Scallops truly are the candy of the sea, and it’s rare that I can pass them up when I see them on a restaurant menu. But I’ve always been hesitant to make them. The first time I tried to sear scallops at home, they emitted a strange milky liquid and ended up steaming more than searing. They were still tasty, but disappointing. I’ve since learned that those scallops must have been “wet” scallops—treated with yummy-sounding sodium tripolyphosphate, which is apparently often the case with supermarket scallops. What you want to get, it seems, are “dry” scallops. (According to Cook’s Illustrated, if you’re not sure what you have, place one scallop on a paper-towel lined plate and microwave for 15 seconds; if it’s, wet, it will release liquid. And then, if you do have wet scallops, soak them in a solution of one quart cold water, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and two tablespoons table salt for 30 minutes.)
Still, disheartened by my first attempt. it took me nearly two years to try again. I’m deeply sorry that I waited so long.
Armed with Cook’s Illustrated’s science—and the suggestion of using butter—I finally found the nerve to give it another shot. Way to go, science! And butter! Sea scallops are still frustratingly expensive, but with this technique they make for an insanely quick and fabulous weeknight supper.
From Cook’s Illustrated
1 1/2 pounds dry sea scallops, 10-20 per pound, small side muscles removed
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Place scallops on rimmed baking sheet lined with clean kitchen towel. Place second clean kitchen towel and top of scallops and press gently on towel to blot liquid. Let scallops sit at room temperature for 10 minutes while towels absorb moisture.
Sprinkle scallops on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add half of scallops in single layer, flat side down, and cook, without moving, until well-browned, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.
Add 1 tablespoon butter to skillet. Using tongs, flip scallops; continue to cook, using large spoon to baste scallops with melted butter (tilt skillet so butter runs to one side) until sides of scallops are firm and centers are opaque, 30 to 90 seconds (remove smaller scallops as they finish cooking). Transfer scallops to large plate and tent loosely with foil. Wipe out skillet with wad of paper towels and repeat cooking with remaining scallops, oil, and butter. Serve immediately.