A couple of months ago, the wife of one of my Facebook friends wrote to ask for my help. He husband is the one who usually cooks for the family and follows The Heritage Cook. She wanted to treat him to a home-cooked meal. After a few questions I had the basis for their meal. A little work later and this recipe came to life. I love helping people make events special, whether as an event planner or recipe developer.
When I go to a restaurant and they serve scallops on a plain plate, I get frustrated. I want something to absorb all those delicious juices. That’s why I love combining scallops with pasta or rice. You can use any type of pasta that you like. If you are using long pastas like fettuccine or spaghetti, do your guests a favor and break them before cooking or cut them afterwards so they are easier to eat politely. Slurping at the dinner table isn’t the best manners, LOL.
Scallops can be a bit tricky to cook. If you overcook them they turn rubbery. That’s why I suggest you use the panko crust. It helps protect them a little from the heat source, giving you a bit more wiggle room. But if you want to, you can leave off the crust and just saute the scallops in the oil and butter. This dish also makes a wonderful appetizer. Just serve smaller portions.
When you want the flavor of butter but need to cook over higher heat (which can cause butter to burn), all you have to do is add a little olive oil. It lowers the smoke point, allowing you to safely saute at a higher temperature. If you want to reduce the calories or prefer to avoid cooking with butter, you can leave it out. Add another pinch of salt to replace what you lost by leaving out the butter.
It can be a challenge finding good quality scallops. Fresh scallops are pale beige to light pink or peach colored, smell faintly of the sea, are not fishy smelling, and are firm not mushy to the touch. Anything other than this indicated the scallops are old and have been sitting around awhile. They should never be stored in water. If they are white, chances are good that they’ve been sitting in and absorbing water, causing them to lose nutrients and color (and become heavier, costing you more). Look for those labeled “chemical free” or “dry packed.”
Refrigerate them immediately when you get home and ideally, cook them the same day you bought them. Unless you have a reputable fishmonger in your neighborhood, you may be better off buying flash-frozen scallops and thawing them yourself.
Scallops have been around since the time of Marco Polo but didn’t become readily available in this country until the 1970’s. They are in the mollusk family and are related to clams, mussels, and oysters. There are many varieties, but you will mainly see small bay scallops and large sea scallops sold. Beware of a selection of scallops that are all exactly the same size and shape. There is a possibility that these have been cut from larger, less tender scallops, or even shark.
When you purchase your scallops, pick over them like you do crab, discarding any pieces of shell, dirt, or tough white gristle that may be attached. Cook scallops fully due to possible food-borne illnesses. Scallops go by many names, but the one that actually means something substantial is “Diver.” This means that they were harvested by hand rather than by a boat dragging chain nets across the ocean floor. The divers select the larger, more mature scallops, leaving the small ones to continue growing. This is by far the more ecologically sound practice.
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood WATCH program, the best choice is “farmed off-bottom” followed by “farmed on-bottom” and “U.S. Atlantic wild-caught.” If you ever have questions about which are your best seafood choices, check out the Seafood WATCH website. They even have an iPhone app!
So, enough talk about scallops. Let’s get in the kitchen and get cooking!!
- 1/2 cup Panko Japanese breadcrumbs (you can use regular dried breadcrumbs)
- 1/4 finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp garlic powder (not garlic salt!)
- 1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream, divided
- 1/2 lb fresh sea scallops (try to find those that have not been previously frozen) or peeled shrimp
- 1/2 lb long pasta such as fettuccine, spaghettini, or other of your choice
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves or freshly chopped dill
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Additional Parmesan cheese, for garnish
- In a plastic zip-top bag, combine the panko, 1/4 cup Parmesan, and garlic powder. Shake to mix well.
- Place 1/4 cup of the cream in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and a couple grinds of pepper. Add scallops to the cream, turning to coat completely. Working with one at a time, place scallops in the crumb mixture, tossing to coat thoroughly. Carefully transfer to a plate or baking sheet. Finish coating remaining scallops.
- Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to manufacturer’s directions, slightly undercooking it. It will finish cooking in the sauce. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. When done, drain.
- Heat butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and is hot add the scallops to the pan, without crowding (cook in batches if necessary). Cook about 2 minutes per side, using tongs to turn scallops, cooking until the coating is crispy and lightly golden. Do not overcook. Transfer cooked scallops to a baking dish and keep warm in a very low oven.
- Add tomatoes to the hot pan and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, just to soften slightly. Add remaining 1/4 cup of cream to the pan, whisking to combine. When hot, add the cooked pasta and toss to thoroughly coat with sauce. Add the thyme or dill. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
- Transfer to a warmed serving bowl. Scatter Parmesan over the top and nestle scallops into pasta. Serve immediately.