I love scallops prepared in restaurants, but I'm not sure how to do it myself at home. The last time I tried, they seemed rubbery and didn't have much flavor. What do you suggest?
— David L., via email
Many novices cook fish and shellfish until opaque and end up overdoing it. Scallops, in particular, should be a bit translucent at the center when served.
And they shouldn't be stark-white but rather a rosy, light-beige or off-white. If not, they likely were treated with sodium tripolyphosphate, which increases weight and extends shelf life.
The preservative also makes scallops absorb moisture that releases during cooking and almost steams the shellfish, preventing them from getting a really nice sear. So buy fresh, dry-packed sea scallops if you can. They should smell sweet, not fishy.
Frozen scallops can have a place in the home kitchen, though. Stashed in the freezer, scallops are great for on-the-fly meals because they defrost and cook quickly.
The label on frozen scallops should indicate whether they've been treated. If not, they should be labeled "dry." If the scallops have been soaked, pat them dry with paper towels before cooking. Portion two to three larger sea scallops (about 2 inches in diameter) per person with a side dish.
Here is a basic method:
In a saute pan, melt some butter and oil over medium-high heat; sear scallops in pan for two to four minutes per side, depending on size. Don't crowd them; sear in batches if needed. When you turn the scallops to cook on their other side, spoon the pan's butter-oil mixture on top. This makes for scallops that are sweet and fork-tender, not to mention buttery-tasting. Deglaze the pan with white wine and pour over the scallops.
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