Scallops are such an easy and underrated weeknight meal, and I know this from experience: I never seem to think about them as a dinner option, but when I do it's always a slap-hand-to-forehead kind of moment. Scallops sear in mere seconds, and while whipping up a beurre blanc (a.k.a. white butter sauce) may seem intimidating to the uninitiated, it's actually one of the easiest and tastiest classic sauces to know.
This recipe for scallops with orzo is the ultimate "30-minute meal." Scallops are available year round and don't require the technical know-how that might deter folks from other fish and shellfish. Just pluck off the abductor muscle (the small, tough patch used to clamp themselves shut), pat them dry, and pan sear for a minute or two. Seriously, it's that easy!
There are plenty of sauces that pair well with scallops. Come summer, a corn & tomato relish is all you need. But other times it's well worth calling in the heavy hitters — I can't think of anything better than a rich, tangy beurre blanc to drizzle on my dinner. I know some people are afraid of a sauce made almost entirely of butter, but trust me when I tell you that a little goes a long way. (Or if you're like me, a lot goes a long way.)
For the perfect "anytime" dinner, pair it with lemony orzo pasta and a crisp green salad. A very cold glass of white wine is optional but highly recommended!
Scallops with White Wine Beurre Blanc & Lemon Orzo
For the beurre blanc:
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cubed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the orzo salad:
1/2 pound dried orzo pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 lemon, zest and juice
2 tablespoons chopped chives
For the scallops:
Sea scallops, preferably dry-packed, 4-5 per person
Wondra flour for dusting (optional), See Notes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the beurre blanc, bring the wine, wine vinegar, and shallots to a boil in a medium stainless steel saucepan. Cook the mixture until reduced to a very thick glaze, about 8 - 12 minutes depending on the size of the pan. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve, discarding the solids, and return the liquid to the saucepan.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream. Vigorously whisk in the butter, cube by cube, not adding another piece until the last is almost fully melted. If the butter stops incorporating, return the pan to low heat and continue adding the remaining cubes. The sauce should be thick, creamy, and glossy. (If not, whisk in a few more cubes of butter if desired.) Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Hold on lowest heat, stirring occasionally, until ready to serve.
While the beurre blanc is reducing, cook the orzo according to package directions. Drain well. Toss with the olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, and the chives. Season with salt and pepper, and adjust other oil and lemon to taste.
For the scallops, heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. While the pan is heating, pat the scallops dry and dust the tops with Wondra, kosher salt, and pepper. (Be generous, as you will loose 40% of the seasoning to the pan.)
Add a glug of canola or vegetable oil to the pan. Once it is shimmery and hot, add the scallops, salted side down, around the outside of pan in a clockwise direction starting at 12:00. (This allows you to know which scallop to flip first and continue turning in the same clockwise direction.) Once they are in the pan, dust tops now facing up with Wondra, salt, and pepper.
Allow the scallops to sear, undisturbed, for a minute or so. When you start to see a golden brown crust beginning to rise up the side of one, it is ready to flip. (If you cannot visibly see a crust, or if you have to lift the scallop to peek at the bottom, it is not ready to flip.) Once the scallops are flipped, continue cooking for about another minute or so, until they are firm but still a tad uncooked in the center. (They will finish cooking with the residual heat.) Transfer the scallops to a plate lined with a paper towel to soak up any cooking juices.
Serve the scallops atop the lemony orzo with a generous drizzle of beurre blanc (lots of extra on the side!)
• For the beurre blanc, the addition of the milk solids from the cream act as a safety measure to prevent the sauce from separating. However if it does break, just remove the pan from the heat, add a splash of cold water, and beat with a whisk to bind together again.
• Wondra flour is an "instant" flour that helps form a perfect golden brown crust on scallops (and all pan seared food for that matter) without the heaviness of regular flour.
• My favorite non-stick skillet is this Scanpan, found on Amazon.
Related: Food Science: What is an Emulsion?
(Images: Nealey Dozier)