Some home cooks shy away from scallops for fear of overcooking them. It's a valid concern, but here are a few tips to take away some of the fear factor.
We're fortunate to have fresh, wild scallops in Alaska, where they are hand-shucked and frozen within hours to ensure their just-caught freshness and flavor. If using frozen, thaw them in the refrigerator. You want your scallops to be as dry as possible, so use paper towels to remove excess moisture and don't be afraid of pressing down gently on the scallop while drying them. Just be careful not to press too hard. Sear them in a very hot skillet and let them be; you want a nice brown crust on one side.
In a perfect culinary world, we'd get scallops still in their shell, with the plump coral commas still attached. As an option, look for scallop shells, which can be washed and reused, in kitchen supply stores. If you don't have shells, finish the scallops in a gratin or casserole dish. A final touch of lemon zest and green onion balance out the richness of the cream.
Creamed scallops with sherry and lemon
Makes 4 servings
8 sea scallops, preferably Alaskan weathervane
4 scallop shells (optional; see note above)
3 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 fresh shiitake mushrooms (or small crimini), stems removed and caps thinly sliced
1 medium shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup dry Amontillado sherry (or dry white vermouth)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
Olive oil or vegetable oil, for searing
Garnishes: Lemon zest; thinly sliced green onion
1. If using thawed frozen scallops, rinse off any ice; pat scallops dry with a paper towel. Place scallops on a wire rack set over a cookie sheet or plate and place, uncovered, in refrigerator. Place clean scallop shells on a cookie sheet; set aside. If not using shells, have at the ready a large, ovenproof dish.
2. In a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, melt two tablespoons of butter and add shallot and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes; add garlic and cook another minute. If needed, add another tablespoon butter to pan. Add mushrooms and sauté for 6 minutes or until lightly browned. Add sherry and let reduce to about 1 tablespoon. Add heavy cream and stir. Cook until cream is reduced by one-third. Turn off heat and reserve pan in a warm place. Melt one tablespoon butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat; add breadcrumbs and stir, coating crumbs with butter, until golden; set aside.
3. Heat oven to broil on Hi. Remove scallops from refrigerator. Pat scallops dry a second time to remove all excess moisture. If desired, score the top of each scallop using the tip of a sharp knife. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a large heavy bottom pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add a drizzle of olive oil or vegetable oil. Add scallops scored side down. If needed, cook in two batches, so you don't overcrowd the pan and "steam" the scallops. Cook, undisturbed, two minutes. While scallops are cooking, spoon the cream sauce evenly into the four shells. Top with the breadcrumbs. Place two scallops, golden side up, in each shell. Carefully place the shells on the cookie sheet into the oven and broil on high for two minutes.
NOTE: If not using shells, place scallops in the baking dish with the sauce and breadcrumbs. Broil on high for two minutes. Remove from oven and garnish with green onion and lemon zest. Serve warm with lots of bread for sopping up the sauce and a simple green salad with a light lemon vinaigrette.