Chef Robert Clark, co-owner of a sustainable seafood market in Vancouver called The Fish Counter, gave us this recipe. He recommends buying dry-packed scallops, which have no additives and brown beautifully, versus wet-packed, which are injected with a preservative and ooze liquid in the pan, so they tend to steam instead of brown. Dry-packed look dry and have a pinkish coral hue. Here, Clark sears the scallops quickly, so they develop a golden brown crust but stay tender and medium-rare inside. Leftover relish is terrific on toast, in an omelet, and with lamb.
12 large dry-packed sustainably farmed or diver-caught scallops
About 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
4 large vine-ripened tomatoes or 5 whole canned tomatoes, drained
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/2 cup diced fennel bulb (about 1/2 bulb); save some fronds for garnish
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
About 1/4 tsp. pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
How to Make It
Lay scallops on a paper towel–lined plate and allow to come to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Season with 1/2 tsp. salt and let stand 5 more minutes. "Seasoning before cooking develops the best flavor," says Clark. Blot dry.
Meanwhile, make relish: If using fresh tomatoes, dip them in a large pot of boiling water, 10 seconds. Let cool, then peel. (If using canned tomatoes, don't boil.) To seed tomatoes, simply cut them in half and squeeze. Core and dice fine.
Heat 2 tbsp. butter in a large skillet over medium heat until it begins to brown. Add onion, fennel, and a pinch of salt and cook until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes; add cumin and cook 1 minute more, stirring often. Stir in tomatoes and cook until sauce is glossy and thickened, about 8 minutes. Stir in the remaining butter "to emulsify the sauce a bit," then add parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Heat a large frying pan (cast-iron is best; with nonstick, you won't get a good crust) over medium-high heat until hot. Swirl in oil, then arrange scallops in a single layer in pan, with ample space around each. Cook without moving scallops until golden and crusty underneath, about 2 minutes; then turn and cook for about a minute. Remove from heat and let scallops sit in pan 1 minute; transfer to a plate, starting with the thinnest scallops.
While scallops are cooking, spoon some relish into gratin dishes. Add a scallop or two to each. Top each with a dab of relish and a snippet of fennel fronds. "Any garnish should be part of the dish, and it should be eaten."
This was really good. Not too much work, easily attained and fresh ingredients and straightforward preparation for a restaurant-quality recipe. I was so happy to find this recipe when my food box had a small fennel bulb and my grocery store had scallops on sale. Do heed the note and use dry-packed scallops if you can find them (I could not); I let them drain and blotted out as much moisture as possible, but they still did not develop much of that beautiful and tasty crust. The relish was totally wonderful (I used canned tomatoes, which were fine), and we were a bit disappointed that there was none left over. If I can ever find dry-packed scallops (and sustainable), this will be my go-to preparation.
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