Ask Eric: Sea scallops say sultry

East Coast mollusk a quick and easy culinary treat — just don’t overcook them

Eric AkisDear Eric: I’d like to try cooking large scallops. Can you offer some tips?


By large scallops, Ann means East Coast sea scallops. They are also called giant scallops, have shucked meat that averages about four centimetres wide and are the type harvested off places such as Nova Scotia.

I’ve been asked this question a few times over the years and I’m glad it comes up. Sea scallops can be expensive and I like to remind readers how to cook them so their investment doesn’t literally shrink in the pan.

The first thing to know is you can buy sea scallops frozen, thawed from frozen and sometimes fresh.

If you have bought frozen sea scallops, you’ll need to thaw them before cooking. The safest way to do that is to take out, the night before you cook them, the number of scallops you want, set them in a dish, cover and refrigerate. The next day, they’ll be thawed and ready to cook.

If you forget to do that, you could also place the frozen scallops in a zip-lock bag, squeeze out the air and tightly seal and submerge the bag in cold water. The scallops should thawed in about an hour.

If you have bought fresh or thawed-from-frozen scallops, they are perishable and it’s best to cook them the day you buy them, but if they’re in good condition, they should keep in the refrigerator one day.

When buying fresh or thawed-from-frozen scallops, look for the best quality ones: They should glisten and hold their shape and not be dull-looking and falling apart. Quality scallops will also have an almost sweet aroma, not a fishy one with hints of iodine, an indication they have been sitting around too long.

Before cooking scallops, whether thawed from frozen or fresh, gently pat them dry. If you don’t, the excess moisture on them could dilute the ingredients you flavour them with and/or cause them to steam when you want to grill or sear them.

Sea scallops cook quickly — one to two minutes per side if cooked in a hot pan or about 10 minutes in a hot oven.

When cooked, the scallops will turn opaque and feel slightly firm, but still have a little give in the centre. Overcooked scallops will feel very firm and shrink in size. If they’re really overcooked, they will have a tough, stringy texture.

Here are two easy-to-make yet tasty scallop recipes for two. One is cooked on the stove, the other in the oven.

Seared Scallops on Asparagus with Basil, Balsamic Crema and Olive Oil

Plump scallops are seared, set on hot asparagus and topped Italian-style. If desired, you could also serve boiled miniature potatoes alongside the scallops and asparagus.

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: About four minutes
Makes: Two servings

10 to 12 large sea scallops,
gently patted dry (about 300 grams)
1 small garlic clove, minced
• pinch salt and ground white pepper
1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil (divided)
12 asparagus spears, stems trimmed
12 small fresh basil leaves
2 to 3 tsp extra olive oil, or to taste
(see Note)
• extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Bring a wide pot of water to a boil to cook the asparagus. Place the scallops, garlic, salt, pepper and 2 tsp of the olive oil in a shallow bowl and toss to combine.
When the water is boiling, set a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat and add the remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil.

Set the asparagus in the boiling water and cook until just tender, about three minutes. Meanwhile, when the oil in the skillet is hot, add the scallops and cook one to two minutes per side or until cooked through. (Remember, when cooked, the scallops will turn opaque and feel slightly firm, but still have a little give in the centre.)

To serve, divide and arrange the asparagus on two plates. Divide and top asparagus with the scallops. Divide and set basil leaves around the scallops, drizzle each plate with some of the balsamic crema and bit of extra virgin olive oil, and serve.

Note: Balsamic crema, also called balsamic cream, is syrupy, reduced balsamic vinegar. It’s sold at specialty food stores and in the deli or vinegar aisle of most supermarkets.

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10-minute Scallops

Here’s a quick and simply delicious way to cook scallops that takes 10 minutes in the oven. It’s from my book Everyone Can Cook Seafood.

Serve the scallops with steamed rice and your favourite steamed green vegetable.

Preparation time: Five minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Makes: Two servings

1/4 cup white wine
2 Tbsp butter
• squeeze fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp paprika
• pinch cayenne pepper
1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
10 to 12 large sea scallops,
gently patted dry (about 300 grams)
• salt and freshly cracked pepper
to taste
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Place the wine, butter, lemon juice, paprika, cayenne and garlic in a small pot and simmer over medium heat for three to four minutes.
Meanwhile, place the scallops in a single layer in a shallow-sided baking dish, or use two small individual baking dishes. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Spoon the wine-butter mixture over the scallops. Bake the scallops for 10 minutes or until they are just cooked through.  

Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Eric Akis is the author of  The Great Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook (Appetite by Random House). His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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