Perfectly Seared Scallops with Mushroom Risotto, Guanciale & Blackberry Sauce

I was in a creative mood when I made these Seared Scallops with Spicy Blackberry Sauce, Guanciale & Shiitake Risotto. You might even say I was getting a little experimental– as I was trying to recreate a restaurant dish without actually having the recipe.

In the end, my recipe has a lot of steps and ingredients, which means it’s not for everyone I know. Still, I am not here to apologize for that because this recipe is really just an introduction to what I really want to talk about. Scallops.

Scallops themselves should be simple to make. But they aren’t always, are they?

Scallops should be served rare, if you cook them all the way through you are destroying their delicate nature. An overcooked scallop is a rubbery waste of money. But just because I won’t submit to an overcooked scallop does not mean I want it improperly cooked either. In fact, I like quite a bit of crunchy crusty searing on my scallops.

But how to best achieve this?

Well, choosing good scallops is the first step. Many scallops today are artificially pumped up and waterlogged by a chemical called STP. If possible get scallops without this additive. The proper term for an STP free scallop is “dry”. Ask your fish monger if you are unsure. I have a whole post devoted to scallops and STP here.

d"Arenberg ViognierOf course, sometimes you just can’t be sure if your scallops are dry or not. Especially if they have been frozen. In that case, it is up to you to do the drying yourself.

Start with raw, unfrozen or thoroughly thawed scallops. Lay them on a plate lined with 3 or 4 paper towels. Lay more paper towels over the top and gently press down with the palm of your hand. Quite a lot of moisture can be removed this way. Leave them wrapped in fresh paper towels on the counter until they come to room temperature. If they are super pumped up with STP you may need to change the paper towels a few times.

Another key step in perfectly seared scallops is this: It’s a good idea to start with scallops that are at room temperature. I never see recipes that say this. But I believe it is important, and no you won’t get food poisoning & die. Provided of course you keep a semi-clean kitchen, buy from a reputable source and cook them in a reasonable amount of time after they come to room temperature.

By following these few steps you should be able to achieve that golden crackly crust that helps define a wonderfully cooked scallop.

But cooking technique is key. When cooking scallops, the surest path to perfection is seared in a non-stick or cast iron skillet. There is a very simple, nearly foolproof way to get properly cooked scallops. Start on the stovetop, add a tiny slick of canola or other oil with a high smoke point. Then get the pan and oil very hot. You will know when the oil is hot enough when it seems to ripple almost imperceptibly, but is not yet smoking. Set the scallops on the skillet, they should sizzle– then quickly move the skillet into the oven at 450 degree F. Cook them 2, maybe 3 minutes (or less depending on size). Take the skillet out of the oven, letting the scallops sit about 1 minute more in the skillet. Then immediately remove them from the skillet, setting them on a paper towel lined plate, crust side up (blot any oil from the top with an additional paper towel). They should be quite rare at this point. But they will continue to cook if you let them rest a few minutes before serving. This is a very easy way to cook scallops.

But if you are willing to do a bit more work, my favorite way to sear them is on the stove top. And because it is summer and I don’t want to heat up the oven, this is how we will handle ours today. You may find the easy steps for this method in the recipe below. The main thing to remember is technique counts. The biggest mistakes are over-crowding and too much fussing.

Seared Scallops with Spicy Blackberry Sauce, Guanciale & Shiitake Risotto serves 4

CLICK here for a printable recipe

Wine Pairing by Grant Henry d’Arenberg “The Hermit Crab” Viognier Marsanne

Inspired by Kado Restaurant in Los Angeles

  • 1/2 lb fresh blackberries
  • 1/2 c red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 c water
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 1/4 t red pepper flakes
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 3 T unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 lb guanciale or pancetta, cut into 1‑inch by 1/4‑inch batons
  • 1 olive oil
  • 2 medium shallots, minced
  • 8 oz shiitake mushroom capps, cut into 1/4‑inch dice
  •  salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 c short grain rice
  • 1/4 c dry white wine
  • 4 c vegetable broth, warmed on the stove
  • 3 T flat leaf parsley, minced, plus more for garnish, optional
  • 1/2 c parmesan cheese, grated
  • 4 large (dry) sea scallops

seared scallops with spicy blackberry sauceMake the sauce: In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan set over medium heat, combine the berries, vinegar, water, brown sugar, red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt. When they begin to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, stirring often to keep the berries from sticking to the bottom and burning; about 30 minutes. The juices will thicken slightly, add 1 tablespoon butter, stirring until incorporated. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool.

Strain pulp through a sieve to remove seeds, being sure to rub all the berry pulp you can through the mesh. Discarding solids. Set aside.

Brown the guanciale: Toss the guanciale pieces into a cold cast iron skillet. Turn the heat to medium and cook, undisturbed until the guanciale browns some. Shake the skillet and continue to cook until the pieces are crispy all over. Use a slotted spoon and transfer the guanciale to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of the fat. Reserving the skillet for the scallops.

Make the risotto: Place a large saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the shallots. Cook and stirring often until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms release their liquid and are lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add the rice and stir until the grains are well-coated and opaque, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the wine and cook for 1 minute to evaporate the alcohol. Pour in 1 cup of warm broth. Stir with a wooden spoon until the rice has absorbed all the liquid, then add another 1 cup. Keep stirring while adding the broth a cup at a time, allowing the rice to mostly absorbing the liquid before adding more. You may not need all of the broth. Taste the risotto and adjust seasoning; it should be slightly firm but tender and creamy. Stir in the parsley, butter, and cheese.

Sear the scallops: Season the scallops generously with salt and pepper. Place a skillet containing the remaining 1 tablespoon guanciale fat over medium heat. When the fat is hot, add the scallops, and sear for 2 minutes, without moving them around. When the bottoms of the scallops look nicely browned, turn them over and sear the other side for 1 minute. Using tongs, carefully transfer the scallops to a platter lined with paper towels to blot some of the oil.

To serve: Warm the blackberry sauce slightly on the stove. Mound the risotto in the center of each of 4 plates, set 1 scallops on top. Dot the warm blackberry sauce in the center of each scallop and drizzle more around the plate to taste. Garnish with guanciale and parsley. Serve warm. You may alternatively arrange the ingredients on a serving platter and let guests help themselves.


Greg Henry

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