Scallops and Andrew Carmines

Your Guide to Scallops

If you’ve ever watched Hell’s Kitchen, you know how seemingly difficult it is to make the perfect scallop. “It’s gone rubbery!” you’ll hear Gordon Ramsey scream at the contestants who’ve inevitably failed to meet his expectations. It certainly isn’t the easiest thing to cook. Shortcomings usually fall along the lines of “too rubbery in texture,” burned or undercooked. If you’ve ever cooked a scallop successfully, we congratulate you and wish we had your skills. But most of us have either failed or are too scared even to try. But it doesn’t have to be this way anymore. Luckily, we met with Andrew Carmines, the owner of Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks, to discuss how to sear the perfect scallop every time. It comes down to a few principles.

Purchase the right scallops

“The way it works (with a lot of types of seafood) is that they come off the boat, go to an auction block, and these big seafood distributors and processors will buy a lot of scallops – it could be 10,000 pounds of scallops – and they then take those scallops back to their processing warehouse, and they manipulate them. So they’ll soak them in chemicals like tripolyphosphate, which basically allows the scallop to absorb water. When that water is absorbed into the scallop, it essentially stretches out the protein, and the end result is that when you cook that scallop, all that water leeches out. Still, the scallop has been destroyed from the inside, so it has a really gummy, soft texture. So the first thing is to make sure that you’re buying what’s called dry sea scallops, meaning that there’s no water added to the product. It’s very sad, but they do the same thing with shrimp, flounder and all kinds of different fish. They say it’s so the product will keep better in the freezer, but the reality is that they’re doing it because they can make more money off of the product. So the first step, with any kind of seafood, is to buy seafood that has not been processed in that way.” 

Fried scallops with butter sauce in a pan. Black background. Top view.

It’s all about heating the right pan

“The second thing is to make sure that when you’re preparing to cook the scallops, you get a pan, preferably a cast iron pan or heavy bottom pan, really hot. And then make sure the scallops are very dry. Pat them dry with a paper towel. Add a little bit of salt and pepper, or just salt, depending on what you’re looking for, and gently place them in a pan with a little bit of oil that you’ve heated in the pan (or butter if you’d prefer). It’s important to note that scallops get such a nice color on them when they’re seared because they have a lot of natural sugars in them. And so when you sear them, those sugars caramelize on the outside of the scallop. That’s what gives them that really sweet candy coating on the outside. It’s very important to sear them at a high heat.”

Seared Scallops in Cast Iron Pan

Don’t interrupt the process

“Make sure you don’t mess with them. Once you put them in the pan, you leave them until you’re ready to flip them – don’t look at them; don’t play with them; don’t shake them around. You want to leave them sitting there so that the sugar has a chance to caramelize on the pan’s surface and the scallop. Then just gently use your tongs when you’re ready to flip them. Flip by gently rolling your wrist over and then putting them right back down on the other side. Sear them again, and don’t move them until you feel like they’re cooked through.” 

Close up of pan seared sea scallops

Pass with flying colors

“When they’re cooked through, they should have a little bit of a bounce to them. But you can look at the scallops’ sides to see if they’re done. If they’re good scallops, they’ll cook up completely opaque white; they won’t be translucent. And that’s also a really good way to tell about a lot of seafood, whether it’s been soaked in chemicals or not — like shrimp should be cooked up completely opaque white. There should be no translucent bits or anything. And you can tell when water has been added to it, and it’s been stretched out because it will have a translucent, shiny look to it. That’s a perfect way to tell whether scallops are the real deal or not. The real ones will be completely white when they’re cooked through.”

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