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." This 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.
Seared scallops with shallots and grapefruit sauce
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes (or more, if cooking scallops in serveral batches)
You can substitute tangerine or clementine juice for the grapefruit juice.
Adapted from Fine Cooking magazine, January 2008 issue. Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Detroit Free Press.
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 cup finely diced shallots (2 to 3 large)
1/2 cup 100 percent ruby red grapefruit juice
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 3/4 pounds large sea scallops
1/4 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; sauté, stirring constantly until the shallots are golden, about 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) and cover with a splatter screen if you have one, and cook until they are golden brown on both sides and almost firm to the touch, 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.
Per serving: 343 calories (45 percent from fat), 17 grams fat (2 grams sat. fat), 11 grams carb., 34 grams protein, 364 mg sodium, 65 mg cholesterol, 0 g fiber.