By Dara O’Brien
Creative Director, Lake Isle Press
It’s a pretty common thing to enjoy sharing a meal. People do that when they meet up at restaurants, and pandemic aside, they do it often. But not everyone gets jazzed by the opportunity to cook, and to share a meal they’ve made.
I do. I love everything about cooking for others: planning the meal, gathering the ingredients, figuring out the timing. I love the fact that I’ve gotten better and better at it over the years, and can whip up a dinner party in a few hours if I have to.
In my head I keep a list of company meals: the easy ones, like citrus honey pork tenderloin, or the complicated ones, like cassoulet. I recently added a new recipe to that list, a yummy scallop salad: signed, seared, and delivered.
Some of my most memorable meals have included scallops. These meals stand out, not only because they were delicious, but because the sea scallop is among the litany of foods I would never eat when I was growing up.
I eventually started eating scallops, yes, but not cooking them. Come to think of it, I haven’t cooked a lot of seafood, period. Not sure why. I am eager to try new recipes, but… how do I know if I’m getting a good piece of fish?
Scallops presented an extra layer of intimidation for me because the one time I did make them they were pretty bad. I can’t remember the recipe I used, but they were kind of yucky. Rubbery and bland.
Recently my friend, Marianne, who is a wonderful cook, invited me for dinner and asked me if I would eat scallops. (Anybody who knows me well knows to check in advance before cooking for me—despite my best efforts, the list of foods I won’t eat is legion.) I took the opportunity to ask her how she prepares scallops to find out why mine were so inedible.
My mistake, of course, was not searing them. I know some scallop recipes don’t call for it, but for the most part, making scallops is as easy as a little butter and oil, a little lemon and salt, and a hot pan.
I’ve been wanting to get over my scallop cooking phobia ever since, and a test run of Catherine Walther’s recipe for Seared Scallops with Watercress and Warm Orange Dressing from her book “Raising the Salad Bar” was the perfect excuse.
I followed the recipe exactly, down to using blood oranges (not easy to find; Hello Whole Foods) for the dressing. It was utterly scrumptious. I did a repeat of it the next day, this time subbing mandarins in for the blood oranges, and it was still great.
The components are simple: a dressing of fresh juice, rice vinegar, and maple syrup cooked for three or four minutes; and three other ingredients to complement the scallops: watercress (which I seldom use and was glad to experiment with), radishes (which I thought I didn’t like, but who knew, I was wrong), and pineapple (which I thought I would merely tolerate, but found delicious). The mix of flavors and textures is perfect.
I wasn’t confident I could get a proper sear on the scallops, but I was also rather sure that was silly so I forged ahead. The moment I turned the first scallop to reveal that brown crust was so gratifying. I am easy to please, no?
This gorgeous salad is so satisfying, tasty, and elegant, it really should be shared. It’s a bonus for me that I was able to do that. I had been invited to my friend Julie’s place for a socially-distanced evening on her roof. I offered to cook dinner for the occasion and made this salad. (She gives it five stars, by the way.)
It’s the first time I’ve been able to cook for anyone since the pandemic began. What a welcome reminder of how magical making a meal for someone else can be.
Seared Scallops with Watercress and Warm Orange Dressing
1 large bunch watercress (2 to 3 cups), or other salad greens, washed and dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon light vinegar
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh pineapple
2 radishes, trimmed and very thinly sliced
3/4 pound sea scallops, membranes removed, rinsed and patted dry
2 lemon wedges
WARM ORANGE DRESSING
Juice of one blood orange or tangerine, about 1/2 cup
1 tablespoon light vinegar (champagne, rice Moscatel)
1 teaspoon maple syrup or pinch of sugar
1 Remove the thicker stems from the watercress and roughly chop the rest of the bunch. In a bowl, toss the watercress with 1 tablespoon of the oil and a pinch or two of salt. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of vinegar. Place salad greens on a serving platter or on 2 individual plates and top with the pineapple and radishes.
2 Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat; when hot, add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Sear the scallops for 2 or 3 minutes on each side, taking care to brown each side but not overcook. Sprinkle salt on each side of the scallops during cooking. Remove scallops from pan and arrange on the salad. To make the dressing, add the orange or tangerine juice, remaining tablespoon of vinegar and maple syrup to the same pan, set on high, and bring to a boil. Cook until liquid is slightly reduced and thickened, about 3 or 4 minutes.
3 Grind some fresh pepper and squeeze a little lemon juice over the salad. Drizzle the sauce over and around the scallops. Serve immediately while scallops are still hot.
Reprinted From “Raising the Salad Bar,” by Catherine Walthers, Lake Isle Press, 2007
Originally published at https://www.lakeislepress.com on July 30, 2020.