Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Seared scallops

Well folks, I must apologize for the hiatus I took in blogging about the fancy schmancy 5+ course meal I made a few weeks ago. Toward the end of last week I flew to Fresno to visit my best friend and meet her new baby for the first time.

Why are sleeping babies so darn cute?! You can't help but love it, even after they were 
just screaming their heads off for 10 minutes straight...

Anywhooo- it was a fabulous trip getting to spend some quality time with the bestie and her chunkalicious daughter. I managed to take about 50 pictures of the baby and none with me AND the baby (or anyone else for that matter), except for these 2 classic photos.

She actually smiled for the forward-facing camera! Kinda...

But now I'm back from my vacation, and I need to get back to this blogging thing. I'm already at least 30 blog posts behind, and counting...

So meal #4 of 6 was seared scallops. I got the very, very simple (and delicious) recipe from an amazing cookbook by Thomas Keller.

In fact, the next few recipes I'll be sharing with you came from ad hoc at home.

After the warm salad and cold cucumber soup I wanted the 3rd course to be a protein dish. Scallops sounded perfect as they're very fast to cook, delicious, and a bit on the fancy side.

Seared scallops with leek butter. Make sure to buy the largest ones you can find.

I have to admit-- although these scallops were absolutely delicious, they were my biggest disappointment of the night. You see, earlier in the day I did a test run with a single scallop; brining it in a salt water bath and cooking it in a very hot pan (as the cookbook directed). But instead of using the clarified butter as Thomas Keller suggested, I decided to save some time and seared the scallop in a bit of vegetable oil instead. The scallop was perfection. Moist, melt-in-your-mouth and perfectly cooked on the inside with a nice crunchy and flavorful exterior.

But when I cooked the meal for my guests I decided to follow the recipe as written and used clarified butter to cook the scallops. Big mistake!! Sure, the scallops got a nice sear to them (check out the scallop on the left). But unfortunately, most of that really flavorful sear remained stuck to my pan (check out the scallop on the right). I'm not sure if it was the clarified butter or if my pan wasn't hot enough or if I didn't use enough fat or the fact that I used a different pan, but I was quite sad when the meal I made for my guests was not nearly as perfect as the test meal I made for myself.

What the scallops should have looked like, according to just one of the 
ridiculously gorgeous photos in the ad hoc cookbook.

But luckily for me the scallops were still a huge hit. And the fact that we'd already polished off quite a bit of wine didn't hurt...

Not photographed: the bottle of white we had already finished!

I wanted to keep the dish simple, but didn't want to serve the scallops completely plain. So I made a leek butter, modified from the ad hoc cookbook. It was pretty good, but I wasn't blown away by it. The leeks were blanched in hot water for ~5 minutes then cooked in a ton of butter, which made them nice and tender. But I prefer the flavor of leeks after they've been sauteed as they're less mushy and watered down that way. However, one of my other friends absolutely loved it. So who knows!

After this 3rd course I have to admit that my guests were getting a little full. And we were only halfway done with our meal! Luckily the next course would take ~30+ minutes to "prepare" (with minimal hands on time required of me) so that gave us lots of time to digest our meal so far, talk, laugh, and most importantly... DRINK!

Yours in still learning how to perfect the art of searing a scallop, 

Caramelized Sea Scallops, adapted from ad hoc at home

Note: your apartment will likely stink for days after searing these scallops. It won't smell like seafood, but instead an odd, seared scent that finds a way to linger. If you have a fan in your kitchen, use it. If you have windows or a door in your kitchen, open them. Learn from my mistakes and don't let the scent permeate your apartment for a week. I'd still make them again though, they were that good.

Also note I did not have success using the clarified butter for these scallops. It may have been because I didn't heat it up enough, but being my first time making scallops I'm not really sure why I didn't get that nice sear on them. If you're worried, or are too lazy to clarify your own butter, feel free to use a vegetable oil to sear the scallops. You can always add a bit of butter to the pan afterwards if you want to add a bit of that butter flavor.

12 U7 or U10 (ie, large) sea scallops, about 1.5 or 1.75 pounds
1/2 lemon, optional
2+ TBSP clarified butter or vegetable oil or a 50/50 mix of clarified butter with oil

For the brine:
1/2 cup or 2.5 ounces of Diamond Crystal kosher salt (if you're using Morton salt go by the weight and not volume, as they won't be equivalent)
1 cup boiling water
4 cups cold water

1. Line a small baking sheet with paper towels. Set aside.
2. Combine the salt with the boiling water in a large bowl, stirring to dissolve the salt. Add the cold water and place brine in the fridge until ready to use.
3. When you are ready, add the scallops to the brine and let stand for 10 minutes (no longer, or the scallops may become too salty).
4. Drain the scallops, then place on the paper towel lined baking sheet.
5. Heat the clarified butter or vegetable oil in a large stainless steel frying pan over medium-high heat until it ripples and begins to smoke. (Do not use a non-stick pan for this, you want a nice crunchy exterior)
6. Add the scallops to the pan, without crowding. You may have to cook the scallops in 2 batches; if they touch they will steam rather than caramelize.
7. Cook, without moving the scallops, until the bottoms are a rich golden brown, 3 to 3 1/2 minutes. Turn the scallops and caramelize the second side for about the same amount of time.
8. Serve immediately, with a squeeze of lemon juice on top, if desired.

Hot tip from my friend Yuya: immediately after searing the scallops, toss in a bunch of baby spinach, bok choy, or kale with a little bit of water in the pan and lightly cook it. They wipe up all the leftover seared bits, scallop juice, and butter/oil that's too good to waste!  


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