Elegant, refined, slightly sweet and ever so versatile. Scallops are most certainly among my all time favourites. I distinctly remember the first time I had ever tried a scallop- which was many, many years ago. I'd like to think, too many years ago actually. Interestingly enough, I recall it was during the same time period when I also first tasted mussels. At the time, the mere sight of both items - I shall admit, at that young tender age of mine- kind of grossed me out. As much as I grew up with a healthy exposure to various types of foods, as much as there was something that was offsetting about scallops and mussels. "Try some, it's deliciooouuus!" my mother would tell me in her adorable accent. "You don't know what you're missing out on (of course, I was always missing out on "something"), try one at least!". How could I say no to my darling mom- everything she had ever cooked was always superb. What else explains my love for food and wanting to spend endless hours in the kitchen? And so my friends, what started off as a "bite" turned out being several bites which in turn unraveled into a perpetual obsession with scallops. She was right, they are not only deliciooouuus- they are succulent! I spent the rest of my day like a fool with a grin on my face, as I gladly welcomed this new tasty discovery of scallops into my life.
Today, I especially appreciate them pan seared, in just a few minutes and with just a few ingredients to dress them up but never overwhelmingly- you still have to be able to savour and capture the essence of a scallop in your dish. I'm particularly fond of coupling them with citrus type fruits and some je-ne-sais quoi ingredient, like saffron, ginger or a dash of alcohol.
The real challenge however is to cook them to perfection. The last thing you want is biting into a rubbery, chewy texture. So whatever recipe you stick with, the key issue is to really aim for pan-searing excellence. Practice makes perfect, and I'm more then happy to share what I've learned throughout the years in my recipe below for Orange-Vermouth Seared Scallops.
Here's a first tip: melt both butter and oil in your pan for searing. The addition of butter helps to prevent any burning from happening- apparently. At least it's always worked with me.
Melting butter for the orange-vermouth sauce
Chopped scallions & orange zest
Drizzle over the scallops. Grab a glass of white wine. Enjoy.
Recipe for Orange & Vermouth Seared Scallops
Adapted from Food & Wine with some additional notes and minor changes
Makes 4 servings
2 pounds (900 grams) scallops
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 tablespoon butter
Salt & Pepper
3 tablespoons butter
2 scallions, including green tops, finely chopped
1/4 cup dry vermouth
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice- passed through a sieve
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
Squeeze of lemon juice
Soak the scallops in a bowl of cold water with a squeeze of lemon juice for 5-10 minutes.
Remove, pat dry with a paper towel, season with salt and set aside. It is critical to pat them dry as any remaining water will "splash" onto the pan and leave burn marks.
In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon cooking oil with 1 tablespoon butter. Then add the scallops one after the other onto the pan. Do not shake your pan or touch them. Just let them sit and do their thing. Sear for one minute on each side, remove from the pan and transfer to serving dishes.
Wipe out the pan thoroughly.
In the same pan, melt the butter over moderate heat. Add the vermouth, orange juice, pinch of pepper and orange zest. Cook for about two minutes until the sauce thickens. Lastly, add the scallions for just a few seconds.
Gently pour the sauce onto the scallops (which are now on their serving dishes).
Note: when placing the scallops onto the pan, add them one by one by forming a circular ring. Remember which scallop was the first one you placed. That way, when it's time to flip them, you'll start off with that scallop and continue in a clock-wise manner to ensure equal cooking time for each piece. So the first scallop may be the one at twelve o'clock for instance. This is a great piece of advice I picked off from watching one of my favourite chefs, Gordon Ramsay, cooking and swearing away at a seared scallops dish.