Rich and I were footloose and fancy free on Friday night since Calvin was spending the night with my parents. We wanted something different for dinner, but we weren’t sure we wanted to go out. We figured everywhere would be crowded with regular weekend crowds and Valentine’s Day dates. One thing led to another and I decided we should have a scallop appetizer before a shrimp and quinoa main course. Who says we can’t make a fancy dinner for ourselves?
Fresh seafood can be an iffy proposition in the Midwest, depending on the source. I almost always rely on frozen fish. We do have a lovely seafood market not far from home, and I decided to splurge on fresh scallops for our date night. I did use frozen shrimp since we already had some in the freezer (more on the shrimp soon).
Calvin and I made Rich some vanilla salt for a Christmas present a couple of years ago. I had seen vanilla salt in a specialty store and couldn’t believe what they wanted to charge for it. Rich loves vanilla, and I thought we could come up with some great recipes to use vanilla salt, so I decided we should make our own. We ground up a vanilla bean in the food processor, stirred it up in some fine sea salt and put it in a nice jar. Rich was thrilled, but then we were stumped about what to do with it. Finally, two years later, I was going to use it on our scallops.
I have seen scallops with vanilla sauce on various restaurant menus, and have sampled them once. The vanilla nicely complements the sweet overtones of the scallops without taking the sweetness into the realms of a weird dessert/appetizer hybrid. I decided to let our scallops stand mostly on their own, with a sprinkling of the vanilla salt and a touch of butter and vanilla extract drizzled over their tops.
I had never cooked scallops before, so I looked up a bunch of recipes. It sounded like you couldn’t go wrong, unless you overcooked them and made them rubbery. I should have been a little more fearless with letting the hot pan do the work. I was worried I would overcook them, but they were perfect – sweet, tender, slightly caramelized and lightly fragrant with vanilla. In short, a perfect start to our date night dinner.
Seared Vanilla Scented Scallops
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 2, easy to double
6 large bay scallops
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
vanilla salt (or regular salt)
2 teaspoons butter
1/8-1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, use the larger amount if you are using regular salt
Pat scallops dry and set aside. Lightly coat a medium skillet with olive oil and heat over medium high heat until almost smoking.
Carefully place scallops in hot pan, putting them flat side down. Do not try to move the scallops after you set them down. Let scallops cook, undisturbed, for about 2 minutes. They should release fairly easily from the pan at this point. Give them a little help with a thin spatula and turn them over. If they are really stuck, give them a few seconds more to form a crust and then try again.
Sprinkle scallops with vanilla salt, or regular salt, and pepper. Cook on the second side for 1-2 minutes more, until that side is nicely caramelized and releases from the pan with a little help. Remove scallops to a serving plate.
Reduce heat to medium and add butter and vanilla extract to skillet. Scrape up any browned bits and stir into the butter. Drizzle butter over the scallops and serve immediately.