A simple, versatile sauce makes this dish: Seared Scallops with Orange Gastrique

by Terry B on October 4, 2017

Orange gastrique—a simple, classic French sauce of reduced sugar, vinegar and orange juice—adds an elegant touch to quickly pan-seared scallops. Recipe below.

Scallops with Orange Gastrique

You never know what will send us down some culinary rabbit hole. This week’s recipe was inspired by a restaurant review in a back issue of some magazine, now misplaced and forgotten. What caught my eye was the term gastrique. Unrepentant Francophile that I am, I had never heard it.

Turns out a gastrique is a simple (or not so simple, depending on the recipe), classic French sweet and sour sauce made of sugar and vinegar cooked down to a syrupy consistency, usually with at least one other flavoring such as fruits or citrus juice. Gastriques are often used to flavor savory dishes such as pork and duck; these two kinds of meat play nicely with fruit flavorings. But when I saw scallops paired with them, I could taste their natural sweetness mixing with a tart, tangy sauce. Some fresh thyme leaves from the garden was all I needed to add.

The rabbit hole aspect of this kitchen adventure came from the fact that recipes I found as I researched gastrique varied wildly—in ingredients, in proportions of sweet to tangy and even in the cooking methods. Some recipes begin with caramelizing sugar in a pan first, then adding the vinegar and whatever other flavorings; the molten sugar hardens when the other liquids hit the pan and you have to coax it to melt again and combine with everything else.

Other recipes took the more practical approach of combining everything up front and cooking it all down. Veering toward minimalism in the kitchen (my favorite way to veer), I chose the second route. And now having tasted it with these scallops, I am totally ready to make it again, to serve with pork chops or duck breasts.

Seared Scallops with Orange Gastrique
Serves 2

For the gastrique:
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sherry vinegar (see Kitchen Notes for other options)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, from 1 or 2 oranges

For the scallops:
8 large sea scallops, 3/4-pound or a little less altogether
salt and freshly ground black pepper
flour for dredging (optional—see Kitchen Notes)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons (or so) fresh thyme leaves

Make the gastrique. Combine the sugar, vinegar and orange juice in a small nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high flame, stirring to completely dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the gastrique is the consistency of a thin syrup, coating the back of a wooden spoon. Resist the temptation to continue cooking until it is thick and syrupy. When it hits a cool or even room temperature plate, it will harden into a stubborn, gooey candy. If your scallops aren’t ready, remove the pan from the heat. You can gently rewarm it just before serving.

Make the scallops. Rinse scallops individually under cold running water, running your fingers over the surfaces to make sure no grit remains. (I was fortunate that this latest batch was nice and clean.) Using a sharp paring knife, trim away the tough muscle on the side of each scallop—this is the foot that attaches the scallop to its shell. Pat scallops dry with paper toweling and arrange on a plate.

Season the flat sides of the drum-shaped scallops with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, swirling to combine. If you’re flouring the scallops (I recommend it), do so now, using a very light touch and just touching the tops and bottoms of the scallops to flour spread on a plate.

Place the scallops in the pan, flat side down, and cook undisturbed for 2 minutes. Turn and cook on the second side another 2 minutes. Do not overcook, or they will be tough and chewy. Transfer to a plate to remove from the pan’s heat.

Spoon some warmed gastrique on your serving plates (you will have more sauce than you need) and arrange scallops in sauce. Sprinkle with thyme leaves and serve. (Use a generous hand with the thyme—when you get little bites of it, you will enjoy its herbal freshness.)

Kitchen Notes

No sherry vinegar? Japanese rice vinegar, a wine vinegar or even cider vinegar will do. Avoid anything assertive, like balsamic.

Why the flour? Scallops are great at retaining moisture, even if you blot the hell out of them with a paper towel. A very light dusting of flour gives the oil and butter something to latch on to and brown, so you don’t end up with pale, overcooked lumps.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Dani H October 4, 2017 at 8:28 pm

I don’t care for scallops, shark or calamari (I know, I’m such a philistine.) You mentioned serving the sauce, which sounds delicious, with duck or pork. What do you think about halibut? I think salmon would be too strong of a flavor with it. What about serving the seafood on a bed of baby greens – would the sauce work well as a dressing?

Thanks, Terri!

Dani H October 4, 2017 at 8:47 pm

Oh, totally unrelated but I thought you might be amused. My granddaughter is studying abroad this year in the Netherlands staying in a dorm just for foreign exchange students. They had an international dinner with everyone making a dish from their home country. My granddaughter, who has been cooking and baking since she was ten, made cinnamon toast. Apparently it was a hit. {smile}

Dani H October 4, 2017 at 8:48 pm

Oops! Terry, not Terri. Sorry.

Terry B October 4, 2017 at 11:25 pm

So, Dani, have you been hitting the cooking sherry again? Not sure about halibut—this wants something either mildly sweet, like the scallops, or with its own richness—pork or duck. One recipe also suggested serving with a steak. Fatty and well salted, I would think. I don’t think it would really work as a dressing for greens—think of it as a syrup with a tangy bite. It’s missing the oil.

Very cool about your granddaughter and cinnamon toast. I can see that being a hit.

Mellen October 5, 2017 at 6:16 pm

This looks wonderful, and we have excellent scallops this time of year. My only quibble is I’ve never heard of, or seen, anyone in France using sherry vinegar. Maybe it’s just my own culinary circle, but here sherry and sherry vinegar are almost impossible to find, being considered a Spanish thing. Gastriques are common, though, usually with white or red wine vinegar, depending on the fish or fowl. Never heard of one with meat, but why not?

Terry B October 11, 2017 at 10:19 am

Thanks for the authentically French tip on the vinegar, Mellen. I went for the flavor here (we’re fans of sherry vinegar), not absolute authenticity. You’ll note that I also suggested Japanese rice vinegar, definitely not a French choice, because of its clean, bright flavor.

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