Wow factor: Seared Scallops with Asian Slaw

by Terry B on September 30, 2009

Equally impressive as a starter or main course, quickly seared sea scallops nestled on a colorful, lively slaw. The whole thing is topped with a big-flavored, slightly spicy cilantro sauce. Recipe below.


Yeah, life is unfair, but sometimes that works in your favor. Take scallops, for instance. How can something so simple to cook [and in fact, so hard to screw up] be so unfailingly impressive? Maybe it’s their distinctive drumlike shape that is made for presentation. Or the anticipation of their rich, slightly sweet flavor. scallop-shell-bedfordWhatever it is, even knowing that they were most likely just lightly seasoned and sautéed for a couple of minutes on each side [how much easier can things get?] doesn’t lessen their impact.

Scallops are versatile too, a blank canvas if there ever was one. Their mild, meaty flesh takes on flavors beautifully, and they play well with a whole host of cuisines. Here at Blue Kitchen, they’ve been cooked with tarragon and brandy and served over garlicky sautéed spinach. And paired with shiitake and oyster mushrooms to create a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner. Today, they’re taking on the bright Asian flavors of a slaw macerated in rice vinegar and a cilantro sauce that packs just a little bit of heat.

First, a word about the slaw. I was intrigued by the ingredients when Marion first showed me the original recipe, but I was a little concerned that some of their individual big personalities might take over. An entire Granny Smith apple, for instance, and raw carrot. I was less concerned about the daikon, an Asian radish—it’s milder in flavor than Western radishes. But marinating the julienned ingredients in a rice vinegar/sugar/salt mixture unified their flavors. It also slightly softened them, taming some of their insistent crunch.

The cilantro sauce was another perfect element, combining cilantro, lime juice, Serrano pepper and Asian fish sauce into a mysterious and necessary addition to the dish. We’ve talked about Asian fish sauce here before. As Marion said about it recently, “If you have never tried fish sauce and are not used to Asian flavors, you may be startled at first by the pungent aroma. Don’t be put off. Fish sauce adds a mysterious, intense extra that nothing else can and in the finished dish, there is nothing fishy about it.” In mixing together the ingredients for this cilantro sauce, at first I forgot to add in the fish sauce. When I tasted it, I thought, “This is it?” Then I remembered the fish sauce. The transformation to something special was immediate.

Seared Scallops with Asian Slaw
2 main course servings [six first-course servings]
adapted from Gourmet magazine

For slaw:
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into julienne [see Kitchen Notes]
1/3 lb daikon radish, peeled and cut into julienne
1 scallion, cut into julienne
1 unpeeled Granny Smith apple, cut into julienne
3 tablespoons rice vinegar [not seasoned]
1  tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

For cilantro sauce:
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 to 2 teaspoons minced fresh serrano chile
1 teaspoon Asian fish sauce
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon sugar

1  pound sea scallops [or about 1 dozen—see Kitchen Notes]
1 tablespoon canola oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Make slaw. Toss together carrot, radish, apple, scallion, vinegar,  sugar and salt in a bowl. Let stand, tossing occasionally, 15 minutes to soften. NOTE: Slice the apple last and immediately add the vinegar to keep it from turning brown.

Make cilantro sauce. Stir together cilantro, lime juice, chile, fish sauce, canola oil and sugar.

Prepare scallops. Rinse scallops carefully to remove all grit [see Kitchen Notes]. Pat scallops dry. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat heavy, nonstick 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat. Add 1 tablespoon canola oil and sauté scallops until browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Turn scallops, reduce heat to medium and cook until just cooked through, about 2 minutes more. Don’t overcook—they will become tough.

Drain slaw, discarding liquid. Divide among plates and top with scallops. Drizzle with cilantro sauce. Serve.

Kitchen Notes

Julienning. This is one of those knife skills I keep meaning to master. Mainly because I never remember to buy a decent mandoline to do the job easily. Essentially, you’re slicing your vegetables [okay, and fruits] into 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch matchsticks about 2 inches long. If you’re not using a mandoline, you’ll need two things—a really sharp kitchen knife and patience. With round vegetables like carrots, cut the 2-inch sections in half lengthwise to give you a flat edge to place on the cutting board to keep them from shooting out from under your knife blade. Even a quick glance at my photo above will show that I need lots more practice in julienning. That’s okay, it was actually kind of fun once I got into the swing of things.

Scallops. First, having an equal number of scallops for each serving is more important than an exact weight overall. Usually, I get about 10 to 12 scallops per pound. But with these monsters, a mere six of them weighed in at nearly a pound. In cases like this, you can also slice them in half and cook them for a shorter time.

To clean scallops, I rinse them under cold running water while gently brushing a finger over all surfaces, feeling for grains of sand. It’s a mostly successful method, but occasionally you may bite into a teeny grain that escaped your attention. Big deal. Unlike the euphemistically named “vein” in shrimp, this really is just sand.

