This past weekend Matt and I took an itty bitty teeny-weeny little tiny mini vacation to see the musical Wicked in Birmingham. While I had great plans to sew a skirt especially for the occasion, I just didn’t have enough time to finish narrow hemming four layers of thin, silky fabric before we left. And it’s a shame, too, because one of the leads in the production wore a very similar skirt in one of the scenes of the musical. Instead, I decided to wear a beautiful store-bought dress that has been hanging unworn in my closet for a while.
While we were in Birmingham, we stopped by Whole Foods to do a little shopping (but mostly to just look and drool). We brought home some gorgeous 10-count sea scallops that I cooked that evening for dinner. Those of you who know me, know that I am a die-hard baker — I love that baking is very scientific and follow-the-directions. I am less fond of cooking since it is more art than science (back to the whole OCD/control-freak bit again). Scallops are one thing that I like to cook, though, thanks to the excellent directions in this cookbook.
I first learned about Thomas Keller when Matt and I were in Napa Valley a few years ago. While we didn’t eat at any of his restaurants, I sure wanted to. When we got home, I purchased the French Laundry and ad hoc at home cookbooks. I don’t know that I’ll ever make anything from the French Laundry but I do use ad hoc on a pretty regular basis. The roasted chicken has become a regular on my table (I’ll share it with you sometime), and his ice cream is divine.
These scallops are extremely easy to prepare and are almost fool-proof. I recommend waiting until you can find really large scallops — like those that are 12 or less to the pound — so that your dish will turn out successfully. This dish is definitely one that you could serve to impress guests but also works well as a quick, light meal on a busy night (like it was for Matt and I after we spent 4 hours on the road home from Birmingham and made a detour by the state farmers’ market in Montgomery).
A few notes about this simple recipe to ensure it succeeds without a glitch:
1. Try to use the specified brand of Kosher salt. If you can’t find it or don’t have it, measure your salt by weight, not volume. In other words, if you don’t have Diamond Crystal, weigh out 5 ounces of salt — don’t use a measuring cup.
2. Do not use olive oil. Olive oil is not well-suited for high-heat cooking and may scorch. You could use canola or vegetable oil if you had to, but clarified butter really is the best.
3. To clarify butter, simply melt 1/2 stick of butter in a small sauce pan over low heat. Pour it into a small, narrow glass. Let it sit until the milk solids have settled to the bottom and you see two distinct layers. Skim the foam off the top and discard. Carefully pour the clear yellow liquid off the top into another small container (this is your clarified butter). Discard the milk solids that remain in the bottom.
4. Use a stainless steel pan. It will caramelize the scallops better than a nonstick pan.
Caramelized Sea Scallops
Serves 61 cup (5 ounces) Diamond Crystal kosher salt, plus more to taste 2 cups boiling water 8 cups cold water 1 dozen large (8-10 count per pound) or 1 3/4 pounds sea scallops 2 tablespoons clarified butter 1/2 lemon (optional)
Line a small baking sheet with paper towels. In a large bowl, combine the salt and boiling water, stirring to dissolve the salt. Stir in the cold water. Add the scallops to the brine and let stand for 10 minutes but no longer as the scallops may become too salty. Remove from the brine and rinse under cold water. Place on a single layer on the baking sheet to drain.
Heat the clarified butter in a large stainless steel frying pan over medium-high heat until it ripples and smokes. Sprinkle the scallops lightly with salt then add to the pan without crowding (scallops should not touch — cook in two batches if necessary). Cook, without moving the scallops, until the bottoms are a rich golden brown, 3 to 3 1/2 minutes. Turn the scallops and caramelize the second side.
Transfer the scallops to a serving platter and serve with a squeeze of lemon juice on top, if desired.