For a spur-of-the-moment semi-fancy meal, you cant beat scallops.
Scallops are ideal to have tucked away in your freezer because they defrost and cook quickly. When planning a meal with scallops, figure two to three of the larger sea scallops (about 2 inches in diameter) per serving with a side dish.
Buy fresh, dry-packed sea scallops if you can; these are not treated or soaked in a solution. If they were not previously frozen, you can freeze them. When buying them from the fish counter, give them a sniff. Fresh scallops should smell sweet, not fishy.
Also, check the color. Scallops should be creamy light beige or off-white. If theyre stark white, chances are they were treated with sodium tripolyphosphate, which is added to increase their weight and extend their shelf life. The preservative also makes them absorb moisture. During cooking, that absorbed water releases and almost steams the scallops, preventing them from getting that really nice sear. If the scallops have been soaked, pat them dry with several paper towels.
If you buy frozen scallops, the label should indicate whether theyve been treated. If they havent, they should be labeled dry.
Here are some other flavor suggestions for scallops:
Basic: Sear scallops in a mix of hot oil and butter. Depending on their size, figure 2-4 minutes on each side. Dont crowd them in the pan; sear in batches if needed. When you turn them over and cook on the second side, spoon the butter oil in the pan over the scallops. Cooked this way, scallops will be sweet and fork tender. But be careful not to overcook them, or they will be tough and chewy. Deglaze the pan with white wine and pour over the scallops.
Gremolata: Mix 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley, 1 clove minced garlic, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Sear scallops in butter oil and then remove from the skillet. Add the parsley mixture to the pan and saute about 1 to 2 minutes. Serve scallops topped with gremolata.
Balsamic-glazed: Sear scallops as above. Remove from the skillet and add 1/2 cup white wine or fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar to pan. Cook over medium heat until just slightly thick, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes. Pour over the scallops.
Bacon-wrapped: Pre-cook bacon until almost done but not crisp. Season scallops well on each side with salt and pepper. In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon canola oil. Wrap a half slice of bacon around each scallop and secure with a wooden pick. Add scallops to the skillet and cook 2-4 minutes on each side.
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