Seared sea scallops make for a fast, tasty and healthy dinner. They are sweet, meaty, tender and a beautiful pearly ivory color. Sometimes they have a bit of a peach or pink tint to them.
Last night I simply seared them in a hot non-stick pan with a little oil after seasoning with Szechuan Pepper Salt, then glazed them with a brushing of Hoisin Sauce. It took maybe 10 minutes. They are fast enough for a quick weeknight dinner and elegant enough for dinner guests.
How to Buy Scallops
When purchasing scallops look for “dry” or “chemical free” scallops. Ask if they have been treated with a phosphate solution. Treated scallops absorb water. A brilliant white color is a giveaway. Not only do you pay for water weight, they don’t taste as good. Treated scallops leave a milky solution in the pan as they cook so they steam more than sear and don’t brown as well.
Scallops should smell like the ocean, fresh and clean, not strong or fishy. If you want scallops to cook at about the same time and look nice on a plate, have the person at the fish counter pick them out carefully and individually. Watch them so you get what you want and don’t be afraid of telling them which ones you want. Scallops come in varying sizes. I big the biggest ones I can find, which can be anywhere from 1-2 ounces each. All you need is 6 ounces per person.
How to Sear Scallops
To sear scallops, pat them dry and season with a little salt and pepper. For this recipe I like the Szechuan Pepper Salt from Penzeys, but regular kosher or sea salt and black pepper will do. Most importantly don’t overcook them! Overcooked scallops are rubbery, not tender. They should be still barely translucent in the center.
Hoisin glazed scallops can be served on brown rice, or try black Chinese “Forbidden” rice, which is my favorite. Noodles (especially Asian varieties) work too. For a no-grain option, serve simply over vegetables.
Asparagus is a nice commitment to the seared scallops. Depending on the thickness of the asparagus it will take just a few minutes. Cook in a hot skillet or drop into boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain and serve hot.
Finish asparagus with a few drops of nutty rich sesame oil and for flair add a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. For great color and eye appeal, toss very thinly sliced strips of red bell pepper in with the asparagus as it cooks.
For a side dish shortcut, try the frozen organic brown rice available at Trader Joes. It takes 3 minutes in the microwave (if you use a microwave) and comes out perfect. It’s handy when you are short on time to get dinner on the table. Start with the basic rice and mix in finely chopped chives or parsley for more color and flavor.
About Hoisin Sauce
If you are not familiar with Hoisin, it is a classic Chinese sauce with a strong sweet-salty flavor. If you’ve ever ordered Moo Shu in a Chinese restaurant, it’s served with Hoisin.
Made with a variety of Asian ingredients, Hoisin has a beautiful, deep purple-black color. Hoisin can be used as grilling sauce (great for ribs, chicken and jumbo shrimp) and as a dipping sauce. I’ve made vinaigrettes and marinades with Hoisin. It’s something I always keep in my pantry. A little goes a long way, so if you are new to Hoisin use it sparingly and add as you prefer.
One more note, read your labels and find an organic Hoisin. Whole Foods 365 brand makes one. The ingredients are much better than the standard stuff in the Asian aisle which contain caramel coloring and food dye Red No. 40 which are both best to stay away from.
**Update July 2015 – I’ve created a new homemade Hoisin that is great and gluten-free. The recipe is here.
For more information on what to look for when you read labels and get educated on ingredients, become familiar with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). There site has a list called Chemical Cuisine which I refer to often. It lists food additives and whether they are safe or not.
For nonstick pans, the best are made by ScanPan. It’s what I use at home. Read about them on Amazon. They are available in several sizes.
If you love rice but have never tried black Chinese Forbidden rice, you must. It cooks up perfectly in 30 minutes. It has a nutty taste, soft texture, and is a beautiful black-purple color.
If scallops are very cold (in the refrigerator), allow to stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes to take the chill off while you gather any other ingredients for your dinner. Serve over rice, Asian noodles or quickly cooked, sliced asparagus finished with toasted sesame oil.
- 12 ounces dry sea scallops (go for the big ones if they are available)
- Roasted Szechuan Pepper Salt (or plain kosher salt and black pepper)
- 1-2 teaspoons oil for the pan (preferably grapeseed oil)
- 1-2 tablespoons prepared Hoisin sauce (preferably homemade, recipe here)
- If scallops are refrigerated, allow them to stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Pat scallops dry with a paper towel. If the small side muscle (abductor) is still attached, pinch it off. It is tough to eat. Season scallops with a little salt and pepper.
- Heat a non-stick sauté or fry pan over medium-high heat. Add oil. When pan is hot and oil starts to shimmer place scallops in pan flat side down. Don’t crowd them. Leave scallops alone and don’t move them for a few minutes. The edges will start to get brown. You are aiming for a dark golden caramel crust. Turn scallops over, turn heat down, and using a spoon or pastry brush glaze with the Hoisin. Cook 1 more minute. Serve immediately.
- It’s not possible to give an exact cooking time as the thickness of the scallops varies along with the heat of your pan. When done correctly, scallops will still be translucent in the center and still have some springiness to them. They will not be firm or hard (overcooked). Do not overcook them and they’ll be great.