they are a quick and versatile menu item for home cooking as well. Search out fresh scallops at a reputable fish market or fish counter at your grocery store. The scallops should be moist and have a sweet smell. Frozen scallops are convenient and rival fresh ones in terms of taste and texture. There are two basic types of scallops -- the larger sea scallops (about 1-1/2 inches in diameter) and the smaller bay scallops (1/2 inch), which are sweeter. We will focus on cooking the more common sea scallops here.
When it comes to cooking scallops, there are several options, but almost all have the following elements in common.
- Quick cooking technique: Scallops are a lean protein source and should be cooked quickly under high heat to prevent them from drying out. Also, a high-heat cooking method results in a pleasant browning on the outside and a delicious caramelized flavor.
- Added fat: Because scallops are so lean, they require some fat such as oil or butter during cooking.
- Seasoning: Scallops are mild and need a little flavor boost. It can be as simple as a squeeze of lemon, a dry rub, or a complex Asian sauce.
Regardless of the cooking method you choose, follow a few general tips when working with scallops.
- Thaw scallops, if frozen. You can thaw them several hours or overnight in the refrigerator, or you can thaw them in the microwave if you take care to not cook them in the microwave. Use the defrost setting (30 percent power) and check them every 30 seconds. Do not thaw them at room temperature.
- Rinse scallops and pat them dry with paper towels before cooking. If scallops have too much moisture on the outside, they won't brown properly.
- Cut large scallops in half to assure even cooking (as shown above).
- Minutes count -- cook scallops just until done or until they are opaque; otherwise they can get tough quickly.
When it comes to cooking scallops, nothing is faster or easier than the stovetop. Don't let the word "sear" scare you -- it simply means to brown a food using high heat. Here's how:
- Choose a heavy, quality skillet for the job. Cast iron and stainless steel work well because they provide even heating and can withstand high temperatures. Don't crowd the scallops in the pan or they will end up steaming. Cook them in batches, if necessary.
- Heat about 2 tablespoons oil in the pan over medium-high heat. Choose an oil that can withstand high heat, such as canola, peanut, safflower, and soybean. Olive oil and butter are less appropriate for pan-seared scallops because these fats will break down and smoke at high temperatures.
- If you want a thin crust on the outside of the scallops, you can coat them in flour. For every pound of scallops, use 2 to 3 tablespoons flour. Place the flour in a resealable plastic bag; add the scallops and toss to coat. You can also mix the flour with 1 to 2 teaspoons of a seasoning, such as blackened steak seasoning or Cajun seasoning.
- Cook scallops about 6 minutes or until browned and opaque, turning once.
Tip: Another seasoning option is to use a gourmet prepared sauce. Scallops are a great opportunity to use one of those delicious sauces from a specialty food market. Stir in 1/4 to 1/2 cup sauce at the end of cooking for a simple flavor boost.
Another speedy and easy prep method is broiling.
- Preheat the broiler. Place scallops on a greased, unheated rack of a broiler pan. If you like, you can thread three or four scallops onto skewers, leaving 1/4-inch spaces between pieces.
- In a small bowl stir together 3 tablespoons melted butter or vegetable oil, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon paprika. Brush half of the butter mixture on the scallops.
- Broil about 4 inches from the heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until scallops are opaque, turning and brushing with the remaining melted-butter mixture halfway through broiling. Serve with tartar sauce, sweet-and-sour sauce, or another favorite prepared sauce.
One of the most common ways to grill scallops is to put them on skewers with veggies and fruits. Options include sweet pepper pieces, onion wedges, cherry tomatoes, bacon slices, mushrooms, and pineapple chunks. Many people like to combine shrimp and scallops on a skewer as well.
- To prepare scallops for grilling, first marinate them in an oil-base marinade. Two of our favorite all-purpose marinades are from the Grilled Grapefruit, Orange, and Scallop Kabobs and the Pineapple and Scallop Skewers recipes. Cover scallops in marinade and let stand 10 to 15 minutes; drain, reserving marinade.
- Thread scallops and other ingredients onto skewers. (Note: If you're using wooden skewers, soak them in a shallow dish in enough water to cover for an hour before threading on food.) Grill kabobs on a well-greased grill rack directly over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes or until scallops turn opaque, turning once halfway through grilling and brushing with reserved marinade.
Deep-fat frying is another option for fixing scallops. Similar to other deep-fried seafood, scallops require you to prepare a batter.
- For the batter, mix 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. In a small mixing bowl whisk 1 egg, 2 tablespoons cooking oil, and 3/4 cup cold water; add to flour mixture, beating until smooth.
- In a deep fryer or a 2-quart heavy saucepan, heat 2 inches of shortening or oil (canola, peanut, safflower, or soy) to 375 degrees F. Dip scallops in batter. Fry a few at a time in the hot oil for 2 to 2-1/2 minutes or until golden brown, turning once.
- Remove scallops from oil and drain on paper towels. Keep fried scallops warm in a 300 degree F oven while frying remaining scallops. Serve with Sweet and Sour Sauce or Spicy Cocktail Sauce.