Salt. Pepper. Heat. And a little butter or oil.
Good proteins like a really good filet or pork chop need little else to be awesome.
I’m thinking about a helicopter parenting metaphor when it comes to cooking. What I mean by that is you are not doing your meat (or your kids) any favors by constantly poking and prodding and turning. Instead, it’s better to prep them with the essentials, throw them in a hot pan, and then just keep a watchful eye from a distance and know when to intervene (coming in part from intuition and part from reading the words of experts).
Is this an odd way to think about it? Yes. But that’s what happens when someone studying child development enters the kitchen.
If you think this is a weird way to think about it, just imagine if I reversed the metaphor and told parents they should treat their children like a top quality steak. (Actually, in some crowds, I could see that being effective.)
I might be making the link between kids and cooking because today’s recipe comes from Jenny Rosenstrach’s Dinner: A Love Story, which focuses on making real, doable family dinners. I should note that I have not read anything in her cookbook or her blog that makes reference to cooking her children. Instead, both the book and the blog are filled with recipes, ideas, and inspiration for making dinners to share with the ones you love, whether it be a do-ahead chicken salad for a school night or fancier fare for entertaining adults.
Dinner: A Love Story was one of two blog-based cookbooks I received for Christmas, and the one that I read entirely before New Year’s. Even though Jenny is oriented towards providing support for parents who are trying to have regular dinners with their children, I still feel a connection to her writing. Reading through her book, I get a sense that we have similar philosophies about cooking and eating. Her partnership with her husband, Andy, and their collaborative efforts remind me of my relationship with Nick. I actually first discovered the blog through a Bon Appetit column (shocking, I know). It consisted of a series of text messages between Jenny and Andy discussing what kind of dinner they could conjure up using the random ingredients at home.
I have only cooked one thing from the book so far, but it is a winner.
I remember attempting to cook scallops for Nick early in our relationship. I don’t think it was disastrous, but I remember a lot of anxiety about undercooking the scallops (stemming from a poor decision made by a six-year-old Sarah to steal a raw scallop off a plate being prepped for cooking) as well as overcooking the scallops (stemming from many poor decisions to order scallops in restaurants that did just that). Actually, one time, I was convinced that the fried scallops were actually cylindrically-cut pieces of some type of white fish.
Anyway, I am sure that when I cooked scallops in the past, I turned them constantly. For a long time, I think I did this with most meats, thinking that was the way to ensure even cooking. Don’t do that. You are not trying to recreate a rotisserie in a skillet. Also, searing works far better in a stainless skillet, rather than nonstick.
I know I said that good protein needs nothing more than salt and pepper. But when you sear scallops (or other proteins) in a pan, it leaves behind these tasty little brown bits (quite possibly my favorite culinary term) that you do not want to lose. So making a simple pan sauce with a little wine and lemon juice, butter, and garlic takes advantage of the brown bits without taking away from the scallops. In this recipe, the pan sauce also gets drizzled into the side dish of corn-bacon hash. Which, as declared by Nick, was the best corn ever.
Pan-Seared Sea Scallops and Corn-Bacon Hash (adapted from Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach)
Note: I suggest making the Corn-Bacon Hash first and then drizzling the pan sauce over it just before serving. Mostly because I wanted to use the same skillet for both recipes.
1 strip of bacon (I was tempted to do more but one strip really was plenty)
1 minced shallot
4 ears of corn, kernels cut off (Or, if you are lazy, one 12-ounce bag of frozen corn)
5-6 chopped basil leaves
In a large skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove from pan (reserving fat in pan), blot with paper towel, and chop into pieces. Add shallot to the bacon fat* and stir until soft, about 1 minute. Add corn and cook for 2 minutes. (If using frozen corn, cook longer, until heated through.) Add corn and chopped bacon to a bowl and stir in basil, and season with salt and pepper. Once scallops and pan sauce are prepared, drizzle some of the pan sauce into the corn.
Pan-Seared Sea Scallops
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
20-24 sea scallops**, rinsed and patted dry (this is important for getting a good sear) and seasoned with salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
Juice from 1/2 lemon
In a large skillet on medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of butter and olive oil. When the pan is hot but not smoking, add as many scallops as you can without crowding the pan and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side. (I used a small spatula to flip them. Make sure you get all the way under the scallop so you don’t lose the brown crust.) Remove scallops and cook the rest. (While cooking the next batch I kept the cooked scallops on a plate tented with foil.)
After all the scallops are seared, lower the heat to medium and melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Then add the garlic and cook briefly until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Make sure the garlic does not burn.
Add the wine and lemon juice and turn heat to high, scraping the brown bits off the pan. Let the liquid boil down until it is slightly syrupy, and remove from heat. Drizzle sauce over scallops, reserving some for the corn.
*If you think sauteing shallots in butter or oil smells good, just wait until you saute it in bacon fat.
**I purchased scallops by the pound, and one pound had twelve scallops, so I would guess 20-24 would be about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds.