Scallops always remind me of my mother. They were one of the first things I ever cooked for her when I went back home to visit after moving away. She still talks about them. It is all about the sear on the scallops and a bright accompaniments to finish out the plate.
This is a plate I’d run as a special. It has a few techniques new to home cooks but is very approachable. It can be a visually stunning dish. Usually when I cook I have one ingredient in mind. I build a dish around it. I walk into our co-op and sort out the produce matrix in my mind. I stand in the aisle, staring down the vegetables and fruit. The mangos jumped at me. They were perfectly ripe and cost-friendly. The radicchio is bitter but beautiful and will balance nice against the sweetness of mango. Basil in winter in Minnesota? Well, lot of the hothouse tomato growers grow basil in between harvest of tomatoes. So yes, you bet, basil in winter in Minnesota.
This dish is bittersweet. Literally! The sweetness of mango and aged balsamic will balance the bitterness of the radicchio and basil.
Scallops with Basil, Mango and Radicchio
Serves 4 as an appetizer
16 Nantucket Bay scallops (about a 1/3 pound)
1 ripe mango
1/4 head of radicchio (save the rest for a salad mix)
2 large bunches of basil
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flake
A few drops of aged balsamic…I use the elegant Villa Manodori, an unparalleled Balsamic in my taste. A bottle is an annual gift from my mother.
Salt and pepper
*If you don’t have aged balsamic, just reduce regular balsamic down to a thick syrup, about 3/4 of the way over low heat.
For the basil oil, start with placing a plate in freezer. In a sauce pot, slowly heat half cup olive oil, pinch of red pepper flake and two cups of tightly packed basil. Wilt down until the leaves look wet and dark green. Pour the oil and basil from the pan onto the frozen plate and place in freezer for five minutes until cold. Next, place all of the contents on the cold plate into a blender and pulse for 15 seconds on and off to the beat of an alarm. Be sure to scrape down sides of the blender once or twice to avoid large leaves escaping the blades. This is what we’ll call a “broken” oil. As it sits on the plate, the oil bleeds out subtly from the basil leaves giving it a dramatic broken look. Set aside until ready to plate.
Cut the radicchio into quarters. You will then have a stable base to cut from for nice, clean and safe cuts. Slice the radicchio in thin strips and set aside.
Use a sharp vegetable peeler to peel the ripe mango, gently removing the skin. Peel the flesh into strips and set aside. When I said sharp vegetable peeler…I meant it. It is probably the least expensive kitchen tool to replace, so don’t be afraid to treat yourself at least once a year to a new one.
Nantucket Bay scallop season ends in late March usually, so you’ll be finding them fresh and affordable for a few more weeks. They are the tiny scallops that are perfectly bite-sized. If you can’t find them, you can use larger ones, but I suggest always using fresh caught, dry packed scallops no matter what the recipe. Make sure to pull the little feet on the side of the scallop off. This is a small rubbery piece of the scallop that gets even more rubbery when it is cooked.
To cook the scallops, coat the bottom of a saute pan with oil over medium high heat and season them with salt and pepper. Place in the pan and cook for 60 to 90 seconds. Any longer than that and the little guys will be overly chewy and far from the brilliant creamy soft texture they are famous for. Be careful not to agitate the pan or the scallops will roll around and you will not have a crisp, golden brown crust where it seared.
Remove the scallops from the pan and divide them between four plates. Add radicchio and mango. Drizzle basil oil and balsamic around the outside. Remember there is no wrong way to present a dish like this…the color will speak for itself and it will look as beautiful haphazard as it will precisely placed.