Scallops – surely one of the most delightful little treats the sea has ever produced--they look like little meaty marshmallows—and like that sugary treat, they come in two sizes: large and small. The smaller versions are known as Bay Scallops, and if you’ve got some of those on your hands then I’d recommend checkout out my Coquilles Saint Jacques recipe. That one may be the ultimate in gussied up scallop recipes.
But if you want a simple scallop recipe, one that celebrates the delicate flavor of the scallop itself, without too much accompaniment, then this one is your huckleberry. For it, though, you’ll need the bigger of the two forms of scallops, known as Sea Scallops. The little bay scallops are just too small to stand up to the heat of the cast iron skillet—they’ll overcook before they sear properly. But the sea scallop, these my friends were made for this technique.
Scallops, like a good steak or fish, are best on the somewhat rare side. They should be cooked to an internal temp of around 130˚F and no more, or they will be rubbery. On the other hand, and also like a good steak, a scallop does benefit from a good sear on the ends, which will provide some nice, caramelized flavor, and you can’t beat cast iron for accomplishing this. Cast iron heats well and retains that heat, which is necessary to get a good sear.
The sauce for this recipe, which I’m calling a brown butter sauce, is sort of a bastardized version of a French burre noisette sauce. Burre Noisette literally translates to hazelnut butter, but there are no actual hazelnuts involved in the production of this butter. It is called noisette because the butter turns a sort of hazelnut color, and gains a somewhat nutty flavor form allowing the milk solids in the butter to brown slightly. We’ll be augmenting this sauce with some white wine and capers, but otherwise the sauce is simple enough for the scallop flavor to really shine through.
Cast Iron Seared Sea Scallops in Brown Butter Caper Sauce
1 Lb Sea Scallops, Drained
3 Tablespoons Peanut Oil
6 Tablespoons Butter
1/2 Cup White Wine
2-3 Tablespoons Capers
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
2 Oz Water
Get yourself a good cast iron skillet.
Nothing 'cept maybe copper heats as evenly, and nothing retains heat as well, which is crucial to gettting a good sear quickly. Add the peanut oil (other other high smoke point oil) and heat until it is just beginning to smoke, which is really hot, say around 440˚F, which just happens to be the smoke point of peanut oil. If you don't have a thermometer, then just get it to where it is just beginning to smoke and you'll be good.
While it's heating, place your scallops on some paper toweling and pat dry.
If you want, you can remove the little extra piece of flesh from the side of each scallop (known as the 'foot') to make them more uniform.
Add the scallops to the hot, smoking skillet, placing them down on the flat side as opposed to the round.
Let them sear for at least two minutes, maybe more. You can gently put sideways pressure on them with some tongs. When they release they are usually read to flip.
Sometimes when they release, though, they still don't have a complete sear, like a few in this picture.
You can flip these back over but keep an eye on them.
You want to get a nice, solid sear on them, like these two here--golden brown, almost caramelized--they will be brimming with flavor.
Let the second side sear and then get 'em off the heat--the big sea scallops can stand up to searing, but even they will overcook if you leave them on too long. And the sear should be a deep golden brown, not black.
Move them to a paper-lined plate and keep warm.
Reduce heat and let skillet cool a bit. Add butter to the skillet and let it sauté for about thirty seconds.
Since you're pan is probably still pretty hot, the butter solids will brown pretty quickly, and you want them just browned, not burned. Have the wine ready and when the butter just begins to brown, add the wine to slow the cooking.
Stir to combine and scrape up browned bits from the pan. Let wine simmer for a couple minutes until reduced by half.
Add the capers with some of their juice.
Admire the beautiful concoction.
Then stir to combine.
Mix the cornstarch with the water and then add this to the sauce to thicken it.
Let cook until it thickens enough so that a spatula scraped across will leave a gap that is slow to close.
Serve the scallops with the sauce drizzled over the top, making sure to get plenty of capers on board.
Here we've served them simply with a mini Pommes Anna.
Until next time,
Come out of your shell and have some scallops!