March 18, 2011

Scallops and Asparagus with Orange Sauce

Juli used to think she didn't like fish, or really any seafood other than shrimp and lobster.  This is mostly due to her having had mostly really badly cooked - or simply bad - fish.  It took some work on my part, but eventually I got her to try some good fish dishes, and over time the Waterfront Seafood Market & Restaurant has become one of her favorite area restaurants.  She's still been resistant to some other types of seafood, though, most notably scallops.  I set about trying to change that recently.

From what she'd previously said about scallops, I'm pretty sure that her previous experience had always been with ones that were overcooked.  The big problem with scallops is that the margin of error between them being undercooked, overcooked or perfectly cooked is really small... like, no more than 10 seconds either way.   Two things are key to overcoming this problem. 

The first key is that you have to know what to look for in determining when the scallops are properly cooked.  For sea scallops, if the scallops are going to sit any length of time before being served, they should be cooked until there is only the slightest hint of translucence along the edges, then transferred to a platter and tented.   The tenting will allow the residual heat to finish cooking the scallops.  If they are going to be served right from the pan, sea scallops should be cooked for about 20 seconds past when there is no longer a hint of translucence.   Each second beyond that point greatly increases the chance your scallops will have a texture akin to that of a superball.  The rules are pretty much the same for bay scallops, except that being smaller makes them even easier to overcook, so they should be cooked no more than 10 seconds past the point of no translucence (and preferably closer to 5 seconds). 

The other key is to prepare scallops that are as close as possible to the same size.  That's the best way to make sure they will cook at the same rate, assuming a pan that heats evenly.  If they differ too much in size, you are going to have to watch really carefully, and remove the smaller ones from the pan before the larger ones are done.   Since the margin of error is so small, this dramatically increases the risk that at least some of the scallops are going to turn into little, white hockey pucks.

After considering how I wanted to prepare the scallops, I decided to serve it up with asparagus (one of Juli's favorite vegetables) and a savory orange sauce, serving all that atop some rice.  Once I'd figured that out, figuring out the rest of the recipe was a snap.  Chicken broth and marmalade would form the basis of the sauce, soy would add some more savory flavor and garlic, red pepper flakes and grated ginger would add some flavor depth to the simple dish.   At the last minute I decided to use sticky rice instead of my more typical choices (basmati, long-grain or jasmine), to add a bit more body and texture to the dish.

This recipe cooked up really quickly, after fairly minimal prep time, and it turned out great.  The scallops were tender, not the least bit chewy, and contrasted nicely with the still-crisp bits of asparagus.  The sweetness of the scallops and the sauce went nicely with the sweetness of the sticky rice. 

Better yet, Juli really liked it.   I didn't really have any doubt she would, but it was sure a relief to have that supposition confirmed.  So, by making this dish, I not only added a new recipe to our repertoire, but I also expanded the range of seafoods Juli likes.  Not too bad for something that really took very little effort.

This recipe is fairly unusual for us, as it is designed to make only two servings.   Normally I like to make larger batches so we have leftovers, but scallops don't reheat very well, as they tend to get rubbery, and cooked scallops become inedible if frozen and reheated.

Scallops and Asparagus with Orange Sauce

yield = 2 servings

1/4          cup orange marmalade
1/4          cup chicken broth
2             tablespoons soy sauce
1             teaspoon cornstarch
1/4          teaspoon black pepper
2             tablespoons canola oil
1             teaspoon Asian dark sesame oil
8             sea scallops, foot removed, patted dry,
                  seasoned with salt and pepper
1             pound asparagus, trimmed, sliced on bias into
                  1 1/2 inch slices
1             teaspoon minced garlic
1             teaspoon fresh, peeled and grated ginger
1/8          teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2             cups cooked sticky (sweet) rice, cooked

Add orange marmalade, chicken broth, soy sauce, cornstarch and black pepper to a small bowl.  Stir to mix thoroughly, then set aside.

Add the canola and sesame oils to a skillet over medium heat and heat until shimmering.  Add the scallops.  Sear on one side for 3 minutes, then flip and sear the other side, cooking until there is only the slightest hint of translucence along the edges of the scallops (probably about 2 minutes, but go with the appearance of the scallops, not the time).   Transfer to a plate and cover with foil.

Add the asparagus to the skillet.  Cook, stirring occasionally, 4 minutes, then clear a spot in the middle of the skillet and add the garlic, ginger and crushed red pepper flakes.  Cook 30 seconds, then pour the marmalade mix into the skillet.  Stir to mix with the asparagus and cook until thickened, about 40 seconds.  Remove from heat.

To serve, top 1 cup of rice with four scallops, then spoon the asparagus and sauce around and atop the scallops.


  1. This was REALLY good, although I admit I had to overcome some mental blocks to even try it. There's just something creepy about scallops...maybe because I'm not so sure what they even look like swimming around in the sea. But this recipe really changed my mind! It didn't hurt that it had a sweet sauce, and that the scallops were VERY fresh and therefore not fishy-tasting at all. Well done, husband!

  2. Anonymous10:22 AM CDT

    Sista - I am so glad you gave them a try. Scallops are one of my absolute favorite types of seafood. Jeffrey - next time we are together, please, please, please make this recipe! I almost always order scallops when I get to go to a real seafood restaurant and if the chef is any good, the scallops will be tender and just barely cooked through, like Jeffrey said.
    Jeffrey - you are so smart to pair the scallops with asparagus. Simply brilliant!