The word ‘scallop’ comes from the old French word ‘escalope’, meaning ‘shell’ and scallops are the worlds only only migratory bivalve. They are able to swim by ejecting water by clamping their shell using their adductor muscle (the part we eat). In the US, Sea scallops (Placopecten magellanicus) or the UK, King scallops (Pecten maximus) are the most popular larger sea scallops available in those markets and are best suited to pan searing whole. Smaller scallops such bay scallops (Argopecten irradians) in the US and Queenies or Queen scallops (Aequipecten opercularis) in the UK are well suited to oven cooking, a few at a time in the shell with other ingredients such as ‘Coquilles Saint Jacques au Gratin’.
When purchasing scallops, it is better to buy ‘diver’ caught scallops instead of ‘dredged’ as this is a more sustainable method of harvesting. Also try to buy fresh, rather than frozen because frozen scallops are usually injected with sodium tripolyphosphate to plump them up and help preserve them. The problem with scallops injected with sodium tripolyphosphate is that it will be near impossible to sear because of the high liquid content. Though not seen often in the US, you may find scallops still with the roe, or coral (the red part) attached to the white meaty adductor muscle. This is sometimes removed, as it is more perishable and deteriorates more quickly than the main muscle. If the coral is attached, it is best to remove it before cooking and add it to the pan for the last few seconds of cooking as they cook very quickly.
To Pan Sear Scallops
To sear scallops first ensure that they are dry. Pat with a paper towel to remove any last moisture. Season them with a little salt and black pepper. Add a knob of butter and a splash of olive oil (to prevent the butter burning) to medium high skillet. Gently place the scallops into the pan starting at the 12 o’clock position and working around the pan clockwise, being careful not to crowd the pan. If you have too many scallops, consider doing a second batch. After a minute and a half, turn each scallop, starting at the 12 o’clock position and working clockwise. Apart from turning the scallops once, do not touch them while cooking, no mater how tempted you are. The secret is to get a seared crust on the outside, to being barely cooked on the inside. If you have the scallop corals, add them to the pan for the last 30 seconds of cooking. Remove the scallops to the serving plates. Add another small knob of butter to the pan, bring up to heat and then add a splash of dry Vermouth or Pernod to help de-glaze the pan. Cook for about 30 seconds and then drizzle over the scallops before serving.