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Scallops with Blood Orange Caramel

March 25, 2011

I can say with fair certainty that I don’t eat enough scallops. I do love me some scallops.

On pasta, in salads, on the side, or front and center on the plate.

And then there’s this funky little sauce called gastrique. It’s French, of course. Caramelized sugar and vinegar with fruit. It’s très magnifique on seafood.

If there’s a downside to the arrival of Spring, it’s that it signals the end of orange season in the U.S. Blood oranges and Cara Cara oranges are my very favorites.

Oh, and Honeybells. And Clementines. And trusty Navels. I’ll miss you so.

But let’s talk for a moment about scallops. And I mean the big fills-the-palm-of-your hand scallops. Sea scallops, diver scallops. These buggers can be tricksy to prepare.

Do you ever watch Hell’s Kitchen? It’s one of SoupAddict’s guilty pleasure shows. If ever there was a deterrent to chucking my career and going to culinary school, this show is it. Do those people really work in professional kitchens?

And … touch people’s food?


Most of the contestants look like they don’t wash their hair on a regular basis. Just sayin’.

Anyway, I love the episodes where scallops are on the menu for dinner service. That’s when the Schadenfreude kicks in. Just like in figure skating, where you’re just waiting for them to fall on the Triple Salchow-Triple Loop combo, you know the scallops are gonna wreak some serious havoc. I’m not sure how it is that professional chefs can escape ever having prepared scallops, but it happens every season.

Maybe it’s a question on the contestant application form.

“Have you ever prepared sea scallops?”


“Accepted!” (and joyous high-fives are exchanged amongst the producers for the guaranteed opportunity for their star, Gordon Ramsay, to angrily shout, “It’s rawr! It’s rawr!” at the hapless contestant who dares to present still-translucent scallops for inspection.)

So, here’s the scoop on preparing sea scallops:

1) Always look for “dry” scallops. Ask the fish monger if they’re wet or dry. Wet scallops are so named because they’ve been soaked in (and therefore absorbed a great of) a liquid mixture containing phosphates. Wet scallops will never brown, no matter what you do. Dry scallops have not been treated and are instead simply frozen soon after harvesting.

2) Rinse the scallops briefly in cool water, remove the muscle on the side (it’s a small rectangular patch of tissue — it pulls right off), and pat them dry with a paper towel.

3) Do not use a non-stick pan to prepare scallops, for two reasons: non-stick pans generally do not promote a proper sear and are not to be used in high-heat situations. Your pan must be scorching hot (over medium-high heat), and non-stick pans will begin to break down at that temperature.

4) You can oil the pan or not — if you do, choose an oil with a high smoking point, like safflower oil.

5) Arrange the scallops in the scorching hot pan, with plenty of elbow room between them. Leave them be for 2-3 minutes. Then gently flip to the other side. Cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes until the scallop is opaque through and through.

Serve them with something fabulous, like Swiss chard and this très magnifique gastrique.

Scallops with Blood Orange Caramel

adapted liberally from

Serves four

Blood orange gastrique:
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon Sherry wine vinegar
1 cup fresh orange juice (from about 6 oranges; I used blood and Cara Cara oranges)
1 cup low-salt chicken broth
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

3 tablespoons safflower oil
4 stems Swiss Chard, thick stems removed, chopped and reserved
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves
12 sea scallops, rinsed and patted dry, muscle removed (figure 3 scallops per person)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 blood orange, supremed*

Prepare the blood orange gastrique:
In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat, heat the honey until it begins to foam. Continue cooking until the honey begins to darken a shade from its natural state. (Gently swirl the pan until you can see the honey beneath the bubbles. Try not to stir or agitate the liquid at this point: swirling, good; stirring or whisking, not so much.) Add the vinegar all at once. The honey will harden – that’s okay. Continue cooking until the mixture melts, stirring frequently. Add orange juice; boil until mixture begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Add broth; boil until gastrique coats spoon and is reduced to generous 1/2 cup, about 15 minutes. Season with cardamom. Remove from heat to cool while you prepare the scallops.

Prepare the scallops and Swiss chard:
Blanche the chard leaves (dunk briefly in boiling water than plunge into an ice bath; pat dry), then chop into medium sized pieces. Divide leaves evenly across 4 salad plates. Sprinkle tarragon leaves over the chard

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the reserved chard stems to the pan and sautee for 1-2 minutes. Remove to bowl and set aside.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and increase heat to medium-high. Season scallops with salt and pepper. When pan and oil is scorching hot (test by dropping a single droplet of water into the pan: it should sizzle and evaporate in seconds), add scallops to pan. Cook on one side without disturbing until seared brown and the center begins to turn opaque, about 2 minutes. Flip the scallops to sear the other side, about 2 minutes. (Depending on the size of the pan, you may need to do this in batches. If so, use additional oil if the pan becomes dry.)

