Saturday, August 28, 2021

Pan-Seared Sea Scallops in Tomato Cream Sauce


A great meal always starts with the right ingredients. When I'm going to grill up a steak, I can choose between grass-fed or grain-fed. I always pick the latter as I appreciate all of the extra fat and marbling associated with grain-fed beef. To my tastebuds, grain-fed tastes better. The same kind of thing happens when you buy sea scallops. You get to choose between dry or wet scallops....and they are light years apart when it comes to taste.

Fresh scallops look like the photo above. Note that they are dry, which is precisely why they are referred to as "dry scallops". If you set them on a paper towel, they give off next-to-no liquid. When you cook them up, they are sweet. They taste like the ocean. These are the scallops you want to buy. 

The scallops in the above photo are not fresh. They have been previously frozen. They are referred to as "wet scallops" and when you see them in the store they are often sitting in a white, creamy liquid. They have been treated with a preservative and whitening agent called sodium tripolyphosphate (STP). 

If you put them on a paper towel, they will give off a ton of liquid. STP increases the water retained by the scallop, often by as much as 30%. So frozen scallops end up being a poor value, compared to fresh, as you are paying for a lot of water. Sodium tripolyphosphate also gives the scallop an unpleasant chemical flavor. It's impossible to get rid of that taste. Your only choice is to mask it by pre-soaking the scallops in a mixture of water, lemon juice and salt. 

So if you are going to prepare this variation on a Melissa Clark recipe, start by making sure you have the right ingredients that will celebrate the incredible flavors of this dish. Dry scallops are more expensive and a little more difficult to find...but any decent grocery store should have them in their showcase in the seafood section...right along with their fresh fish offerings.

Melissa's recipe is a tip of the hat to a classic dish at Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York. Her recipe called for poaching the scallops in the sauce. I much prefer the taste and texture of a golden crisp, pan-seared scallop. So I modified her recipe to accomplish that. I use her spectacular sauce recipe, which is spiked with Worcestershire sauce and celery seeds, as the crowning glory for the pan-seared scallops. There will be left-over sauce, so grab a baguette to mop it all up. Embrace my essential mantra of "no sauce left behind".

Pan-seared scallops are definitely one of the easiest things to cook on your stovetop. For success you only need three things: dry scallops; those scallops at room temp prior to cooking; and a really hot skillet (cast iron preferred).

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
Pinch of celery seeds
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
2/3 cup dry vermouth or white wine
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup heavy cream

1 pound dry sea scallops
2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup fresh chopped chives for garnish

  1. Take scallops out of refrigerator 30 minutes prior to cooking so that scallops are at room temperature.
  2. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the butter, letting it melt. Add shallots, celery seeds and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until shallots are opaque, about 4 minutes. Stir in tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until jammy....about 10 minutes.
  3. Increase heat to medium-high and stir in vermouth. Cook until about a third of the liquid evaporates...about 5 minutes. Add Worcestershire and cream and simmer, reducing heat if needed and stirring occasionally until sauce thickens enough to coat a spoon...about 6 minutes. Then cover skillet and keep sauce warm over medium-low heat.
  4. Thoroughly pat scallops dry. Then heat oil in a new skillet over medium-high heat until very hot and sizzling. Add the scallops to the skillet in a single layer (if they do not sizzle when you put them in the skillet, your pan is not hot enough).
  5. Season scallops with salt and pepper to taste and fry for 1-1/2 minutes on one side (until a golden crust forms underneath). 
  6. Then flip scallops and fry again for 1-1/2 minutes until crisp, lightly browned  and cooked through (opaque).
  7. Transfer scallops to serving plates and pour sauce over the scallops. Garnish with chives and serve. 

Wine pairing: An oaky Chardonnay

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Mezcal Adobo Skirt Steak


While tequila and mezcal are both made from agave plants, mezcal is actually tequila's smoky first cousin. When the agave plants mature, they produce inulin, a type of fructose that cannot be directly converted to alcohol. So to make mezcal, the agave plants are roasted. The roasted plant hearts are then pressed and the runoff juice is the basis for mezcal. The roasting is what gives mezcal that pronounced smoky taste.

Chipotle is a smoke-dried jalapeƱo pepper. Ripe jalapeƱos are placed in a smoker for several days, where they lose all their moisture and become prune-like. The peppers are then combined with adobo sauce and canned. While adobo sauce is basically white vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, peppercorns and bay leaves....the sauce becomes incredibly smoky and hot from the chipotles. You will find them in the Mexican/Ethnic section of your grocery store, sold as Chipotles in Adobo Sauce.

So two of the main ingredients in this recipe owe their distinct flavor to smoke. You can add to that by cooking your skirt steak over charcoal and throwing in a few chunks of mesquite. When you are done cooking, you will have the foundation to make some of the best steak fajitas you have ever tasted. Just grab some flour tortillas...your favorite fajita fillers...and have at it.


For the Marinade
1/3 cup lime juice
1/3 cup orange juice
1/2 cup mezcal
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons canned adobo sauce (more if you like it spicy)
3 garlic cloves minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika

1-1/2 pounds of skirt steak

  1. Combine the first 12 ingredients in a bowl and whisk to mix. Place steak in a ziplock bag, pour marinade over steak and seal bag. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
  2. Prepare your grill for direct cooking over high heat.
  3. Remove steak from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Grill steak for 3 minutes on each side (for medium rare). Transfer steak to a cutting board, tent with foil and let steak rest for 5 minutes.
  4. Slice against the grain in 1/2-inch strips for your fajitas.

 Pairing: Ice Cold Pacifico

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Pork Chops with Rosemary & Mustard Cream Sauce


It's going to be raining today, which means my grill will get a well deserved break. Saturday night is perfect for comfort food, especially if you have a fresh baguette of French bread to soak up this legendary sauce. This all comes together on the stove top in about 30 minutes....or roughly about the time it takes for me to empty one "Grogs Pour" from my wineglass.

4 bone-in pork chops, about 6-8 ounces each
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh minced rosemary
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard 
1 tablespoon butter
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sour cream

  1. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a skillet and brown the pork chops on both sides. Remove from pan and set aside. 
  2. Add the onion and rosemary. Cook, stirring, about 4-5 minutes or until onion is soft. 
  3. Add the chicken broth and white wine. Stir to remove brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Add the mustard and stir to combine. 
  4. Put the pork chops back into the skillet. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes.  Then remove the pork chops.
  5. Add the butter, heavy cream and sour cream to the skillet. Stir until smooth. Put the chops back into the skillet and drizzle with sauce. Garnish with fresh rosemary. Serve. 

Wine Pairing: Merlot