I would venture to say I had never had a true scallop experience until I was in college. Although not a true scallop virgin, before that I remember them (usually the tiny frozen bay variety) as rubbery, tasteless little orbs and I was definitely not a fan. (Sorry Mom)
But all of that was about to change. Thankfully, a veil was lifted from my bivalvian ignorance. There's a great little restaurant in my husband's hometown that has always been one of our favorites. As an undergrad, one of these frequent visits involved my companion ordering a simple dish of fried sea scallops. Since I was at that 20-something-and-realizing-how-little-I-know stage I decided to try one when offered and was immediately blown away by the slightly sweet, salty and tender quality. And my love affair with the scallop started then and there.
Since I was currently immersing myself in all things food related, it wasn't long until I came across the preparation that is the holy grail of scallopdom, searing juicy fresh scallops in butter until they're golden brown on each side and just barely cooked through. It quickly skyrocketed to my favorite meal of all time and seems to be the one item on any restaurant menu I cannot resist, even when the other options are more creative and something I might not be able to make myself.
Ever since my scallop enlightenment, I've indulged myself in a seared scallop dish about once a month. Today that treat involved a rich sauce and some buttery rice (which I've had the oddest craving for) with the Spanish flavors of saffron and orange.
Pan Seared Scallops Over Rice with Orange Saffron Sauce
Be sure to ask for dry scallops that have never been frozen. Other varieties contain too much water and won't sear nicely. Size does matter, so go for sea scallops over the petite bay version, but it's not necessary to shell out the big bucks for U10s (at only 10 per pound they're huge!) and I find that those cook too unevenly anyway. A medium to large scallop about an inch thick is your best bet.
I don't recommend a nonstick pan for this particular recipe. For even browning and the lovely caramelized bits that make the sauce so tasty you really need a stainless steel or anodized aluminum surface.
Serves 2 with some leftover rice.
1 cup chicken stock (homemade is best)
1/3 cup heavy cream
pinch of saffron
zest of one orange
1 Tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste (be sure to wait until the end to season)
2 cups chicken stock
zest and juice of an orange
pinch of saffron
4 Tbsp butter, divided
1 tsp salt
1 cup jasmine rice
1 cup mixed fresh or frozen veggies of your choice (I like the sweetness of peas and corn with scallops)
3 Tbsp basil leaves, rolled up together and sliced thin (chiffonade)
18 medium-large scallops (about 3/4 lb.)
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
To get the sauce started, combine chicken stock, cream, saffron and orange zest in a small saucepan (I use one called a butter warmer because it really only needs to hold about 1 1/2 cups). Bring to a simmer over medium heat and reduce to about half the original volume while you cook everything else. When ready, it will coat the back of a metal spoon.
Meanwhile, combine chicken stock, orange juice and zest, saffron, salt and 2 Tbsp of butter to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the rice, stir and reduce the heat to low. Cover, stirring occasionally to cook according to package instructions. In the last 5 minutes of cooking time, add the veggies. Add the basil right before serving.
While your rice cooks and sauce reduces, preheat a skillet over medium high heat with the butter and olive oil to get ready to sear your scallops. Pat the scallops dry with paper towels and check to make sure the abductor muscle (a tough little bit) has been removed. When the butter starts to sizzle (but not smoke) place your scallops in the pan with one of the flat sides down. If you've dried the scallops enough and your pan is nice and hot you should hear them sizzle immediately. Cook until golden on one side (usually 2-3 minutes), then flip and repeat. When all of the scallops are golden on both sides and opaque remove them from the pan. (Smaller ones are usually done first so I do this incrementally).
To finish, deglaze the pan with your reduced sauce. Let it bubble away over medium high heat as you scrape all those caramelized yummy bits off the bottom of the pan. I skipped this step the first time I made this recipe and what a waste that was! When the sauce becomes thick and turns more golden brown than it's original peachy color, it's ready.
Serve scallops atop a bed of rice with a drizzle of sauce over them.