Superlative Supreme Scallops

If you sat down to invent the perfect seafood, you might come up with something like scallops. They require almost no preparation, no cleaning, no peeling, no boning, and no skinning - they go right from package to pan. They're also quick cooking (it's a rare scallop that isn't done in about 6 minutes in a hot pan) and low in calories (a mere 100 in a 4-ounce serving). How perfect is that?

Your market is likely to have only two kinds - sea scallops (the big ones) and bay scallops (the little ones). Scallops vary so much that it's impossible to make a blanket recommendation. Try whatever's available in your area, and you'll develop your own preferences.

There is one descriptive word to look for when you buy scallops: dry. You may have noticed that many scallops, when put in a hot pan, release a liquid that makes browning or searing impossible. That's because they've been brined, or soaked in water with a preservative called tripolyphosphate, so that they will keep longer. Dry scallops have not been preserved, and will brown nicely. They're also more expensive, but you're not paying for brine, which is, ounce for ounce, much cheaper than scallops. If you can't find dry scallops, though, don't worry. The brined kind are just fine - just pour off the brine as it seeps out of the scallops.

Keep in mind that it's next to impossible to properly caramelize small scallops, however. Since they are so small and have size variances between them, you'll usually end up with a soggy mess rather than the proper crème brulee caramel colour you see the seasoned fish experts like Rick Moonen achieve on the Food Network.

Scallops have a mild but unmistakably fishy flavor that works well either on its own or combined with other kinds of seafood.

  • Skewer sea scallops and grill or broil them.
  • Add bay scallops to clam chowder during the last few minutes of cooking.
  • Serve pan-seared sea scallops with almost any kind of sauce - wine, mustard, cream, or tomato - and serve with cooked chard or mustard greens.
  • Combine warm scallops with white beans, olive oil, rosemary, and freshly ground pepper for an appetizer or main dish.
  • Use seared scallops instead of tuna or chicken to turn a Caesar salad into a meal.
  • Make a potato-scallop salad with bay scallops, new potatoes, fresh basil, and a mustard-mayonnaise dressing. It can be served either cold or warm.
  • Flavor scallops, either on their own or with other seafood, in a mild green curry and a touch of coconut milk.
  • Serve grilled, broiled, or pan-seared scallops on a bed of leeks poached in red wine

Or, if you have the financial wherewithal, try combining scallops and caviar - the mildness of the one and the saltiness of the other make for one of the best sea-going combinations ever.

Go ahead and try your scallops in different ways. Just keep in mind that you're not competing with Gordon Ramsay for the best Coquille St.Jacques and you'll be just fine.

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