If you are standing at the fish counter, you might get scared by the price of scallops, especially the gigantic sea scallops. And you might think to yourself: I've heard scallops are easy to ruin. I'm not going to buy something expensive that I will ruin and end up eating drive-thru food because I spoiled dinner.
Good point. But once in awhile, it's good to take a chance. And scallops are actually easy to cook, as long as you pay attention.
They are expensive, however, so I usually only buy them a couple of times a year. When I do, I want to pair them with delicious ingredients that won't overwhelm their delicate flavor. A few years ago, I tried a recipe that paired scallops with watermelon, and since then, I've been hooked on this combination.
Yesterday, I bought some scallops and watermelon, and came up with this recipe using some things I had in my refrigerator. This salad uses seasonal fruits - I used watermelon and blueberries, but you could use others as well. I wanted to add nectarine, but it wasn't quite ripe. This dish would make a good special occasion meal, because it's pretty, and every bite is different, depending upon what you have on your fork: spicy arugula, tangy goat cheese, sweet berries and melon, zesty basil.
So... about those scallops. How do you ensure success?
First, for this recipe, you want to buy sea scallops. Most scallops are rated either "Best Choice" or "Good Alternative" by Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch. This means that you can feel pretty good about most of the ones that you pick up (the only ones that aren't rated good are actually not scallops at all, but skates, which are sometimes cut up and sold as bay scallops). Sea scallops are the big ones; bay scallops are little and are better for recipes where they don't stand alone, such as pastas. Depending upon the size, each person should get 3-5.
Make sure that your "fishmonger" (that guy at the fish counter) gives you fresh scallops - they should be sort of pinkish and smell clean. If you live far from the ocean, lots of people recommend flash frozen scallops instead of fresh.
When you are ready to cook the scallops, rinse them off and pat them dry, then sprinkle on a little salt. Heat some oil or butter in a skillet over high heat. You want the oil to be very hot, smoking a little. Then put the scallops in the pan, without crowding them. Don't move them. Just let them sit for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Keep an eye on them, watching the side of the scallop. You'll see that the cooked part turns opaque - turn them over just before that opacity hits the mid-point of the scallop. Then let the other side cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. When you see that only the very mid-point is still translucent, remove from heat and serve right away. The middle might retain some translucency, but remember that the scallop will keep cooking after you take it from the heat.
If you're nervous, you might want to try with a practice scallop before you sear the whole batch. However, you'll probably find out that it is easier than you think to sear scallops just like in a restaurant.
Recipe: Seared Scallop and Summer Fruit Salad with Lemon Prosecco Vinaigrette
Step One: Salad
Ingredients per serving:
a handful of baby arugula
3-4 basil leaves, chopped finely
1/4 cucumber, cut into spears
1/4-1/2 watermelon, seeded and cubed into 1 inch pieces
1/4-1/2 cup blueberries or other ripe fruit
1 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
Mix all of the salad ingredients and arrange in the center of the plate.
Ingredients: (serves 4-6)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp prosecco or other sparkling wine
approx. 1/2 tsp. black pepper
Splash red wine vinegar
Using a fork or whisk, mix the ingredients for the dressing.
Step Three: Scallops
3-5 scallops per person, depending on size
Following the instructions above, sear the scallops. Arrange them around the salad and drizzle the salad with 1-2 tsps. of dressing. Serve immediately.