Seared Scallops w/ Herb Butter

Paula Poundstone and Michael Pollan once had a memorable public radio confrontation (which may seem like an oxymoron). In terms of pure wit, it wasn’t a fair fight: she’s got it in spades. At the center of it all was the twinkie, which she called a household staple, and he labeled a chemical abomination. Relenting, he allowed as to it possibly being a (very) occasional indulgence. “Indulgence? I eat it every day. What do you mean indulgence?”

While I assume she doesn’t stock her pantry with sacks of twinkies, the discussion (if you can call it that) brought up the concept of indulgence. For some, it’s playing tennis occasionally despite the doc’s comment that your knee might explode. As this is a food blog, let’s stick to the topic.

Usually it means eating something crappy. Like half a pie or a bucket of fried chicken. Back on track: cooking. If you’re gonna indulge, why head to McDonald’s? Fry up a good cheeseburger. Instead of KFC, make your own fried chicken and mashed potatoes. It makes perfect sense: you get creative satisfaction as well as, yes, a superior product. Much of the McDonald’s indulgence factor is wrapped up in the instant satisfaction. But indulgence is about what goes in your body, not how fast it gets there.

There’s a place near us, which I’ve referenced many times; it serves one of the world’s greatest dishes listed simply as “sizzling pork fat.” Yeah. It’s not crackling or any of that nonsense. What comes to the table is, in fact, a small fiery hot cast iron dish full of popping and sizzling cubes of actual fat. Enough said. I’ll take this over fried chicken any day.

The point is, if you’re going to treat yourself, go for the real thing: the actual, unadulterated item, swollen with nothing but lovely fat. And so we come to butter. You could toss a chunk (knob?) or it in a sauce or use it to saute something. But, as our sizzling pork fat proves, messing with pure butter is like hiding a beautiful flower in an overcomplicated bouquet of junk. Let it shine; in other words, stick it on the plate and let it melt before your very eyes. I’m thinking hot pancakes, a warm biscuit, a steak topped with a thick compound butter coin, or, a personal favorite, a bucket of steamers accompanied by a jug of clarified butter for dipping. Butter as party dip.

Not surprisingly, scallops are popular in a nation of meat eaters. Otherwise you wouldn’t see them soaring through the air in a spray of bogus lemon juice in a Red Lobster ad. Properly cooked, it’s everything you might want in a protein: crisp exterior, soft interior, sweet, and rich. Sound like a steak? Why not do the same and top it with a disc of compound butter?

In the end you’re left with a scallop and melting butter. I can’t think of any better use for a scallop. Or butter.

(NOTE: Obviously this is a simple recipe, but it works fine as is. However, it’s also a good building block. Surround the scallop with clams; toss in pasta, or use the butter in any number of ways. I scored the scallop, a neat trick I saw somewhere: cut a tic-tac-toe pattern on one side. The butter melts into the crevices like an oceanic English muffin.)

Scallops w/ Herb Butter

Serves 2 as an appetizer

3 tablespoons minced herbs (tarragon, parsley, cilantro)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
6 large sea scallops, scored (see NOTE)
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

  1. Combine the butter and herbs. Season with salt. Place in center of a piece of plastic wrap and roll into a tight cylinder. Refrigerate until hard.
  2. When ready to cook, season scallops on both sides, heat the oil in a medium pan over medium high heat until very hot. Gently add the scallops, pressing with your fingers to ensure contact with the pan. Let scallops cook about 2 minutes or until browned, flip and cook the same way.
  3. Serve hot topped with a thin disc of the herb butter.

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