In full transparency, I am so in love with this species of marine bivalve mollusks — but it didn't start out that way.
Back in the day when I was in high school, if you were a cool kid with a car or access to a car, then you’d take your girlfriend on a date to the Red Lobster out in the county, which was about a 25-minute ride outside of the part of the inner city where most of us so-called cool kids lived.
This is hilarious looking back because all of the best seafood restaurants were actually located three to five minutes away from our neighborhoods — meaning that we passed up on Obrycki's (where Oprah used to get her crab cakes), Phillips (an Inner Harbor staple) and Moe’s (home of the best crab meat-stuffed chicken breasts ever created, in my humble opinion.)
We drove in the opposite direction just to say we ventured to the county to feast on corporate seafood and those delicious cheddar biscuits. Red Lobster used to be so popular there was a line out front, and we'd gladly wait for our turn to be seated.
I never knew a person who ate scallops, though. My family and most of my friends were always blue crab meat or jumbo shrimp kinds of people. I mean, we went to Red Lobster and never even thought about ordering the lobster.
But once I was on a date with an upperclassman (two years older to be exact — I was an eager 10th grader and she was headed off to college) and I had the responsibility of looking more sophisticated. A young waiter came to our table and explained the specials and after recommending the scallops, I gave it a go. She had the lobster; go figure. Our plates came out rather quickly and looked corporately delicious. We dug in.
A few minutes later, others in the restaurant watched her laughing hysterically at how my face frowned up after chewing the hard, tough pieces of meat. Scallops were the worst kind of seafood anyone had ever created, I thought — they looked and tasted like stale marshmallows dipped in fish oil. I vowed to never eat them again.
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It would be about a decade before I realized I was totally wrong. I was at a fancy restaurant in Washington, D.C. — you know, one of those places where the chef sends you out something special to welcome you right before you put in your drink order. It was a single scallop soaking in a tiny bowl of seafood bisque. I hesitated at first, remembering my only interaction with scallops, but then bit into a small piece of heaven. It left me forever changed. Scallops were not disgusting — only the people who overcook them are.
When medium, they are fluffy and juicy. Fully cooked, they are rubbery golf balls — and that is the difference.
It took me about two or three times to figure out how to make them perfectly, so pay attention to the directions. If you don't pop them out fast enough, then you will fail like I did initially and wind up going back to the store for more.
But if you get it right, then you will be able to save some money by cooking a dish that can run you a pretty penny in your favorite seafood restaurant.
Five-star scallops Yields 4 servings Prep Time 2 minutes Cook Time 5 minutes
12 fresh sea scallops
½ teaspoon of red pepper
¾ teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons of black pepper
4 tablespoons of salt-free butter
Create your spice blend in a small bowl by mixing the red pepper, garlic powder and black pepper until well-blended.
Use your spice blend to season the scallops on both sides.
In a small pot, melt 2 tablespoons of the salt-free butter.
Heat your cast-iron pan until hot. Melt the other 2 tablespoons of the salt-free butter.
This is the most important part. Cook your scallops for two minutes on one side, and then about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on the other side and remove them for the perfect temperature. Use the rest of the butter to baste.