Dressing scallops for a quick, fancy meal

| Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, 8:56 p.m.

For a spur of the moment semi-fancy meal, you can't beat scallops.

Scallops are ideal to have tucked away in your freezer because they defrost and cook quickly. When planning a meal with scallops, figure two to three of the larger sea scallops (about 2 inches in diameter) per serving with a side dish.

Buy fresh, dry-packed sea scallops if you can; these are not treated or soaked in a solution. If they were not previously frozen, you can freeze them. When buying them from the fish counter, give them a sniff. Fresh scallops should smell sweet, not fishy.

Also, check the color. Scallops should be creamy light beige or off-white. If they're stark white, chances are they were treated with sodium tripolyphosphate, which is added to increase their weight and extend their shelf life. The preservative also makes them absorb moisture and, during cooking, that absorbed water releases and almost steams the scallops, preventing them from getting that really nice sear. If the scallops have been soaked, pat them dry with several paper towels.

If you buy frozen scallops, the label should indicate whether they've been treated. If they haven't, they should be labeled “dry.”

Today's recipe pairs pan-seared scallops with a slightly tangy, ruby-red grapefruit juice-based sauce. If the sauce is too tangy for your taste, balance it out with a small amount of brown sugar. Here are some other flavor suggestions for scallops.

Basic: Sear scallops in a mix of hot oil and butter. Depending on their size, figure 2 to 4 minutes on each side. Don't crowd them in the pan; sear in batches if needed. When you turn them over and cook on the second side, spoon the butter or oil in the pan over the scallops. Cooked this way, scallops will be sweet and fork-tender. But be careful not to overcook them, or they will be tough and chewy. Deglaze the pan with white wine and pour the resulting sauce over the scallops.

Gremolata: Mix together ½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley, 1 clove garlic, finely minced, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Sear scallops in butter or oil and, then, remove from the skillet. Add the parsley mixture to the pan and saute for 1 to 2 minutes. Serve scallops topped with gremolata.

Balsamic glazed: Sear scallops as above. Remove them from the skillet and add ½ cup white wine or fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar to pan. Cook over medium heat until just slightly thick, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes. Pour over the scallops.

Bacon-wrapped: Cook bacon until almost done, but not crisp. Season the scallops well on each side with salt and pepper. In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon canola oil. Wrap a half slice of bacon around each scallop and secure with a wooden pick. Add the scallops to the skillet and cook for 2 to 4 minutes on each side.

Susan M. Selasky is a food writer for the Detroit Free Press.

Seared Scallops With Shallots and Grapefruit Sauce

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes

You can substitute tangerine or clementine juice for the grapefruit juice. Adapted from Fine Cooking magazine, January 2008 issue.

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

½ cup finely diced shallots (2 to 3 large)

½ cup 100 percent ruby-red grapefruit juice

¼ cup white wine vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1¾ pounds large sea scallops

¼ teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives

1 tablespoon freshly chopped tarragon, optional

In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots; saute, stirring constantly until the shallots are golden, for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the grapefruit juice and vinegar. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste; set aside.

Pat the scallops dry with paper towels and season lightly with salt, pepper and Old Bay Seasoning.

In a 12-inch heavy-duty nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches if necessary, add the scallops (don't crowd them in the pan), cover with a splatter screen if you have one, and cook until the scallops are golden brown on each sides and almost firm to the touch, for 2 to 4 minutes per side.

Add the shallot sauce to the scallops and cook until the sauce is just heated through.

Serve immediately, sprinkled with the chives and, if using, the tarragon.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 343 calories, 17 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 65 milligrams cholesterol, 34 grams protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, 0 dietary fiber, 364 milligrams sodium

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