My family is really tough to cook for when we are talking fish and seafood. I have a husband who is not really crazy about fish but will eat it unless it’s salmon. Salmon is a deal breaker. A daughter who will eat fish but not touch seafood unless it’s crab and a son who will eat most things that swim in the water but would prefer an animal that moos.
Scallops don’t make the regular rotation in the house and I’m not really sure why. They are relatively easy to make, low in fat, high in protein and if made correctly, can have a total restaurant “wow” factor. The key to perfect, show stopping scallops is a beautiful crut that is made from searing them in a screaming hot pan.
When buying scallops, it’s best to buy “dry” ones. These are the ones that you find at your seafood counter. A wet scallop has been soaked in a preservative phosphate solution. This makes the scallop absorb more water, and when you cook them, they kind of shrivel a bit and don’t brown as well because of that extra liquid. The phosphate solution also gives the scallop an off flavor, and they’re usually not as fresh. A dry scallop has not been treated with any chemicals additives or solutions. Compared to the wet scallops, they are darker (more of a beige color, whereas the wet scallops are whiter), and they have a more pure flavor. They definitely give you a better sear. As far as size, scallops are like shrimp and come in several sizes. The little bay scallops are great in pasta but I like the bigger ones when the scallop is the main event of the dish. You can read more about scallops here.
This is the easiest dish with very few ingredients. My scallops were U15 (15 scallops or less to the pound) and I bought them frozen. I let them thaw overnight in the fridge and then very thoroughly patted them dry with paper towels. This is a super important step if you want the scallops to brown well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Heat of a skillet (cast iron preferred) on high for about 10 minutes. To the pan I add 2 teaspoons of bacon fat. Yes. I have bacon fat in my house. When I make bacon, I make a package at a time on a baking sheet. I save the grease on the bottom of the pan and store in that little blue tin. It can sit on my counter in a corner and last for tons of time. I don’t use it often, but it’s great for this recipe. If you don’t happen to have bacon fat sitting around your house, which jeez, I don’t know, don’t most people? You can start the recipe by cooking the bacon that will be sprinkled on your scallops at the end (spoiler alert) and then cooking your scallops in the bacon fat.
Once the pan is smoking, add the scallops in a single layer. I set a timer for 2 minutes and don’t touch them.
After 2 minutes, quickly turn them over and check out that beautiful brown crust! Repeat for 2 minutes until both sides are done and remove to a plate and keep warm.
Toss a small diced onion and the garlic in the pan and cook a few minutes until brown, and then throw a 10 ounce bag of baby spinach on top. It will seem like the spinach is never ending, but within a few minutes the spinach wilts down to nothing.
On a serving platter, put the spinach and onion mixture down and arrange scallops on top. Sprinkle with the chopped bacon and serve up.
Seared Scallops with Spinach and Bacon
- 3 center-cut bacon slices
- 1 1/2 pounds jumbo sea scallops (about 12)
- 1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 6 garlic cloves, sliced
- 10 ounces fresh baby spinach
Cook bacon in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving 2 teaspoons of drippings in pan; coarsely chop and set bacon aside. Increase heat to high.
Pat scallops dry with paper towels. Sprinkle scallops evenly with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Add scallops to drippings in pan; cook 2 minutes on each side or until done. Transfer to a plate; keep warm. Reduce heat to medium-high. Add onion and garlic to pan; sauté 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add half of spinach; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add remaining half of spinach; cook 2 minutes or just until wilted, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in remaining salt and pepper. Put spinach mixture on a serving plate and top with the scallops crumbled bacon.