January 6, 2008

Seared Sea Scallops

Scallops are bivalve mollusks with scallop-edged, fan-shaped shells (like the Shell logo). In the U.S., when a scallop is prepared, usually only the adductor muscle or eye is used. The central adductor muscle is what holds the two shell halves together. Scallops use this muscle to swim by snapping their shells together.

Scallops without any additives are called dry, dry packed, or chemical free* while scallops that are treated with sodium tripolyphosphate (STP) are called wet packed. Frozen seafood typically has added STP to help bind the natural moisture in seafood through the freezing and thawing process**. Fresh (not previously frozen) seafood does not have any reason to use STP except to retain water and push the weight and price up. It's a good idea to ask the person behind the counter if the scallops have been treated with any chemicals or if they were previously frozen and thawed.

I do try to take the trouble to buy fresh (not frozen or previously frozen) dry scallops. Trying to get a sear on previously frozen scallops is impossible as the scallops just keep leaking water from the freezing process** - you just can't get any browning. Frozen scallops do have their uses - they are great for stews, gravies or any other wet dish.

Here is my adaptation of Alton Brown's recipe, sized for two.

Seared Sea Scallops

3/4 pound dry sea scallops
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 or 2 teaspoons olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Remove the small side muscle from the scallops***.It's tough and chewy in your mouth. Rinse with cold water and thoroughly pat dry. (Drying them thoroughly is needed to get a great sear - it's the reason we bought dry scallops in the first place.)
Add the butter and oil to a saute pan on high heat. Salt and pepper the scallops. Once the fat begins to smoke, gently add the scallops, making sure they are not touching each other. Sear the scallops for 1 1/2 minutes on each side. The scallops should have a 1/4-inch golden crust on each side while still being translucent in the center. Serve immediately.

We had this for a light dinner with the Cracked Potatoes - and the only thing conspicuous by its absence was a glass of good white wine. The last time I made this, we had a dry Spanish Manzanilla sherry with it and it was mind-blowingly good. This time, I had some Sparkling white wine, but didn't bother opening it. What a mistake! - the dish was only half the fun without some good wine to go with it.

You can find some good information on scallops here and here

* Day boat or diver scallops are top notch - if you can find them - they are worth the price. Diver scallops are collected by hand by divers and they are generally the largest in size.
Day boat refers to boats that fish for scallops just for the day, rather than the traditional method of dredging for many days in a row before returning to harbor.

**You must have noticed that when you thaw frozen food water tends to run out of it. The is because water in the food ruptures the cell membranes as it expands into ice crystals. When thawed, the punctured cells leak that water out, resulting in food that is limp. The same thing happens when frozen scallops are thawed either by supermarkets before selling (which is why manufacturers try to minimize drip loss with STP) or when you thaw and cook them.

***I always forget to ask my fishmonger to remove the side muscle of the scallop - doing this will save you valuable minutes in the kitchen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

mmmm....you are the scallop goddess...