A couple weeks ago, I had the extreme pleasure of visiting Chef Ford Fry’s restaurant, The Optimist, in Atlanta, Georgia. While seafood may not be the first category of food that comes to mind in the very landlocked city of Atlanta, I must admit that this may have been one of my favorite seafood-focused meals of all time. I am a BIG seafood gal, so you can imagine how exciting this outing was for me. We ordered raw oysters, grouper, calamari, and of course, scallops. Let’s just say, I was happy as a clam.
While we enjoyed every plate that hit the table, the scallops blew us all out of the water (pun intended). They were served with a warm, brown butter meuniere (which is basically a butter and herb sauce), toasted almonds, and a leek purée. My recipe, which is an adaptation on this scallop dish, employs a similar toasted almond brown butter sauce that is brought to life with a splash of white wine, lemon juice, capers, and hot sauce. It’s the perfect balance of nutty, creamy, salty, spicy, and tangy. Not to mention, it pairs beautifully with seared scallops. Instead of a vegetable puree, I’m plating these mollusks over a simple, buttery polenta. Step aside shrimp & grits--I’m pretty sure scallops & polenta is the hot new thing.
When you sear your scallops, make sure that you’re cooking with a neutral, vegetable oil. Butter or extra virgin olive oils have lower smoke points which will burn before they are able to impart a crusty sear on the scallops. Additionally, make sure to pat down those scallops with a paper towel to remove as much moisture as possible. If you can, give your scallops a generous salting, and then leave them uncovered on a plate in your fridge for at least 15 minutes. This will also help pull out some of their moisture. They cook fairly quickly--all it takes is about 2 minutes on the first side, and a brief sear on the second until they’re crispy on the outside yet still maintain a smooth, creamy interior.
If you find yourself in Atlanta, head to The Optimist for a seafood-laden meal that won’t disappoint. Tell them that your favorite internet seafood enthusiast sent you. I trust that you’ll order the scallops, because quite frankly, they’re too good not to!
For the Parmesan Polenta
- 1 cup polenta
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1/ 4 cup grated Parmesan
- Kosher salt, To Taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, To Taste
- Hot sauce, optional
For the Toasted Almond Brown Butter
- 1/ 2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/ 4 cup unsalted sliced almonds
- Kosher salt, To Taste
For the Sauce Meuniere
- 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
- 1/ 4 cup chicken stock, or dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 lemon, juiced
- Hot sauce, To Taste
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Canola oil, for sauteing
- 12 large sea scallops
- 2 tablespoons chives, finely chopped
Make the polenta: In a medium saucepan, bring 5 cups water to a rolling boil. Add polenta while whisking to avoid clumping. Reduce heat to medium low and let simmer until polenta is thick and creamy, stirring frequently, about 25 minutes. Add butter and Parmesan, then season to taste. Keep warm.
Meanwhile, make the toasted almond brown butter: Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the almonds. Cook over medium heat uncovered until butter begins to brown and almonds are golden brown, about 8 minutes. Strain through a mesh colander and reserve almond brown butter. Lightly salt almonds immediately after draining.
In small saucepan over medium heat add brown butter. Once warmed, add shallot, garlic and capers. Cook until slightly softened and aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add chicken stock or white wine and lemon juice and let reduce slightly, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Worcestershire and hot sauce. Keep warm.
Pat scallops dry with a paper towel and season generously with salt. Heat oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Carefully place scallops in a pan and sear until golden brown on one side, about 1 minute. Flip and cook until scallops push back slightly when pressed, another 1 minute. Transfer scallops to a paper-towel lined plate. Divide polenta between four bowls. Top each with scallops (three per plate). Drizzle each plate generously with sauce meuniere. Sprinkle with butter toasted almonds and garnish with chives. Serve immediately.