 1 1/2 minutes (time depends on size of scallops). Watch the sides. You will see the colour start to become more opaque from the bottom up. The middle of the scallop should still be translucent. DON’T OVERCOOK YOUR SCALLOPS! Trust me. Better to undercook (especially at this point) then to overcook.
4. Remove scallops from pan and set aside on a plate. Reduce heat to medium and make a sauce with the browned bits. My latest favorite is: deglaze pan with a good douse of vodka, squirt in a little fresh lemon juice, toss in a smidgen of fresh tarragon, reduce, add cream (or monter au beurre), reduce some more.
6. Eat ’em on their own, or serve ’em on something else – like a fresh pasta like we had for Dea’s birthday last week. Eva made a brown butter, sage and olive paste sauce. I made my lemon vodka seared scallops (without tarragon). We served the scallops on a bed of baby bok choi on the pasta. Delish! Happy Birthday Dea 🙂