Here’s a trick to ensure proper browning of scallops. If your scallops were previously frozen [and if you bought them in the Midwest, chances are good they were], they may not brown properly, no matter how much you blot them dry. So immediately before plopping them in the skillet to brown, dredge the flat tops and bottoms lightly in flour. Use a very light touch. You’re not trying to batter them—you just want to give the fat in the pan a nice, dry, brownable surface to work with.


{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura September 30, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Terry, this looks so beautiful, and I love the look of that cilantro sauce! Sort of an Asian chimichurri (a sauce that I am completely obsessed with lately) of sorts? I often make a similar slaw with carrot and daikon out of Hot Sour Salty Sweet, but I imagine the addition of apple is an excellent one. This looks like a perfect Friday night meal to me.

Terry B September 30, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Wow, Laura, I hadn’t even thought of it, but Asian chimichurri is an apt description of the cilantro sauce. And as I said, it’s the fish sauce that finishes it and brings everything together. I could see this sauce used over various simply prepared seafood dishes, from pan-seared whitefish fillets to quickly sautéed shrimp.

altadenahiker September 30, 2009 at 4:49 pm

My mandoline has this safety gadget which protects the fingers as you whittle down the veg, which is the only reason I can still type this message to you today.

(I’m going to try this recipe.)

Lauren September 30, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Wow, indeed. and YUM!

Christina October 1, 2009 at 4:00 am

You may remember my mandoline story . . . the digit grew back.

I love me some scallops. Yummity, yum, yum. I particularly like them with Asian flavors like this. Thanks for the browning tip–I needed it.

I hope you both are having a lovely start to fall.

Alta October 1, 2009 at 12:13 pm

This looks amazing! Will definitely have to try. Thanks for the tip on using frozen ones, cause that’s about all I can get here in Dallas!

Terry B October 1, 2009 at 2:46 pm

altadenahiker—I think all the fans of your blog are grateful for the safety gadget on your mandoline!

Thanks, Lauren!

Christina—As someone whose left index finger has, shall we say, a slightly tapered tip thanks to a run-in with a paper cutter during my art teaching days, I have a healthy respect for sharp objects.

Alta—And the advantage of “fresh frozen” when it comes to scallops or shrimp [also often shipped this way] is that they’re more likely to taste and smell fresh since stores can thaw them as they need them. In fact, they’ll sometimes be slightly frozen still when I buy them. In that case, throwing them in a plastic bag and running cold water over it for a few minutes will finish the thawing.

joan Nova October 1, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Those scallops are beautifully presented and I was wondering how you managed to get such a nice finish…so, thank you, for the tip under Kitchen Notes.

Hannah October 1, 2009 at 11:28 pm

I love early fall, since its scallop season! I’ve been more adventurous so far, scallops are a wonderful blank palate for so many flavors. Ceviche (first time making it homemade!), chowders, Coquilles St. Jacques (I wasn’t a fan…) and then I made yours last night. YUM! It was a great light dinner, thanks for posting it!

Terry B October 1, 2009 at 11:49 pm

Thanks, Joan Nova! Actually, I could tell by the feel of these particular scallops that they hadn’t been frozen and didn’t need dusting with flour; they just felt “drier.” But the flour trick pretty much works every time.

Hannah—I’m so glad you liked it! Thanks for letting me know.

Toni October 2, 2009 at 11:23 pm

I adore scallops – any way they’re cooked. And a quick glance at your photo tells me that your skills at julienning are far better than mine!!

Melissa October 2, 2009 at 11:24 pm

Scallops are absolutely my favorite food. And I think they are best with a simple preparation. This fits the bill. The dish looks amazing. I love the idea of the simple slaw & the texture & crunch of a julienned granny smith apple. It will make a great week day treat, so fast & easy. Thanks Terry.

theUngourmet October 3, 2009 at 3:51 am

These scallops are just beautiful! I love the apple in this dish as well!

Terry B October 3, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Thanks, Toni! Although after consulting with altadenahiker, I think I may break down and get a Borner mandoline. Mandolines used to either cost a gazillion dollars or be crap. Now some really good inexpensive ones are being made.

Melissa—One of the nice things about the slaw is that the apple gets kind of calmed down by the dressing and marinating time; you still taste it, but it doesn’t take over.

Thanks, theUngourmet!

Sean October 6, 2009 at 11:17 pm

Grats on your foodbuzz nomination Terry!

Terry B October 7, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Thanks, Sean! And thanks to reader Dani for pointing this out to me. Glad my readers are taking care of me. Turns out I was nominated for a Foodbuzz Blog Award in the category of “What blogger would you most want to see open up their own restaurant?” Very cool! Vote early, vote often, everyone!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: