A Winter Favorite: Scallops

close up of pan seared sea scallops

A little French lesson in cooking scallops. Two minutes. Voilà. Dinner in 10 minutes (blame the spinach), absolument possible. A sublime dish, easy to prepare. It’s taking me more time to write the recipe than make the entire dinner… but there is more to it! It is a meal, after all.

I’m always amused and amazed reading about the latest scallops recipes, the bare minimum kind, and it takes 20 minutes to prepare! Mon dieu, to eat, maybe, but to prepare? Add to this garlic or pungent sauce or whatever it is that people/chefs put on to ruin the sweet and delicate flavors of that almost perfect protein (the other is the oyster which beats it on all levels), and it breaks my heart.

Of course, being French I love my scallops with the coral served in their Botticelli shell. Not so easy to find in the Big Apple.

In NYC, I’ve learned to dazzle my Saturday night guests with a quick and delicious recipe served from the shells I brought back from Paris years ago and keep religiously.

In the Winter—scallop season ranges from November to February in North America—I go to the Union Square market in the am and get some freshly shucked scallops (3 per person if big…but if you can lay your hands on the best I’ve ever tasted get the small Nantucket ones, and you will need 6 for one serving). Once home, I rinse them to get rid of any sand, remove the small hard “foot” if any, and blot them dry in a paper towel. I put them in a bowl and pour on the juice of a meyer lemon, cover and put in fridge.

Ten minutes before cooking, I take the bowl out. Meanwhile I heat another pan brushed with a drizzle of olive oil, some coarse pepper and when hot I add a huge amount of fresh spinach…it will be ready when the scallops are… When ready to serve, I warm a non stick pan and when hot put the scallops and their juice in pan and cook them barely more than a minute on one side under medium flame then turn and cook on the other side for a minute (of course, the small ones need even less time…nothing worse than rubbery scallops, and overcooking them happens fast).

I serve them with a drizzle of walnut or even better hazelnut oil, season with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, and add the spinach in a side bowl.

I often start the evening with a glass of white wine or bubbly and some prosciutto with good breadsticks or alone, and after the main course, a small plate of two cheeses with multigrain bread. Same wine throughout the evening. The dessert is often one of my chocolate mousses that I whipped in no time the night before. Simple, fast and delicious. It does not get any better than that. And I get to sit with my guests throughout.

Most of my French women friends serve scallops simply. It’s old-fashioned to think we still eat the classic and time-consuming baked dish with bechamel as it, too, destroys the sweet and fresh flavor of those little treats… You may find it in tourist spots or old-fashioned bistros (and if you do it’s probably one of those restaurants who buy and serve frozen food) but it’s a recipe doomed to disappear.