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

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