My ardor for sea scallops comes threefold. The first time was standing in front of one of the most beloved paintings of the Italian Renaissance, Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. It depicts Aphrodite,
goddess of love, whose name means “born from the foam,” rising from the sea upon a scallop shell wafted by the west wind, Zepheros. The second was Michael Field, a pianist and cookbook author, who wrote so enticingly of scallops with a fresh tomato fondue sauce in his Michael Field’s Cooking School cookbook that I immediately made it, and realized I wanted to be a chef. The third influence was a a magical experience at the dock in Digby Bay, Nova Scotia at sundown when the boats were coming in to download their catch of the renowned Digby Bay scallops. By humble but ardent begging–the fishermen were far more interested in the work for their wholesale catch than providing tourists with a measly measure of scallops for their dinner–we managed to score some, which we cooked that very evening. Pure rapture.
In this recipe, devised many years later, the fragrant syrup of balsamic vinegar coats the tender sea scallops with a bronze red patina that might make Titian pause to look. Away from the Digby Bay boat dock, you probably won’t find fresh sea scallops; virtually all of them are flash frozen in situ. The good news is, that works fine for this shellfish. And, talk about energy efficient cooking: with four ingredients and fewer than 10 minutes in a saute pan, you have a simply bold and beautiful entree. The recipe is adapted from my forthcoming book Bold Food, co-authored with Susanna Hoffman (Workman, Spring 2012).
3 tablespoons butter
20 sea scallops, each 1-inch thick (about 1 1/4 pounds)
½ cup well-aged balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh tangerine juice
1. Melt the butter over medium heat in large non-reactive sauté pan that can hold the scallops without touching. Add the scallops, sprinkle lightly with salt, and sauté, turning twice, until golden on each side and almost firm but still a little soft to the touch, about 4 minutes. Transfer the scallops to a platter and set aside in a warm place.
2. Increase the heat to medium high, add the vinegar and tangerine juice, and
reduce until thick and syrupy, 4 to 5 minutes.
3. Pour the vinegar reduction over the scallops and serve.