My mum kept a stash of scallop shells in her kitchen cupboard in the 1970s. It was the era of Cordon Bleu cookery. Whether you collected the part work – like my mum – or used a Cordon Bleu book, you definitely needed scallop shells, along with piping bags and brandy.
Scallops seemed then to be the epitome of luxury and I still see them this way. Their flesh is richer than that of lobster. It even has a faint whiff of vanilla. That’s why you can’t eat many scallops in one sitting. Three fat rounds and you’re satisfied.
It’s also why you don’t have to do anything complicated with them. At their most simple – and when you’ve seared them in a really hot pan so that the surface caramelizes – scallops need nothing more than seasoning and lemon juice. But salty ingredients – bacon, anchovies, capers, soy – are a great foil and enhance their sweetness.
They do have to be cooked carefully; it takes nerve to whip them out of the pan as soon as they’re done (‘Nothing can be ready that quickly’, you think to yourself). Of course, it depends on the thickness of the scallop, but I allow only a minute – sometimes less – each side before checking with the point of a knife to see how they’re doing. The middle should be only just cooked.
Heat the soy sauce, sugar and stock in a small saucepan, stirring to help the sugar dissolve. Simmer for 3 minutes until the mixture has reduced by about 1/3. Cover to keep warm.
Heat the water underneath a steamer (you need to use a steamer basket that is big enough to hold 2 scallop shells). Divide the scallops between the shells then put these into the steamer. Scatter over the ginger, garlic and and spring onions. Cover the steamer and steam for 3-5 minutes (depending on how thick the scallops are).
Transfer the scallops shells to plates and spoon over the soy mixture. If you want a sesame flavour – and a little richness from oil - you can also heat the sesame oil in a small pan and drizzle a little over each scallop shell too.
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