Scallops: What to serve when you splurge

Squeeze a bit of lemon on seared scallops in the pan with butter and parsley garnish. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Credit: Hillary Levin

Credit: Hillary Levin

Squeeze a bit of lemon on seared scallops in the pan with butter and parsley garnish. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

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.



Yield: 2 servings

6 sea scallops

Salt and pepper

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 tablespoon butter

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1. Pat scallops dry with paper towels. Season one side with salt and pepper.

2. Place a skillet over medium-high heat until it is very hot. Add oil and butter, and heat until butter starts to foam. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3. Add scallops, seasoned-side down. Do not touch for 2 minutes; bottoms should have a nice brown sear. Turn and cook on the other side for 1 minute (or up to 11/2 minutes if they are extra large). Drizzle lemon juice over the top and immediately remove to a platter.

4. Add water to hot pan, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom. Cook briefly until the liquid is the consistency of syrup, and pour over scallops. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve by themselves, with rice or pasta, or as part of a salad.

Per serving: 83 calories; 6 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 17 mg cholesterol; 5 g protein; 2 g carbohydrate; no sugar; no fiber; 152 mg sodium; 6 mg calcium

A mango vinaigrette dresses a salad of spinach, black beans, red peppers and scallops. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Credit: Hillary Levin

icon to expand image

Credit: Hillary Levin


Yield: 4 servings

1 cup diced mango

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

Salt and pepper

1 1/2 pounds sea scallops

1 (5-ounce) bag baby spinach

1 red bell pepper, cut into strips

1 cup black beans, rinsed and drained

1. Make the mango vinaigrette: Place mango, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, orange juice, rice vinegar, lime juice and brown sugar in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Stir in salt and pepper to taste.

2. Make the salad: Toss scallops with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill over medium-high heat 2 minutes on each side or until opaque. If searing scallops instead, heat the 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and, in batches and without crowding, sear for 2 minutes on one side and 1 to 2 minutes on the other. You may need additional oil for later batches.

3. Arrange spinach, bell pepper, black beans and scallops on a serving plate. Drizzle with 1 cup (about 2/3) of the mango vinaigrette.

Per serving: 319 calories; 15 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 35 mg cholesterol; 22 g protein; 26 g carbohydrate; 12 g sugar; 5 g fiber; 658 mg sodium; 71 mg calcium

Scallops St. Louis. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Credit: Hillary Levin

icon to expand image

Credit: Hillary Levin


Yield: 3 servings

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

9 large scallops, about 3/4 pound

Salt and pepper

1 cup dry white wine

1 shallot, minced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3 leaves Swiss chard, stems removed, chopped

1 1/2 cups strained tomatoes (such as Pomi) or pureed tomatoes

6 ounces spaghetti, cooked al dente

Grated Parmesan cheese, optional

1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Season one side of the scallops with salt and pepper, and sear, seasoned-side down, for 2 minutes. Turn and sear other side for 1 minute. Remove to a plate with tongs or a slotted spoon.

2. Add wine to the hot skillet and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom. Cook for 1 minute, then add shallot, garlic and Swiss chard; sauté 3 to 4 minutes until the shallots are soft, the chard has wilted and the liquid is mostly evaporated. Stir in strained tomatoes and cook 3 to 5 minutes until the sauce is the consistency you like.

3. Taste, and add salt and pepper if needed. Return scallops to the pan just long enough to reheat them. Serve over spaghetti, with Parmesan cheese if desired.

Per serving: 376 calories; 14 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 210 mg cholesterol; 25 g protein; 40 g carbohydrate; 8 g sugar; 5 g fiber; 296 mg sodium; 61 mg calcium

Scallop mousse with shrimp sauce. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Credit: Hillary Levin

icon to expand image

Credit: Hillary Levin


Yield: 4 servings

12 ounces scallops (bay scallops are fine)

2 eggs

7 ounces cream, divided

Salt and pepper

8 medium shrimp, with shells

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

10 fennel seeds

1/4 cup puréed tomatoes

3 1/2 ounces (1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons) dry white wine

Pinch cayenne pepper, optional

1/3 cup finely cut chives

Note: This recipe requires 4 (1/2-cup) ramekins or souffle molds

1. Preheat oven to 285 degrees. Spray ramekins heavily with nonstick spray or coat insides well with butter. Bring a kettle of water to boil.

2. Place scallops in a food processor and process to form a puree. Add eggs and process to combine. Transfer to a bowl and mix in 31/2 ounces (1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons) of the cream. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon mixture into prepared molds, then place in a baking dish. Add enough boiling water to the baking dish to come 1 inch up the side of the molds. Bake 20 to 22 minutes, or until set and cooked through.

3. Meanwhile, peel and devein the shrimp, reserving the shells. Cut the shrimp into bite-size pieces.

4. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook shrimp shells for 3 minutes. Add shallot and fennel seeds and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomato purée and the wine. Bring to a boil, lower the temperature and simmer 5 minutes.

5. Add the remaining 3 1/2 ounces (1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons) cream to the pan and stir to combine. Cook 3 more minutes. Strain this sauce into a bowl, discarding the solids, and return to the pan.

6. Reduce heat to medium, add the shrimp meat and cook gently until the shrimp is pink and cooked through, 2 to 3 more minutes. Season with salt, black pepper and optional cayenne pepper.

7. Run a thin-bladed knife around the inside of the rim of each mold and carefully invert the scallop mousse onto serving plates (the mousse will be very delicate). Spoon a little shrimp sauce over each and garnish with pieces of shrimp. Sprinkle with chives and serve.

Per serving: 198 calories; 13 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 197 mg cholesterol; 15 g protein; 8 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 260 mg sodium; 75 mg calcium