Out of their shell
You could probably make the case that scallops should always be eaten as simply as possible. Sear them in a very hot pan for no more than a minute on each side with a smear of oil and a dash of salt and pepper. Serve immediately with a squeeze of lime or lemon, succulent, juicy and delicious. Perfect.
It is even better if they have just come out of the shell. However, like any food it is exciting to see what they can be matched with and how far you can go before the taste gets lost, or at least absorbed in the rest of the flavours on the plate. Scallops are also a great source of omega-3, the fatty acid so good for us, so you can feel virtuous as you enjoy them.
If you cook them as I have just suggested in a very hot pan with minimal oil, caramelised on the outside and creamy on the inside, you have seared in the goodness and you can mix and match them with many different tastes including strong ones that you would think would overpower them.
We are in the middle of the scallop season now and a lot has been written about them lately with concerns about the local supply and the state of the beds in both Golden and Tasman bays.
The news is much better in the Marlborough Sounds and further afield in the North Island. Those I have tried so far have been from the North Island and are quite small and mild. I like them that way as sometimes they can be very rich and a few go a long way.
These small scallops are a far cry from those that are discussed in scallop recipes from the United States, where sometimes they are so large that recipes will advise you to cut them in half before cooking. These recipes also talk about removing the roe. What sacrilege!
Just ignore that, it is a culinary cultural difference. When I first went to live in the US and bought scallops I said to the fishmonger: "Where is the roe?" He said, "We don't serve them like that here." "More is the pity," I replied.
Don't forget that roe is also a great thickener for sauces. Just crush and add to a poaching liquid, whisk and it will thicken.
The other cooking hint I will give you is to dry the scallops first before cooking. You want to get the moisture off the shellfish in order for them to caramelise in the shortest time in the pan.
Pat them well with a paper towel before dipping them in oil that you have seasoned with salt and pepper, then straight into the pan.
All of the recipes that follow call for caramelised scallops added to the recipe and their ability to combine with quite different flavours.
SEARED SCALLOPS WITH FENNEL PUREE
2 medium fennel bulbs
1 Tbsp chopped mint
28 seared scallops
Salt and pepper to taste
Dice the fennel, potato and onion and cook in a little olive oil until tender with ¼ cup of fish stock. Puree the mixture and add salt and pepper, mint and lemon juice. Serve a couple of big tablespoons of the puree with 6-8 seared scallops per person as an entree.
FETTUCINE WITH RED SAUCE AND SEARED SCALLOPS
28 seared scallops
400g italian tomatoes chopped
1 Tbsp oregano
2 cloves garlic sliced finely
1 shallot sliced
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 red chilli finely sliced
½ cup white wine
Salt to taste
Saute the garlic and shallots until golden, add the chilli, tomatoes, anchovies and oregano and white wine and simmer for about 30 minutes. Cook the fettucine until al dente and drain. Sear the scallops. Serve the fettucine with the sauce, then the scallops on the top.
A TAKE ON AL BROWN'S SEARED SCALLOPS WITH CREAMED CORN AND RATATOUILLE SALSA
When I made this last week I could not get fresh corn or courgettes so I made a variation with what I could get that was fresh and substituted creamed corn for fresh corn.
28 seared scallops
1 small eggplant
2 red peppers
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp fresh basil chopped
4 Tbsp italian parsley chopped
Salt and red chilli flakes
Cook the eggplant in the oil, followed by the garlic and peppers. Simmer until tender and add the herbs and season to taste.
¼ cup white wine
½ cup cream
Corn from 4 corn cobs
Sweat the butter and shallots over gentle heat for about 15 minutes. Add the wine and reduce by half. Add the cream and corn and cook for another 5 minutes. Take off the heat and process until slightly chunky. Sear the scallops and serve each plate with a dollop of corn, a small amount of salsa and the scallops on top.