Dry Sea Scallops
Scallops are one of my favorite foods in the entire world. They taste spectacular and they are one of the fastest, simplest, and easiest main dish items to cook.
A few weeks ago big plump U-8 wet pack scallops were on sale, and featured in our blog post Scallops Galore.
Dry Scallops versus Wet Scallops
Wet Scallops are treated with sodium phosphate which plumps them with moisture and extends the shelf live a bit. The extra moisture these absorb can dilute the wonderful flavor of scallops. Plus you pay for the water they absorb. The added moisture in wet scallops gives off some steam that inhibits a good sear. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eagerly eat wet packed scallops any day and they will taste great, but dry scallops are even better!
Dry Scallops come to you wild, natural and untreated. The flavor is denser, more concentrated and more intense because they haven’t been brined nor plumped with water. Just the goodness of the ocean. Less moisture is important because they can be better seared and the sear is so important in the proper cooking of a scallop, as we will discuss. A good scallop has a succulent natural sweetness that is enhanced by proper cooking and searing. Dry scallops are easier to sear and the crusty brown sear results in a sweet and flavorful caramelization. Actually it goes beyond caramelization. It’s what chefs and food scientists term the Maillard Reaction - over 300 flavor compounds are created which are similar yet more complex than caramelization. (Note: The best steakhouses and chefs enhance the maillard reaction with some true caramelization, they add a tiny bit of sugar when they season the steak, or in this case the scallops.)
Tips for grilling perfect Dry Scallops
- Pick nice big Dry Pack Scallops, from Wohlner’s of course. These have the side muscle already cleaned for you, and they run about 10 to 20 scallops per pound. Allow about 1/3 pound per person, about 5 ounces, and about 4 to 6 scallops per person.
- Double Skewer the scallops. 30-45 minutes before cooking remove scallops from the refrigerator, arrange scallops on a metal skewer, about 4 per skewer, then insert a second skewer through the scallops so they don’t spin around on the one skewer. Set scallops on a towel or paper towels, and also cover them with a towel or paper towel to remove excess moisture.
- Very hot fire! You need a very hot fire to quickly sear the scallops. Start the grill. If using charcoal start an ample amount so you get a screaming hot fire, and when coals are ready place them in a disposable foil pan to concentrate the heat.
- Clean grate: Get the grill grates very hot and clean them well with a wire brush.
- Well oiled grates: Oil the clean hot grill grate. With long tongs dip a folded paper towel into some canola or vegetable oil and rub the grates well. Wipe the top and bottom of each scallop with a dry paper towel.
- Lightly oil the scallops and season scallops with a little salt, pepper, and a very tiny amount of white sugar (the sugar is not necessary but helpful.) Brush each scallop lightly with canola oil. Or, skip step 6 and use the oil/flour/sugar baste in the recipe below.
- Sear but don’t overcook! Scallops are all about the sear. Grill scallops for about 2½ to 3½ minutes on one side—until they are lightly brown. Turn scallops and cook about 2 to 3 minutes on second side. DON’T OVERCOOK as they will get tough and lose flavor. The goal is to have them retain some translucence in the middle of each scallop. You don’t want them to be opaque throughout. Translucence = Succulence.
Baste for Grilled Dry Scallops
This baste will both help keep the scallops from sticking to the grill, and achieve a flavorful seared crust.
Serves 4-6 people (about 5 ounces/person)
- 1 1/2 pounds large dry sea scallops, about 10-20 per pound
- 8 – 12-inch metal skewers
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra for cooking grate
- 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- To get the grill really hot, cover with aluminum foil for fifteen minutes, then lightly coat grill with paper towel dipped in cooking oil. Pat your scallops dry. Double skewer the scallops and cover with paper towels.
- While grill is heating, whisk oil, flour, cornstarch, and sugar together in small bowl. Remove towels from scallops. Brush both sides of skewered scallops with oil mixture and season with salt and pepper.
- Place skewered scallops directly over hot grate. Cook scallops with lid down over high heat without moving scallops until lightly browned, 2½ to 3½ minutes.
- Carefully flip skewers and continue to cook until second side is browned, sides of scallops are firm, and centers are opaque, 2 to3 minutes longer. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.
- Scallops scream for a dry, crisp, clean, unoaked white wine with nice acidity, lightly chilled. Try a California Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre, Torrontes, or Albarino.
- Pinot Grigio would be acceptable.
- You can always cook the scallops in a heavy skillet over very high heat (too hot for Teflon pans), and cast iron is excellent for this. Shorten the cooking time to about 1.5 minutes on the first side and about 1 minute on the second side, all depending on the cooking heat, and the size and starting temperature of the scallops.)
- I find scallops perfect as-is that I tend not to use anything but salt and pepper to season, and no sauces or butter. However, if you insist on something more, place the grilled scallops on bed of mesclan or salad greens, and drizzle with a light Mango Vinaigrette or our Vietnamese-style Chile Lime Vinaigrette.
- Or try the Thai Lime Dipping Sauce recipe on the Scallops Galore post.
- 1 mango, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 lime, zested and juiced
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/3 cup rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey mustard
- 1 cup canola oil or olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Place mango, lime juice, zest, sugar, rice vinegar, and honey mustard into a blender. Blend on medium until combined.
- With the blender running slowly, drizzle in the oil to emulsify. Add salt and pepper to taste
- Allow to rest for 20 minutes so flavors combine.
This recipe is good not only with scallops, but also salmon and grilled pork tenderloin.
Asian-style Chile Lime Vinaigrette
If you made Bahn Mi sandwiches or hamburgers, then you should have both Asian Fish Sauce and Sriracha Sauce to make this Vietnamese Style Chile Lime Vinaigrette
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- 1 teaspoon water
- 2 tablespoons Sriracha Chile Sauce (with the rooster on the bottle)
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon grated lime zest
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- Place sugars and water in a small microwave safe bowl, and microwave on high for 20 seconds, remove and stir.
- Add Sriracha, fish sauce, lime zest, and lime juice, to the sugar mixture and stir.
- VERY slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking constantly to emulsify (Note: You could withhold the lime zest, pour all the ingredients from steps 1 and 2 into a blender. Start the blender and drizzle in the oil while the blender is running to emulsify. Turn off the blender, add lime zest, and give one short pulse.)
Other Menu Ideas
Chuck Roast smoked with Cherry Wood
Asian Marinated Flat Iron Steak or Sirloin Tacos with Chipotle Sour Cream
Chipolte Guacamole (Homemade Avocado Guacamole with canned chipotle peppers)
Chicken Breasts stuffed with Pepperoni Slices
Cucumber and Watermelon Salad
Fresh Cherries with Honeyed Mascarpone and sliced almonds
Strawberry Mascarpone Torte