It’s paradise, mon: Seared scallops with meyer lemon vinaigretteJanuary 29, 2007
Afraid of seafood, perhaps? Leery of a fishy smell and a strange, spongy texture? Fear not, friends. This scallop dish is here to seduce you.
Just as The Perfect Storm might have turned you off from seafaring, seared scallops with meyer lemon vinaigrette is the postcard from the Caribbean that will lure you back. It’s delicate and sweet. It tastes fresh and green and citrus-y… a surprising breath of spring in the midst of 20 degree weather here. Ahhh.
Tempting, right? Can’t you just picture curling up your toes in that white sand as warm blue waters lap at your feet? Don’t you just want to fork that scallop in?
This dish is successful for its alluring simplicity: It’s beautiful, and there isn’t much to it. A nest of fresh greens, sprinkled lightly with a lemony, zesty vinaigrette. One or two simply seared scallops, sweet and tender — perfectly seasoned — resting on top. There aren’t flavors at war or strong tastes to assault your mouth… it all tastes natural, fresh and delicious.
Come on now. Open wide. I’ll strike up the calypso band.
Simplicity is king. Okay, this is not always true. But in the case of this dish, it is. The scallop is sweet and beautiful. The red lettuce is slightly bitter, but clean. The vinaigrette is sweet with a touch of pepper and that delicious meyer lemon flavor that makes it distinct. This is all that is needed to make the dish right.
However, when first developing this recipe, the sheer lack of ‘something’ motivated a great discussion about what to do to the dish. In the end, we decided that the only thing to change was the presentation, so the emphasis was on the scallop rather than the bed of greens.
If you look at the pictures bellow, you can see the first is an example of the early version of the dish with full pieces of lettuce and the scallop getting potentially lost in the forest of green and red. The dish looked more like a salad with a scallop rather then a scallop on greens. This made us think that while it tasted good it likely needed something like a tomato to make it more complete as a salad. I rejected this idea because I thought the more complications the less you taste the two most important flavors—the meyer lemon and the scallop.
In this second photo, we trimmed the lettuce to give to give it less height, but still maintain the crunch, slight bitterness, and color that I thought worked so well. Therefore, the emphasis shifted away from the lettuce to the scallop and the sweet tangy dressing. In the end, changing the presentation ended up keeping the dish simple. In addition, I think it serves as a reminder of how much we eat with our eyes.
On a final note, I’ve been experimenting with a new spice that makes it’s MHC debut in this recipe, grains of paradise. Grains of paradise are a pepper-like spice that come from West Africa. The spice was very popular in European cuisine during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. However, with opening of the New World and increased access to the peppers in the East, this spice was on the decline for Westerners. Yet, in recent years, it has reemerged in popularity showing up more in magazines and on television.
I finally bit the bullet and tried grains of paradise after Alton Brown of Good Eats mentioned it for the second time on his show. (He mentions it in Pantry Raid 6: Lentils and Okraphobia). In my playing with the spice, I’ve been very pleased with it. It has a depth and variety of flavor that remind me of the sweetness of pink pepper corns, the heat of black pepper, and tang and flavor of cardamom. It likely will continue to show up in MHC recipes in the future.
However, I made two batches of the vinaigrette recipe and found that while I preferred the grains of paradise, the use of regular black pepper worked very well. Please feel free to substitute back and forth between the two flavors and determine which you prefer. Either way, I hope you enjoy this simple to make recipe. This is one I’m extremely proud of myself.
3 meyer lemons (juice)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. fine ground black pepper or grains of paradise*
1 tsp. salt
1. Making the vinaigrette. In a medium-sized bowl, add the meyer lemon juice, sugar, salt and black pepper/grains of paradise. Whisk until the sugar and the salt are completely dissolved. While continuing to whisk, slowly add the oil to the juice. At this point, you want to taste and adjust any seasoning. For convenience, I move this to a squeeze bottle to make dressing the greens and scallops easier.
2. Clean and rinse the head of lettuce. Chop the lettuce in thin ribbons about a quarter-inch wide. You are looking to make nice strands. Place in a bowl and lightly coat with vinaigrette (whisk again if the oil and juice have separated) it should only take a few tablespoons of liquid. You do not want wet greens as much as you want the with the nice taste.
3. Searing the scallops. Pat dry the scallops with a paper towel. In a medium-sized pan over medium-high to high heat, add the oil. Once the oil begins to lightly smoke, add the scallops. Cook for about 2 min per side. You are looking for a nice brown color. It is important to not overcook them. Scallops can become quite hard if overcooked. You want to serve scallops not giant pale pencil erasers.
4. Place about a handful of greens in the center of the plate. Make a nice pile. Place two scallops atop of the greens. Lightly drizzle a teaspoon of the vinaigrette over the scallops. Serve while the scallops are still warm. Enjoy!