I can say with fair certainty that I don’t eat enough scallops. I do love me some scallops.
On pasta, in salads, on the side, or front and center on the plate.
And then there’s this funky little sauce called gastrique. It’s French, of course. Caramelized sugar and vinegar with fruit. It’s très magnifique on seafood.
If there’s a downside to the arrival of Spring, it’s that it signals the end of orange season in the U.S. Blood oranges and Cara Cara oranges are my very favorites.
Oh, and Honeybells. And Clementines. And trusty Navels. I’ll miss you so.
But let’s talk for a moment about scallops. And I mean the big fills-the-palm-of-your hand scallops. Sea scallops, diver scallops. These buggers can be tricksy to prepare.
Do you ever watch Hell’s Kitchen? It’s one of SoupAddict’s guilty pleasure shows. If ever there was a deterrent to chucking my career and going to culinary school, this show is it. Do those people really work in professional kitchens?
And … touch people’s food?
Most of the contestants look like they don’t wash their hair on a regular basis. Just sayin’.
Anyway, I love the episodes where scallops are on the menu for dinner service. That’s when the Schadenfreude kicks in. Just like in figure skating, where you’re just waiting for them to fall on the Triple Salchow-Triple Loop combo, you know the scallops are gonna wreak some serious havoc. I’m not sure how it is that professional chefs can escape ever having prepared scallops, but it happens every season.
Maybe it’s a question on the contestant application form.
“Have you ever prepared sea scallops?”
“Accepted!” (and joyous high-fives are exchanged amongst the producers for the guaranteed opportunity for their star, Gordon Ramsay, to angrily shout, “It’s rawr! It’s rawr!” at the hapless contestant who dares to present still-translucent scallops for inspection.)
So, here’s the scoop on preparing sea scallops:
1. Always look for “dry” scallops. Ask the fish monger if they’re wet or dry. Wet scallops are so named because they’ve been soaked in (and therefore absorbed a great of) a liquid mixture containing phosphates. Wet scallops will never brown, no matter what you do. Dry scallops have not been treated and are instead simply frozen soon after harvesting.
2. Rinse the scallops briefly in cool water, remove the muscle on the side (it’s a small rectangular patch of tissue — it pulls right off), and pat them dry with a paper towel.
3. Do not use a non-stick pan to prepare scallops, for two reasons: non-stick pans generally do not promote a proper sear and are not to be used in high-heat situations. Your pan must be scorching hot (over medium-high heat), and non-stick pans will begin to break down at that temperature.
4. You can oil the pan or not — if you do, choose an oil with a high smoking point, like safflower oil.
5. Arrange the scallops in the scorching hot pan, with plenty of elbow room between them. Leave them be for 2-3 minutes. Then gently flip to the other side. Cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes until the scallop is opaque through and through.
Serve them with something fabulous, like Swiss chard and this très magnifique gastrique.
Scallops with Blood Orange Caramel
adapted liberally from Epicurious.com
Yield: 4 servings
Blood orange gastrique:
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon Sherry wine vinegar
1 cup fresh orange juice (from about 6 oranges; I used blood and Cara Cara oranges)
1 cup low-salt chicken broth
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
3 tablespoons safflower oil
4 stems Swiss Chard, thick stems removed, chopped and reserved
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves
12 sea scallops, rinsed and patted dry, muscle removed (figure 3 scallops per person)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 blood orange, supremed*
Prepare the blood orange gastrique:
In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat, heat the honey until it begins to foam. Continue cooking until the honey begins to darken a shade from its natural state. (Gently swirl the pan until you can see the honey beneath the bubbles. Try not to stir or agitate the liquid at this point: swirling, good; stirring or whisking, not so much.) Add the vinegar all at once. The honey will harden – that’s okay. Continue cooking until the mixture melts, stirring frequently. Add orange juice; boil until mixture begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Add broth; boil until gastrique coats spoon and is reduced to generous 1/2 cup, about 15 minutes. Season with cardamom. Remove from heat to cool while you prepare the scallops.
Prepare the scallops and Swiss chard:
Blanche the chard leaves (dunk briefly in boiling water than plunge into an ice bath; pat dry), then chop into medium sized pieces. Divide leaves evenly across 4 salad plates. Sprinkle tarragon leaves over the chard
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the reserved chard stems to the pan and sautee for 1-2 minutes. Remove to bowl and set aside.
Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and increase heat to medium-high. Season scallops with salt and pepper. When pan and oil is scorching hot (test by dropping a single droplet of water into the pan: it should sizzle and evaporate in seconds), add scallops to pan. Cook on one side without disturbing until seared brown and the center begins to turn opaque, about 2 minutes. Flip the scallops to sear the other side, about 2 minutes. (Depending on the size of the pan, you may need to do this in batches. If so, use additional oil if the pan becomes dry.)
Arranged cooked scallops over chard leaves. Divide blood orange slices among the plates as garnish. Drizzle the blood orange gastrique over salad, then sprinkle the sauteed chard stems over the top. Serve immediately.
*To supreme an orange (or any segmented citrus fruit): Remove a thin slice from the top and bottom of the fruit, just enough to expose the pulp. Set the fruit one of the sliced ends. Using a small paring knife, slice away the peel from top to bottom, angling the knife as you slice downward to follow the curve of the fruit. Remove the individual segments by slicing into the fruit, towards the center, along the white membrane walls. If the fruit is seeded, they can easily be removed at this point.