Sunday, December 22, 2019

Seared Sea Scallops Au Champagne Gratin

plate of seared scallops au champagne grain
Elegance with Few Ingredients

Recipe by Robin

Back in the days when I first left my birthplace in New England, my parents would ask me what I wanted to eat when I visited from California. My dad’s scallops were always high on my list. He’d pan-fry the scallops, crumble Royal Lunch milk crackers over them after plating, then top off with butter sauce. Since original Royal Lunch crackers have been replaced with an odd and expensive substitute, and fresh scallops aren’t too available here, I’d never tried to duplicate his recipe. Until inspired by some scrumptious-looking sea scallops I saw at Costco recently while shopping for chicken. Seafood night!

scallops sizzling in skillet, in process of flipping
Sizzlin' Scallops
When I saw the scallops, I immediately had the inspired idea of substituting panko crumbs for Dad’s crackers—their mild and slightly sweet taste is similar. And then, to bump up the sauce flavor, I broke out the champagne vinegar that I’d bought years ago and never used, and added fresh thyme from my garden. If I hadn’t had the vinegar, I might have tried a little sherry instead. The idea was to season the crumbs without overpowering the subtle flavor of the scallops.

Two keys to successful seared scallops: First, dry the scallops off with a paper towel immediately before placing in the skillet to sear. Second, do NOT, whatever you do, move the scallops once you’ve set them in the skillet to sear. It’s best to have a plan for positioning the scallops in the skillet, so you can flip them in the same order they entered the pan. It’s easiest to make a circle around the edge of the pan, starting at the bottom, closest to you. Fill in the center in a similar circle. When flippin’ time comes, follow the same pattern and all the scallops will be equally cooked.

One final note: this recipe is for large sea scallops, about 12 scallops per pound. I don’t recommend it for the smaller bay scallops. Also, the serving portions are not dainty  restaurant size—I’m always disappointed to receive only 3 scallops for a premium price. If we’re indulging in scallops, let’s go all the way, and serve ourselves 4 – 6 of them. Enjoy!

seared scallops au champagne gratin on bed of spinach
Try 'em on a Bed of Steamed Spinach
Seared Sea Scallops Au Champagne Gratin
2 – 3 generous servings

1 lb. fresh sea scallops, about 12
1/3 cup panko crumbs
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. butter
1½ tbsp. champagne vinegar
1 tbsp. water
1 heaping tsp. fresh thyme leaves

In a medium, heavy bottom skillet over medium high heat, toast the panko crumbs, stirring frequently, until they are evenly golden brown. Remove to room temperature plate or bowl.

Wipe out the skillet. Add butter and olive oil to skillet, and place over medium high heat, watching carefully as butter melts. Meanwhile, dry off the scallops with a paper towel. This drying is essential to getting a good sear.

perfectly seared scallops in skillet
The Way We Like 'Em
When the butter lightly steams, and/or small bubbles appear in the mixture, and/or you notice the mixture turning just slightly brown, add the scallops. Beginning at the nearest point of the skillet towards you, place scallops in skillet, moving around the edge in either clockwise or counterclockwise pattern. Fill in the middle of the circle in a pattern you will remember. You will need to flip the scallops in the same order you put them into the pan. Don’t crowd the scallops, and whatever you do, don’t reposition them once they’re placed—this will prevent them from searing.

Set the timer for 2 minutes. Keep steady watch to avoid burning (lower heat just slightly if needed). Scallops should sizzle quite a bit. At the end of 2 minutes, inspect the scallops without moving them. Look for slight browning on bottom edge, and a bit of shrinkage in size. Usually another minute makes for a better sear, so time that if they still look plump.

Flip the scallops in the order you put them in the pan, using tongs. Set the timer again for 2 minutes. Don’t move the scallops until the end of that time. Meanwhile, warm up a serving plate in the microwave for a minute or two.

Remove skillet from heat. Remove scallops from skillet with tongs, and arrange on serving plate. Keep warm.

To make champagne vinegar sauce: Put the same skillet on the stove over low heat. Immediately add 1 tsp. butter and stir around till melted, stirring up browned bits. Add champagne vinegar and water. Stir and deglaze the pan for a minute or so, incorporating more browned bits. Stir in thyme leaves for several seconds till slightly wilted. Remove from heat.

To serve: Sprinkle toasted panko crumbs over scallops. Top with champagne vinegar sauce. Serve immediately.

oil and melting butter in skillet
Begin with Butter and Olive Oil
seared scallops ready to flip
Flip when Slightly Brown on Bottom
plate of freshly seared scallops
Exquisitely Seared
panko crumbs on top of seared scallops
Sprinkle on Toasted Panko Crumbs
seared scallops au champagne gratin, looking glazed and with thyme leaves
Top with Glorious Champagne Vinegar Sauce
6 remaining scallops au champagne gratin with serving utensil
Leftovers Won't Last Long

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