Delicately sweet and tender, perfectly seared sea scallops topped with a lightly sweet vanilla dusting, these Vanilla Dusted Scallops are the perfect romantic dinner.
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Vanilla Dusted Seared Sea Scallops
These are easy to make, taking only a few minutes to sear per side, with minimal ingredients, and the sweet vanilla works so well with the richness of the fresh sea scallop. They develop a sweet seared crust on the scallop, which adds to the complexity of the dish.
The flavors in this dish are very well suited for each other. I really think this is a great way to present the scallop. Definitely a keeper.
Seafood for the Future
I first posted this recipe back in 2011 when I was working with the Aquarium of the Pacific’s Seafood for the Future program.
Their program has changed a lot and they don’t have many recipes on their website any longer. But, I’m really happy that I had the opportunity to work with them, to spread their mission to promote and facilitate the growth and expansion of responsible marine aquaculture in U.S. state and federal waters as a complement to well-managed wild-capture fisheries.
One of the first things you’ll notice about the recipe, besides how few ingredients there are, is the need for vanilla powder.
This stuff is great, delicious, and adds a nice touch of vanilla to anything you add it to.
But, most people don’t have it in their cupboard. You do, however, need it for this recipe. Please don’t try using liquid vanilla extract in this. It just isn’t the same.
I have used different brands of vanilla powder, and there is a definite difference in them. Some are much sweeter than others. Some have much more vanilla fragrance than others.
I recommend (Note: theses are affiliate links) Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Powder, as I think it has the best flavor without being too sweet. For a more budget-friendly version, try Cook’s Vanilla Powder, which is sweeter, and will make the scallops sweeter, but still very tasty.
I haven’t tried other brands, but would suspect that the sweetness and flavor will vary widely among all the brands out there.
What are sea scallops?
Many people tend to think of seared sea scallops as fancy restaurant food. But let me tell you, they’re so easy to make at home! And they are so delicious! And way more budget-friendly when made at home.
Scallops are related to clams, mussels, and oysters. They’re bivalve mollusk shellfish, and their meat has a delicate smooth and tender texture with a sweet flavor that almost melts in your mouth.
Scallops are pretty rich, meaning you won’t need to eat too many to fill up. And that’s actually good news, considering they’re a bit expensive.
How to purchase scallops
As with all seafood, my choice is always to buy frozen scallops.
Seafood is caught at sea and the best way to keep it fresh is to freeze it. If you buy from the fresh case at the store, you can almost be certain the seafood was frozen at one time. What you don’t know is how long it has been defrosted, or how many times it has been defrosted. So always buy the frozen stuff so that you can control the defrosting.
The scallops I buy are usually marked as a number per pound, say 10-20 per pound, meaning if that package had a pound of scallops I would find 10-20 scallops in the bag. Pretty straight-forward.
Some scallop packaging may be marked with the letter “U” and a number or range of numbers. The “U” stands for “under”, so a package of large sea scallops might say, “U-10,” meaning there are 10 or fewer scallops per the pound.
How to defrost scallops
The night before you want to cook the scallops, simply take the number of frozen scallops that you want to cook out of the bag, and place them in a bowl, then tightly cover with plastic wrap.
Tomorrow night they should be perfectly defrosted. If any ice remains, simply run the scallops under cool tap water for a moment until the ice is gone. Drain out any liquid at the bottom of the bowl, and pat the scallops dry with a paper towel.
The defrosted scallops should be a pale pink or light beige in color with a soft texture. They should smell fresh and clean like the ocean.
Be careful when buying inexpensive scallops
When I worked at the Aquarium, we were often told about some shops or fishmongers that will try to sell fake scallops. These fake ones will often be pieces shark or sting ray.
To make sure you don’t get taken, remember that since scallops are animals, each individual scallop is not shaped exactly the same, they are not perfectly round, nor are they all the same size.
Fake scallops, will look identical to each other as they were made using something like a round cookie cutter. A fake scallop will also appear to be more solid and dense.
Are scallops healthy to eat?
Scallops, like other shellfish, are highly nutritious, are low in calories and fat, and full of beneficial minerals and vitamins like B-12, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, and magnesium.
A 3-ounce serving of scallops has less than 200 calories, less than 10 grams of fat (mostly Monounsaturated Fat), and high levels of protein at close to 15 grams.
Getting adequate amounts of the nutrients that scallops provide is essential for brain development and associated with a reduced risk of mental decline and mood issues. Sufficient levels of these nutrients may also decrease your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease.
These scallops can be part of a low-carb, gluten-free, or diabetic diet.
However, it almost goes without saying that if you have a shellfish allergy, please do not eat scallops. Shellfish allergies are one of the most common food allergies. People with this condition may experience a reaction to eating scallops, which may include vomiting, hives, shortness of breath, and possibly life-threatening complications.
Originally, there was a pan seared chopped pear in pan drippings sauce that went along with the recipe. I found the pears to be a little distracting, and decided to drop them from the recipe, simply finishing the scallops with a broth based pan sauce from the drippings in the pan.
Please feel free to use your favorite broth. I love vegetable broth, and think the flavor goes well with just about everything. If you prefer chicken broth, that will work just fine. Seafood broth will also work here.
This pan sauce can be poured over the top of the scallops, used as a sauce over pasta with the scallops, or serve it on the side, like I have for the photo, to use as a drizzle and a dipping sauce.
Of course, you can skip the pan sauce altogether if you want.
I have been toying with the idea of making a cream based pan sauce by simply using ¼ cup cream at the end to deglaze the pan. I think the cream sauce would be lovely over pasta. But, I haven’t given that a try yet. If you do try it, let me know. I think it would work well.
What can I serve with these Vanilla Dusted Seared Sea Scallops?
When I posted this recipe back in 2011, I served the scallops with rosemary roasted red potatoes and grilled zucchini ribbons (there’s a horribly old and slightly embarrassing photo at the bottom of the post if you want to see the plating).
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Vanilla Dusted Scallops Recipe
Vanilla Dusted Scallops
- 8 large sea scallops
- salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon light flavored oil of your choice
- 1 tablespoon vanilla powder
- ¼ cup vegetable or light flavored chicken broth
- Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel. Salt and pepper both sides of the scallop.
- Add oil to a non-stick skillet and place over medium-high heat. Be sure your pan heats up long enough to bring the oil to a shimmer, the point right before it begins to smoke. Right as the oil is about to smoke, place the scallops in the pan and cook about 1-3 minutes on each side making sure to allow a crust to form on the outside. Do not overcrowd the pan because this will create steam, and alter the browning process.
- Dust the tops of the scallops with the vanilla powder and continue cooking for about 10 seconds. Remove the scallops from the pan and place on a plate. Gently cover the scallops with a paper towel to keep them warm.
- Place the pan back over medium heat, deglaze the pan with the broth for about 2 minutes scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, and remove the pan from the heat. Drizzle pan sauce over the top of the scallops, or serve the pan sauce on the side.