This dish has all my favourite tastes combined: it’s salty and sweet and spicy and sour. I know – that’s pretty much ALL the tastes except bitter, since even umami, elusive though it is, there are bags of in the dish too.
There is absolutely no doubt that the best scallops are the freshest, hand-dived, preferably still in shells, with the foot, pedal and ventricle (I’m not joking) still intact. If you’re thinking scallop sashimi (bliss) or ceviche (divine), that’s a must. But unless you’re extremely lucky to live where such things are in modestly priced supply (I’m not), frozen scallops are second best. A supermarket bag of sustainable, MSC approved bivalves will set you off by about six quid and will make a posh starter for four.
As with most molluscs cooking them is about when to stop: the sooner the better. Sear them in foaming butter with lots of salt and pepper sprinkled just before they land in the skillet; not longer than a minute on one side for king scallops. These are the best to have on their own, full of flavour and a morsel to savour without distractions.
Queen scallops are – as you might easily guess considering gender pay gap and all – cheaper and smaller. But – as that gender tends to be – also more versatile and suited to gutsy companions. That’s why I’ve used them in my dish – from salty pancetta, sweet and sour cabbage and spicy chili they get the star treatment.