I don’t cook scallops often at home. When I do, I always just sear them. That’s the only method of cooking that I know I can use and have good results. Are there other ways to prepare scallops that are simple and flavorful?
First off, good for you for searing scallops successfully. That’s tricky to get right; you’ve got to get the pan sufficiently hot and then get those babies seared on both sides and out of the pan quickly before they overcook. You should be able to go on to other methods easily.
Scallops can also be poached, steamed, sautéed, grilled, broiled, baked, stir-fried, deep-fried, prepared en papillote, made into seviche… some of these methods are simpler than others, but because scallops cook so quickly, none will take long.
I don’t get into deep frying at home, so you’re on your own there. Besides, that’s mostly how you’ll find scallops prepared at seafood restaurants, so why bother? I think there are better ways to treat these not-inexpensive delicacies.
When I think of scallops, my mind goes first to the classic preparation Coquilles St. Jacques au gratin, which I discovered when I fell in love with French cuisine. It’s a good recipe to learn technique from – first you make a court bouillon, or poaching liquid, to poach the scallops in; you poach the scallops and sauté some mushrooms; then you make a roux and a sauce from the cooking liquid; and finally assemble it all into a dish, top with breadcrumbs, and broil until golden brown and bubbly. Sound complicated and time-consuming? It isn’t, really – and it’s delicious, great as a starter or a main course.
Sautéing is about as simple as searing. After the scallops are seared, though, take the additional step of deglazing the pan with some white wine or dry white vermouth, and enrich the juices with a bit of butter and parsley.
En papillote (baked in parchment paper so that they steam), is another simple technique which can be done in the oven or on the grill. If using the grill, you’ll want to do this in aluminum foil rather than parchment paper. For a good description of how to do this, check out this LA Times article.
How about baked? Season scallops with salt and pepper, mix with a little lemon juice and white wine, and put in a buttered baking dish. Pour over a little heavy cream (don’t use a lot of any of these liquids; remember, the scallops will give off moisture of their own), top with some breadcrumbs and a couple of tablespoons of melted butter. Bake in a preheated 400ºF oven for 12-14 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are lightly toasted. It’s easy, and there’s less mess than with the spatter created on the stovetop when searing.
Grilling isn’t practical for bay scallops, but works fine for larger sea scallops. Thread them onto skewers – best by themselves, as they’ll cook more quickly than most vegetables – blot off any moisture, oil the scallops, and grill away. You may want to use a cooking surface with smaller grids on top of your grill to prevent any mishaps.
When poaching scallops, it’s critical never to boil them or they’ll be tough and/or rubbery. Immerse them in a cold court bouillon (see below for a simple version based on bottled clam juice), and bring very slowly to a simmer. Turn off the heat immediately and allow them to cool in the liquid. Reheating them in butter or sauce will complete any cooking needed if they aren’t done all the way through.
As for seviche, which is marinating fish or shellfish in lime juice until the proteins turn opaque, maybe calling it cooking them is bit of a stretch. In warm weather, though, this is a stellar way to prepare scallops. Just be sure they’re top quality because the marinade doesn’t truly cook, it just tenderizes, them. Check out Asian cookbooks for steaming and stir-frying recipes.
Are there other simple, flavorful ways to prepare scallops at home? Yes, there certainly are!
- 6 cups bottled clam juice
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 3 large onions, minced
- Small bouquet garni (parsley stems, 1 bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, tied into a sachet or in cheesecloth)
- 6 peppercorns, cracked
- Simmer all the ingredients together for 30 minutes and strain.
- Allow to cool completely before using.
- This court-bouillon can be frozen and re-used several times, but be sure to re-boil it between uses. May be halved if desired.