Seared Sea Scallops are one of our all-time favorite dishes. Sweet, nutty, slightly salty and with a crisp caramelized crust, seared sea scallops are all that is good about seafood, they taste like nothing else. And, even better, scallops take just a few minutes to prepare and need no special gear to cook. But we are telling you not to make them at home. Ever…UNLESS…
- Unless you have a local fish monger you trust.
- Unless you know how to pick out a good scallop.
- Unless you are cooking the scallops the day you buy them and store them properly.
- Unless you are comfortable cooking seafood to medium rare (or a little less).
As for #1, you are on your own, but we do hope you have a good fish monger nearby. As for #2, #3 and #4 there are some pretty good guidelines to follow:
Sea scallops should be fresh, large (U10 scallops, meaning about 10-12 per pound work best for searing to medium / medium-rare), ivory colored and slightly “sticky” to the touch.”Diver” or “Day-Boat” scallops are expensive, but the best quality. The term for well-kept scallops is “dry”. These are the only kind you want. Period. If you see the scallops in a white liquid, they have been “dipped” in phosphates to extend shelf-life and add water weight. You don’t want these scallops. Seriously, buy something else.
All scallops are highly perishable. Only buy scallops the day you plan to cook them and it is best to keep them chilled until they hit the pan. When buying scallops, a cooler at the supermarket, or an extra bag of ice from your fish monger is the best way to keep scallops cold. Place them on ice in the fridge until you cook them.
When cooking, scallops go from tender and juicy to dry and stringy in a flash. This means you need a light hand when cooking and should pull them from the heat slightly before they are done. Like most proteins, scallops keep cooking in residual heat a few minutes after they leave the pan. If the scallops are “perfect” in the pan, they will be overcooked when they make it to the table. Our guideline at home is to pull the scallops from the heat right when we say “they need one more minute”. They will keep cooking while they rest and be prefect for the plate.
Ok, so now that you have the scallops and the technique, cooking them is easy. You need a large, heavy skillet at medium-high heat and a cooking fat with a high smoke point. Clarified butter or bacon fat are good choices that add flavor (plain vegetable oil is OK, too). We place a little oil, salt and pepper on the scallops just before they hit the pan. Once the pan is hot, add the remaining oil and then the scallops, well-spaced. If using U10 scallops, expect to cook them 3 – 3.5 minutes per side, depending on thickness. Flip the scallops only once, so you get a good crust. When the scallops are medium-rare, pull them from the heat and let them rest on a warm plate for 2-3 minutes before serving.
You can simply serve these scallops with a squeeze of lemon, and you will be very, very happy. But if you want to add some extra flavor, we suggest a beurre-blanc sauce. In this case we like a hot-sauce beurre-blanc using Sriracha, a popular south-asian style hot sauce with a touch of garlic. (In New Orleans they often make a beurre blanc with Crystal hot sauce). The Sriracha beurre blanc adds a creamy texture and a bit of heat and acidity to the sweet and salty scallops. And making beurre blanc is fun (if you like this kind of thing, and we clearly do).
Beurre blanc sauce is a traditional french sauce that, unsurprisingly, uses butter. For this sauce, vinegar, lemon juice or white wine and shallots reduce to a syrup and then, off the heat, cold cubes of butter are whisked-in to form an emulsion. You get a light, creamy sauce that is a good vehicle for other flavors like herbs, or in this case hot sauce. As the Sriracha has vinegar in it, we use rice wine vinegar that is sweeter than a cider or red wine vinegar to cut the acidity of the sauce. But any good vinegar or lemon juice will work here, feel free to play around.
As for serving the scallops, we plate them with a slice of lemon, a few tablespoons of the beurre blanc and a sprinkle of herbs. You can serve 2 scallops per plate as an appetizer or 3 as a main course. And it wouldn’t hurt to make a few extra scallops so you can snack while you finish the dish…as the scallops look, smell and taste so good they will be hard to resist!
Seared Sea Scallops With Sriracha Beurre Blanc
Notes Before You Start:
- U10 scallops mean under 10 scallops per pound. These are the “big guys” and will usually be at least 1 inch thick and up to 2 inches wide.
- You can use smaller U15 scallops but lower the cooking time slightly and make sure to space the scallops in the pan to avoid steaming the scallops.
What You Get: One of the best seafood dishes available.
What You Need: Quality sea scallops, which are hard to find. No other special equipment required.
How Long? 20-30 minutes total. Less than 10 minutes to make the scallops and about 20 minutes for the beurre blanc. This is an anytime dish.
(Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as an appetizer)
Seared Sea Scallops:
- 12 sea scallops, preferably U10
- 3 tablespoons clarified butter, bacon fat or vegetable oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 lemon, sliced into wedges
Sriracha Beurre Blanc:
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar (or red-wine vinegar)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon Sriracha
- 1/4 pound (1 stick) of cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chives or thyme), for garnish
- Salt and pepper
Seared Sea Scallops:
- Place a large steel or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, drizzle 1 tablespoon of the clarified butter on the scallops and lightly sprinkle on some salt and pepper.
- Once the pan is hot, add the remaining clarified butter and then add the scallops to the pan. Make sure to spread out the scallops so they sear, rather than steam. Let cook for 3 minutes on one side (3.5 minutes if the scallops are thick) without moving the scallops. Then flip the scallops and cook for another 3 – 3.5 minutes without moving the scallops. If the scallops are firm on the outside but still yield a bit to pressure they are ready to take off the heat.
- Place the scallops on a warm plate and let them rest for 2-3 minutes. Serve with a wedge of lemon or with Sriracha beurre blanc.
Sriracha Beurre Blanc:
- Combine the minced shallot, vinegar and lemon juice in a medium saucepan and place the pan over medium heat. Reduce to about 2 tablespoons of syrupy liquid.
- Once the liquid reduces, stir in the Sriracha and place the heat on the lowest possible setting. Slowly whisk-in the cubes of butter until all are incorporated. Take the pan off the heat occasionally to keep the sauce from separating. Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper as needed, and serve with Seared Sea Scallops. Garnish with some chopped herbs, if you like.