The Perfect Sear

Plumping may be fine for the turkeys over at Butterball, but it's not good for scallops. If you want a perfect seared scallop, you've got to start with a "dry" one. That is, the scallop should not be doused with sodium tripolyphosphate, or anything else for that matter. I hope I don't have to tell you that at Mac's our scallops are always totally au naturel.

Here on Cape Cod, local Atlantic sea scallops are extra-sweet this time of year. They're delicious seared then sauced with nothing more than their buttery pan juices. But get with the season and set them on a smear of warm cauliflower puree or a spoonful of turnip-fingerling hash, then add a few caramelized shitake mushrooms or browned bites of pancetta, and you can turn two or three scallops into a fancy-looking first course for your holiday table.

If you happen to get really big ones, a single scallop is enough. One perfect scallop looks great on the plate. I like to score them before I sear them, like this:

No matter how you decide to plate them, the main thing is to get the sear right. Here's my technique:

 

 

Perfect Seared Scallops

Good local dry scallops will wow people even if all you do is sear them and serve with nothing more than their pan juices. So instead of a recipe, here's how to get that perfect sear:

1. Use a well-seasoned cast iron skillet––that black surface really helps with getting a well-caramelized, even crust on the scallop. If you don't have cast iron, a good heavyweight skillet can work, but non-stick pans just aren't great for searing.

2. Have unsalted butter on hand, softened to room temperature before you start.

3. Give the pan a light coating of olive oil and let it get nice and hot––you want it just under the point of smoking. 

4. While the pan heats, pat the scallops dry with a kitchen towel or paper towel and sprinkle them with sea salt.

5. Smear one side of each scallop with a generous dab of butter and place them, buttered side down in the hot skillet. Don't over-crowd them in the pan. They need a few inches of space around them or they'll steam in their juices and won't sear well. Better to cook them in batches, if need be.

6. The first minute: let the scallops sizzle: they'll seem to stick, then unstick from the surface of the pan. Give them a nudge once that's happened, letting them pick up more of the browning pan juices.

7. If you want to amp up the flavor, now's the time to add a spoonful of minced shallot or garlic and sprinkle on a pinch of fresh thyme.

8. The second minute: add a little more butter to the pan. Baste the scallops with the melted butter. Once they're caramelized and turning opaque around the edges, they're almost cooked through.

9. A final minute or two: flip the scallops and turn off the fire. Let them sit to finish cooking, another minute or two, depending on their size.

10. Plate the scallops straight up or set them on anything from pureed parsnips in winter to fresh corn succotash in summer. Bacon is always nice. Use the buttery pan juices as your sauce.

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