while i know a lot of people that love scallops, i know very few people that have ever prepared them at home. many consider scallops purely a restaurant treat, something that only fancy chefs can cook up. and because we don't make them at home, we're quite willing to pay a heavy pricetag to enjoy them while dining out. i used to be one of those people. i would pay $25.00 for an entree of scallops and was so often disappointed when the waiter would bring my dish out with just three scallops on an otherwise barren plate. even though i knew i'd definitely have to make a stop for a second dinner on my way home, the silky, sweet meat of a scallop was always too good to pass up.
however two years ago, i signed up for a seafood cooking class with my friend heather and i was astounded to learn just how easy it is to make perfectly seared scallops. with simply some quality scallops, salt & pepper, oil and a frying pan, anyone could make this restaurant-style fare at home. in this recipe, i've used one of my favorite ingredients of the season, meyer lemons, to make a creamy sauce infused with licorice-y tarragon to help cut some of the tartness. it will definitely impress your guests, and you might even be asked, "where did you learn to make such delicious scallops? you must have worked at a restaurant?"
seared scallops with meyer lemon-tarragon cream
serves 4 as an appetizer
for the sauce:
1 tbs. of unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 shallot, diced
zest of one meyer lemon
1 tbs. of fresh tarragon leaves
1/2 cup of dry white wine
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbs. of meyer lemon juice
for the scallops:
1 lb. of large, dry sea scallops* (10-12 per lbs.)
alt and pepper
2 tbs. of olive oil
for the sauce:
melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic, shallot, zest and tarragon and saute for about 2 minutes. add the white wine and turn the heat up so the sauce comes to a boil. boil until the wine reduces by half. now pour in the cream and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. finally add the lemon juice and season with salt to taste. before serving, strain sauce through a sieve.
for the scallops:
it's important to make sure that the scallops are dry before cooking. i usually place my scallops between two sheets of paper towel to absorb any residual moisture. while scallops often come with the adductor muscle that once connected it to its shell removed, sometimes the fishmonger misses a few. the muscle is usually just a small flap on the side of the scallop and is easily peeled off (picture below courtesy of cooking light).
once the scallops are prepared for cooking, sprinkle both sides with some salt and pepper. heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. add 1 tbs. of oil and spread to coat the pan. once the oil is hot, add half the scallops. we'll cook our scallops in two batches as it's important not to crowd the pan. when too many scallops are cooked, the heat of the pan is reduced and the scallops end up releasing their moisture. this prevents them from searing and browning, which is exactly what we don't want to happen.
sear scallops for 1 and a half minutes on both sides, which will keep the center still a bit rare. clean the pan and repeat for the second batch.
serve 2-3 per guest and drizzle with meyer lemon-tarragon cream sauce.
*dry scallops are definitely preferred over wet sea scallops. wet scallops are treated with a solution called STP (sodium tripolyphosphate), which helps the scallop retain moisture and also allows your fishmonger to rip you off a bit, since you're now paying for the added water weight. additionally, the extra moisture makes it more difficult to brown.