The scallop is a mollusk that swims freely along the ocean floor by means of a muscle that opens and closes its double shells. This muscle, called an eye, is a sold in fish markets and in grocery store seafood cases.Cooking scallops on a stove top generally takes no more than two to three minutes per side, a quick process that keeps them tender and juicy.
Ready, Set, Cook
The art of cooking scallops to perfection begins with proper preparation, which includes washing them to remove any bits of shell or sand that may still cling to their damp surfaces. Pat them dry and set aside while you heat a bit of oil or butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet. The goal is to sear them quickly so that they develop a golden-brown crust on each side without overcooking them, which toughens them and gives them a dry rubbery consistency.
Heat the skillet to medium-high, but not to the point where the oil or butter will start to smoke. Place the scallops about two inches apart, as overcrowding will cause them to steam rather than sear. You can season them lightly with salt and pepper at this point, or omit this step. If you are using minced garlic to flavor the scallops, saute it for one to two minutes in the oil or butter before adding the scallops. Once in the pan, it takes two to three minutes before the brown crust develops. Turn the scallops with a pair of tongs and repeat the procedure on the other side.
Bits & Pieces
If you are cooking just enough scallops to fill the pan, turn the heat off at this point or remove the pan from the heat and serve. Otherwise, repeat the procedure for any remaining scallops. After the scallops have cooked, make the most of the juices and any browned bits remaining in the bottom of the pan by deglazing it with a little dry white wine or another pat of butter. Stir the wine or butter in and heat, scraping the bits off the bottom to incorporate them into the sauce. Now is also the time to add herbs such as parsley or chives or a bit of lemon zest. Stir all into the sauce until well blended. Pour the sauce over the scallops and serve immediately.
Seashells by the Seashore
Depending upon where you live in the United States, you may find two types of scallops: sea scallops, which can measure up to 2 inches across, or the smaller bay scallops, which measure no more than 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch across. Sea scallops are harvested primarily in north and mid-Atlantic waters, while bay scallops grow in bays and estuaries from New England to the Gulf of Mexico. Pan-frying works well for sea scallops, as they have more of an external surface to work with. Bay scallops are smaller and, while they can be pan-fried, are often breaded, seasoned, baked or incorporated with other ingredients.
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