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Source 'dry-pack' sea scallops for simple searing

“If you spend $250 per month, the membership pays for itself,”

My sister and I looked at each other and shook our heads. Spending $250 per month at Costco certainly sounded extravagant when we were loath to spend an extra $60 for the next level of membership.

Of course, the customer service agent would have chuckled had he seen us proceed down the center aisle, putting towels for my sister’s new apartment and 40-packs of batteries into the cart, as I stopped at the technology table and commented that I’d been ogling new Apple MacBooks online.

But true to my word, I purchased a single item: a bag of frozen mini chicken wontons that have become something of a staple in our house over the past couple of years. And yes, as I often attest when conversing with Costco devotees, they’re the exact same price at Food 4 Less in Medford.

I can’t source, however, with any reliability one Costco product that outperforms counterparts I’ve tried locally. Kirkland Signature raw sea scallops come frozen in a 2-pound bag. They’re expensive, at about $30 per bag, but it’s what they don’t have that proves their worth.

Conspicuously absent from the package’s ingredient list is the term “sodium triphosphate.” This commonly used preservative soaks into seafood and can’t be washed off. Worse than its chemical flavor is its effect on cooking. Items treated with sodium triphosphate simply won’t sear and caramelize. Rather, they exude liquid and steam in their own juices, no matter how high cooks crank up the heat.

If you’re a fan of scallops but have found the shellfish lacking, sodium triphosphate is a likely culprit. Similarly, if you think you don’t’ care for these mollusks, the same preservative may be to blame.

The first step toward purchasing high-quality scallops is to patronize a reputable fish market or grocery store seafood counter. Absent that, look for flash-frozen specimens labeled “dry pack.” Then verify on the label that no ingredients are present other than sea scallops.

Once you’ve secured good-quality scallops, the simplest preparations show them to their best advantage. Resist the urge to overcook them. They should still be slightly translucent at the very center when nicely caramelized on each side.

This recipe from Tribune News Service gives instructions for accomplishing just that. The dish pairs seared scallops and a rich risotto sweetened with corn kernels. Frozen kernels could be substituted for fresh this time of year, just as bacon could be substituted for the chorizo.

There’s a reason bacon-wrapped scallops are a popular restaurant dish. Scallops are so lean and mild that a bit of pork fat heightens the overall eating experience.

Seared Scallops With Corn and Chorizo Risotto

12 sea scallops

6 cups chicken broth

8 tablespoons butter, divided

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 small shallots or 1 large, peeled and minced

3 ounces fresh chorizo sausage, casing removed, chopped

2 cups fresh corn kernels (from 3 ears; may substitute frozen, thawed kernels)

1 cup arborio rice

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, divided

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Chopped parsley or shredded basil, for garnish (optional)

Rinse the scallops under cool water and pat dry with a paper towel. Remove side muscles if any are still attached; set aside.

Prepare risotto: Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Then lower heat to a simmer.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter with the olive oil. Add the shallots, sausage and corn kernels and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, for about 5 minutes.

Stir the rice into skillet and season with a pinch of salt and grind of pepper. Cook, stirring continuously, until rice is lightly toasted, for about 4 minutes.

Pour the wine into rice mixture and cook until almost evaporated, for about 30 seconds.

Reduce heat to medium and pour a few ladlefuls of warm broth into skillet. Cook, stirring gently, until broth is absorbed.

Continue to cook, adding a few more ladlefuls of broth at a time, making sure to stir until broth is absorbed before adding more. Risotto is done when rice is just tender and sauce is creamy, after about 22 minutes.

When risotto has about 5 minutes more to cook, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a cast-iron or heavy skillet. Season scallops generously with the salt. When butter sizzles, add scallops and sear without moving them, for about 2 to 3 minutes per side depending on size and thickness. (You may want to cook in batches to avoid overcrowding pan.)

Remove risotto from heat and stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately with seared scallops on top and garnish with the chopped parsley or shredded basil, if desired.

Makes 3 to 4 servings.

Tribune News Service photo