Want to see your co-workers’ eyes light up?
It’s simple. Tell them you’re going to be cooking them some scallops.
The same trick works for family members or guests. Scallops are beloved by pretty much everyone who can eat them (shellfish allergies need not apply). And why not? They’re tender, they’re sweet, they taste ever so slightly of the sea.
They’re also easy to make, and fast — if it takes you much longer than three or four minutes to cook them, you’ve done something wrong.
The only problem is, they aren’t cheap. The ones I used for this article cost me nearly $28 a pound. They are so deliciously rich that you don’t want to eat more than a few at a time, but still: Twenty-eight bucks a pound is twenty-eight bucks a pound.
These are sea scallops I’m talking about, the large scallops. Bay scallops, the smaller ones, are about half as expensive. They are also somewhat less satisfying but are even faster to cook.
Of the four dishes I made, I used bay scallops for one. The texture did not matter much because they were whipped up in a food processor. Though I prefer sea scallops, this one was my favorite of the dishes. But I’m going to describe it last. It’s worth the wait.
I began with seared scallops, which is sort of an all-purpose dish. You simply heat some fat in a skillet (I used a combination of butter and olive oil, a flavorful northern Italian trick), get it hot and place the scallops in the pan. Two minutes later, you turn them over, admiring the lovely sear on top, and cook for one more minute.
That’s really all you need. I like to add lemon juice, which perks up essentially any seafood, and use a splash or two of water to make a simple deglazed pan sauce. It’s a simple dish, but because it is scallops, it is spectacular.
Next, I used scallops in a salad. Seared scallops would have been fine, but I chose to grill them for this dish to give them a hint of smoke — but only a hint. It doesn’t take much longer to grill them than to sear them.
The trick to this salad is the dressing. It uses a mango vinaigrette, which is notable for using a relatively small amount of oil. More importantly, though, it has a primary flavor of mango supported by a bit of orange juice and lime — tropical and citrus flavors that pair particularly well with the sweetness of scallops.
Next up is a dish I recently created for dinner that was so good that it was honestly the reason I wanted to write about scallops. I’m calling it scallops St. Louis — just because.
Basically, it is scallops in a subtly flavored tomato sauce with wilted Swiss chard providing the echo of a bitter note to cut through the richness of the scallops. And because it is a tomato sauce, with garlic and shallots, I naturally served it on spaghetti.
Parmesan cheese is optional.
If I liked scallops St. Louis, I really, really liked my last dish, scallop mousse with shrimp sauce. This is the one I used bay scallops to make, and they were perfect for it.
This is in fact a French dish, mousseline de coquilles St. Jacques sauce crevette, and it is the kind of thing to have in your repertoire when you want to impress someone. I wouldn’t recommend it for a beginning cook, but it truly is not difficult to make.
And it’s fast. You can make the whole thing, start to finish, in not much more than 30 minutes.
As I said, it’s impressive. Impressive thing No. 1 is the scallop mousse. You simply purée together scallops and eggs, and then stir in heavy cream. Season this mixture with salt and pepper, spoon it into ramekins and bake at a low temperature for 20 minutes or so.
When unmolded from the ramekins, the mousse is meltingly tender; it’s like gossamer. Like scallop-flavored gossamer.
Impressive thing No. 2 is the shrimp sauce that you put on top of it. It’s a combination of puréed tomatoes, white wine and cream, flavored with shrimp shells, shallots and fennel seeds.
What’s not to like? You cook it, strain out the shrimp shells and then briefly cook pieces of shrimp in the sauce. It’s smooth and rich, a sauce worth obsessing over.
Combining it over the scallop mousse is the most impressive thing of all.