During my evening commute yesterday, my phone rang as my subway train was crossing the Manhattan Bridge. It was one of my sisters. I answered right away, and told her I only had a few minutes before we would be cut off when the train went underground again.
She wanted to know how to cook scallops. I love these kinds of calls. Every so often one of my siblings will ring me up for a recipe. I'm proud that I can give them useful advice. In this case, she had asked about the right kind of dish. Cooking scallops the way I like them doesn't even require a recipe. It requires good technique. Most seafood, in my opinion, doesn't need much of anything to make it taste good, so long as it is fresh. If it's not, that's another story.
The key to good tasting fresh fish is all in the cooking. Or rather, in the not over cooking. If you wait until it is done in the pan, it will be over done by the time it hits the plate and table. In my estimation, the length of time it takes to cook scallops is only slightly longer than the length of time it takes to learn how to do so. It's a short process, which is handy if you are conveying the method (for this is hardly a recipe) by cell phone on a moving subway while it crosses the East River.
Very quickly I told her to do the following:
Heat a cast-iron frying pan until it is almost smoking.
Add olive oil.
Place the scallops in the pan in one layer and do not disturb for a few minutes, until start to brown.
Turn the pan off and let the scallops sit momentarily.
Flip them forcibly with a sturdy spatula to be sure that you capture the deliciously sweet carmelized crust.
Heat the pan again until the scallops are finished, just a few minutes.
I assumed she was talking about sea scallops, but this method works equally well with the now rare and unbelievably good (and expensive) local bay scallop.
When I want to be fancy, I peel a clove of garlic, cut it in half, and leave it in the pan momentarily when the oil is heating. Be sure to take it out, or else it will burn.