Arranged cooked scallops over chard leaves. Divide blood orange slices among the plates as garnish. Drizzle the blood orange gastrique over salad, then sprinkle the sauteed chard stems over the top. Serve immediately.

*To supreme an orange (or any segmented citrus fruit): Remove a thin slice from the top and bottom of the fruit, just enough to expose the pulp. Set the fruit one of the sliced ends. Using a small paring knife, slice away the peel from top to bottom, angling the knife as you slice downward to follow the curve of the fruit. Remove the individual segments by slicing into the fruit, towards the center, along the white membrane walls. If the fruit is seeded, they can easily be removed at this point.

  1. March 25, 2011 10:45 am

    What a great twist using the blood oranges! I love that deep rich color!

  2. March 25, 2011 10:48 am

    That sounds heavenly!! And with Good Friday coming up too…(annual scallop dinner of Thanks!

  3. March 25, 2011 10:48 am

    Beautiful–absolutely beautiful!

  4. March 25, 2011 10:56 am

    Wow, just wow. Those look sooooo good!

  5. March 25, 2011 10:56 am

    I love how seared your scallops are and the blood oranges are beautiful next to them. Thank you for the great scallop tips!

  6. March 25, 2011 11:09 am

    What a gorgeous, healthy meal! All the colors pop beautifully.

  7. March 25, 2011 11:22 am

    A properly cooked scallop is indeed a glorious thing!

  8. March 25, 2011 11:25 am

    I used blood oranges also, and mentioned Hell’s Kitchen in my post 😉 Great tips on cooking scallops. I will have to try a true gastrique next time.

  9. March 25, 2011 11:43 am

    Waaaa! Don’t remind me that citrus season is so close to being behind us (although I wish winter would be).
    I used cara-cara on these and loved the sweetness (I couldn’t bear to part with my bloodies for a sauce – I was too busy shoving those down my gullet).
    Love the look of them against the chard…

  10. March 25, 2011 11:54 am

    Oh, my…using blood oranges was a fabulous idea! Beautiful photos of such a yummy entree~

  11. March 25, 2011 12:30 pm

    Oh my goodness, these sound so delicious! I was just saying this morning that I don’t eat enough scallops–and I love them! And can I just tell you, I giggled so much over your reference to the scallop cooking on Hell’s Kitchen–also (one of) my guilty pleasure shows. You were spot on. I also love when he smashes raw salmon with his bare hand. Priceless.

  12. March 25, 2011 12:48 pm

    Absolutely beautiful presentation. I had never heard the differnce between wet and dry scallops before. I’ll have to file that away for next time!

  13. March 25, 2011 2:59 pm

    Thanks for the helpful tips on shopping and cooking sea scallops! I opted out this week because I cannot get my hands on good quality speciments without forking over an arm and a leg. I’m learning much from everyone’s account.

  14. March 25, 2011 4:53 pm

    You really know your scallops! Wish I read this before I made the dish, so much great information!
    Your photos are gorgeous.

  15. March 25, 2011 9:29 pm

    I had blood oranges and almost used them instead of regular orange. Wish I had. I LOVE the color of yours.

  16. March 26, 2011 11:53 am

    Wow- you gave us all such an amazing amount of info – thanks for sharing. I had read some other posts where folks said their scallops did alot of sweating and being new to scallops…I was wondering why. Great background. Also nice to know about the blood orange season, even though it is bad news. Just this morning I was telling my hubby about all the blood oranges uses and how I wanted to find some. Oh well. Next season for sure 🙂 BTW- STUNNING photos.

  17. March 26, 2011 7:12 pm

    Now we are talking. I just posted on the big bag of blood oranges I was left so stay tuned for my bloody recipes. there is nothing I love more than subbing in blood oranges into things. THESE LOOK AMAZING! Great job!

  18. Teresa permalink
    March 26, 2011 9:16 pm

    Wonderful, informative post. That recipe looks amazing!

  19. Anne-Marie permalink
    March 27, 2011 9:44 pm

    Great info in your post and beautiful photos, as usual. You never disappoint! Thank you!!

  20. March 28, 2011 12:27 am

    Every time I see a recipe with blood orange I ask myself why can’t I find them here! Your scallops look amazing with that sauce.

  21. Karen permalink
    March 28, 2011 1:40 pm

    Great post! Informative (I never knew about “dry” and “wet” scallops) and entertaining and your scallops look wonderful!

  22. Marissa permalink
    April 14, 2011 6:38 pm

    I never knew about the non-stick not searing very well, so thank you for the helpful tip! I’ll definitely use it in the future even if not using scallops.

  23. May 28, 2011 10:13 am

    Huge tip on the wet scallops–now I know why I could never create the beautiful carmelized scallops of my dreams! A million thanks!

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