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Preview III: Ad Hoc’s Caramelized Sea Scallops

Simple. Elegant. Timeless.

That’s my mantra when it comes to fashion, architecture, art, and often, even cooking.

And that’s exactly what this dish is all about.

If you’ve been following FoodGal over the past couple of weeks, you know I’ve been cooking my way through the small promotional brochure I got in the mail for the upcoming “Ad Hoc at Home” (Artisan) by Thomas Keller. Unlike the other cookbooks by this esteemed chef, this one promises to be much more accessible to the home cook, being that it’s based on dishes cooked at his most casual of restaurants.

What a tease this is. The brochure only includes four recipes as a sneak preview of the actual book, which won’t be published until November. If early results are any indication, this book looks to be a classic that we’ll all be reaching for time and time again.

Ad Hoc’s “Caramelized Sea Scallops” is the third recipe I’ve made, and like the others, it’s a winner, too. (You can find links to the other Ad Hoc recipes at the end of this post.)

Keller starts with enormous scallops — graded U7, meaning seven make up one pound.

At my local seafood store, I couldn’t find U7. So I settled for “U Be As Big As They Get” — about 11 to one pound.

Keller actually brines the scallops before cooking, too. I’ve brined my share of turkeys, chickens, and pig parts. But never scallops.

He explains that he does this to season them all the way through. And what an amazing technique this is.

The scallops rest in the brine for only 10 minutes, then are rinsed, dried, and refrigerated for 1 1/2 to 3 hours.

Clarified butter is heated in a stainless steel frying pan. You add only enough scallops that will fit comfortably without any overcrowding. You leave them be for about 3 minutes, allowing the undersides to get deep golden brown. Then, you flip them over, and cook until the other side is caramelized.

Keller calls for sprinkling the scallops lightly with salt before cooking, but I didn’t think they needed any extra after brining. Once the scallops are cooked, just squeeze a little fresh lemon juice on before serving. No further embellishment is needed.

The recipe says it serves six. With my smaller scallops, I found that my 1 3/4 pounds served more like two. If you’re not as piggish as Meat Boy and I, though, it could probably serve four.

I’ve cooked many scallops before, with simply olive oil or with more complicated sauces. But none have had the deep flavor that these do. They are crispy on the outside, and silky tender inside. They are buttery, sweet, and briny with every single bite.

Simple. Elegant. Timeless.

These scallops are the epitome of that, through and through.

Caramelized Sea Scallops

(serves 6)

2 cups kosher salt, plus more to taste

2 cups hot water

8 cups cold water

12 U7 scallops (about 1 3/4 pounds), preferably dry-packed, tough side muscle removed from each one

About 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) clarified butter

1/2 lemon (optional)

Line a small baking sheet with paper towels. Combine the 2 cups salt with hot water in a large bowl, stirring to dissolve the salt. Add the cold water.

Add scallops to the brine and let stand for 10 minutes.

Drain the scallops, rinse under cold water, and arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet. Cover with more paper towels and refrigerate for 1 1/2 to 3 hours (no longer, or the quality of the scallops will be affected).

Heat a generous film of clarified butter in a large stainless steel frying pan over medium-high heat until it ripples and begins to smoke. (Although you may be tempted to use a nonstick pan, a stainless steel pan will produce a more beautiful caramelized exterior.) Sprinkle scallops lightly with salt and add them to the pan, without crowding. (If necessary, cook scallops in two pans or in 2 batches; if they touch, they will steam rather than caramelize.) Cook, without moving the scallops, until bottoms are a rich golden brown, 3 to 3 1/2 minutes. Turn scallops and caramelize the second side.

Transfer scallops to a serving platter and serve with a squeeze of lemon juice on top, if desired.

Tip: Thomas Keller writes that the best way to sear a piece of fish or meat is over high heat. After you put the fish or meat into the pan, don’t try to move it — let it cook until the bottom browns and releases on its own. When it is ready to turn over, turn it, and if possible, put it in a different part of the pan. The surface there will be hotter and give the best sear to the second side.

From “Ad Hoc At Home”

More: Ad Hoc’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

More: Ad Hoc’s Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

More: Leek Bread Pudding