I just love scallops. In fact, they’re probably my absolute favourite seafood. Whenever I have the good fortune to be taken to a good restaurant – and even when I’m less fortunate and have to pay my own way – scallops are the first menu item for which I search. They’re just so sweet and plump and can stand up to so many different cultural cuisines.
But since I’ve heard so many times that they require split-second timing, and have suffered through quite a few over-cooked and rubbery scallops, I’ve always been too afraid to cook them. It’s one thing to spend good money on scallops and be justifiably outraged when a restaurant chef ruins them, but quite another to spend good money and then ruin them yourself.
Now I’ve been on a bit of crusade against my own lack of confidence with expensive ingredients, so today I decided that scallops were to be my next challenge. I slightly hedged my bets by buying the less expensive, smaller scallops because then I could buy them in larger numbers, and have a second go if I absolutely buggered up on my first attempt. I further hedged my bets by going with the classic combination of scallops and bacon, so I’d know what flavours I was working towards. As a further bastion against culinary failure-and because it’s summer and I wanted something light- I decided on a salad.
I cannot claim that what I came up with is really at all original, only that I can’t remember where I might have heard, or tried, this first. But it really couldn’t be easier. As to that legendary split-second timing, I found that all that really means is that if you’ve got a digital timer you don’t have to count, and if you don’t you just have to remain vigilant whilst searing the scallops. You’ll see quite easily when one side of a given scallop has cooked. Not only does it brown, but it starts to split ever so slightly. That’s when you flip them over, and give them slightly less time on the other side.
As to the bacon, I used cubed pancetta because that’s what I had in the fridge, but you could just as easily use a couple of rashers of any smoked streaky bacon, snipped into small pieces with a pair of kitchen scissors, which, by the way, is much the easiest way to chop uncooked bacon.
You will need:
- 1/2 a mild red onion, sliced into paper-thin half-moons
- a big handful of baby spinach leaves- enough to cover a plate
- 85 grams cubetti di pancetta/ 2-3 small rasher of streaky bacon, snipped
- 8 small raw scallops
- a generous slug of balsamic vinegar
- salt and pepper to season.
First set a large frying pan on a high heat, and add just a bit of olive oil- enough to moisten the pan. While you’re waiting for the oil to start sizzling, throw the spinach leaves onto the plate, top with the red onion, and season very lightly with salt and pepper. Once the pan is hot enough, add the pancetta or bacon, and fry until it’s given up its fat and is just about brown and crisp. Then push the bacon to one side of the pan, and add the scallops. Make sure the scallops each have a bit of room around them so they sear instead of stewing. Fry on one side for 1 minute (count if you have to), tipping the pan slightly so the bacony fat runs back and forth across them, then turn the scallops and fry on the other side for just under another minute, tipping the pan again.
Once the scallops have a sear on both sides, whip them out of the pan and onto the spinach and red onion. Then add a generous slug of balsamic vinegar to the pan, and let it sizzle with the oil and bacon for just a moment. Then tip the pan contents over the scallops and salad, and season with a grind of black pepper. The scallops and the hot vinaigrette (for that is what you’ve created in the pan) will just wilt the spinach, and mellow the onion ever so slightly.