I'm a sucker for scallops. If they're on a restaurant menu, I don't give anything else a chance. It's not just that I love the way they taste. It's also that I could never figure out how to cook them properly at home. Chefs in restaurant kitchens use high BTU-stoves that most home kitchens lack. They're able to quickly sear foods such as scallops without cooking the interior so long that it tastes like a rubbery hockey puck.
Which is how mine used to taste -- until I figured out how to make scallops every bit as golden on the outside and silky on the inside as a professional chef's version. What's the secret? Well, heat has something to do with it. But the first hint is to buy the largest sea scallops you can afford. Yes, they're expensive, but you will only need three or four per person -- or a quarter pound each. Remember, there's no waste, and since they're large, the outside has a chance to brown before the inside gets completely cooked through. Be very picky at the fish market and exercise your veto power. Watch as the fish seller selects each scallop and reject any small ones he chooses. Then follow the technique in the recipe below very carefully, sit back and savor the results. You just might find yourself ordering roast duck next time you're in a restaurant -- since now you'll be cooking scallops at home like a pro.
Sea Scallops With Red Peppers and Mushrooms
This recipe is for two people but can easily be doubled or tripled. Read through the entire recipe and have ingredients prepared and ready to go next to the stove. You don't want to be squeezing lemons or opening a bottle of wine while the scallops are simmering. The whole recipe takes less than 15 minutes from start to finish.
1/2 - 3/4 lb. large sea scallops (about six to eight scallops)
flour for dredging
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped shallots
4 large white mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup diced red pepper
3 T. olive oil
1/2 dry white wine
1 T. butter
juice of one lemon
Turn the fan on above your range. Place a cast-iron skillet over your most powerful burner and turn the flame up high under the skillet. Let it heat for a few minutes until it gets very hot to the touch. Then add the olive oil and let that heat for a couple of minutes until it is nearly smoking. Don't leave the kitchen for an instant. Dry the scallops with paper towels and lightly coat with flour. Add the scallops one at a time to the hot oil and cook for about 30-45 seconds on each side. DO NOT CROWD THE PAN with too many scallops or they will start to release liquid and reduce the temperature in the pan too dramatically.
Remove the scallops from the pan and put aside on a plate.
Take the pan off the heat and wipe the inside clean with a paper towel. Let the temperature cool down to medium, then add the 3 T. olive oil. Saute the shallots, mushrooms and red pepper in the olive oil for about five minutes or until cooked through. Put the scallops back into the simmering pan with any juices that may have accumulated on the plate, and pour white wine into the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste over everything. Let the scallops cook for just a couple of minutes more, then add the butter for flavor and to help emulsify the sauce. Add the lemon juice and parsley, swirl the pan for 30 seconds, then serve.