Sesame Scallops should satisfy both novice and hurried cooks

Entertaining

Fast, simple, healthy dish can be served with rice, snow peas

Sunday Gourmet

May 02, 2004|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

Quick, easy, eye-catching, delicious, healthy. Those are adjectives I would use to describe an ideal main course for today's entertaining.

Students in my classes, friends, family members -- in fact, everyone I talk to -- tells me they are pressed for time and welcome recipes that take just minutes to assemble and cook. Many, especially first timers in the kitchen, are drawn to dishes that require modest culinary skills but still make a distinctive visual impression. And all cooks expect their efforts to result in delectable fare. If a recipe can boast a health benefit (reduced fat or lower carbs, for example), that's a bonus.

Not too often do I turn out entrees that meet all those criteria, but a recent creation scores high in most of those categories. Sesame Scallops With an Asian Dipping Sauce is a new addition to my repertoire and definitely falls under the "fast and simple" description. The sauce, composed of rice wine vinegar, a little sugar, modest amounts of canola and sesame oil, plus fish sauce, hot red pepper flakes and salt, takes less than 10 minutes to whisk together and can be prepared a day ahead.

The scallops, which are coated with sesame seeds on only one side, can be sauteed in less than 5 minutes. Skewered and arranged on dinner plates with a garnish of watercress sprigs and a bowl of the clear dipping sauce, the snowy white morsels with their golden topping make a striking presentation.

The scallops don't fall short in the flavor department either. The velvety-soft texture of the shellfish contrasts well with the crunchy sesame bits, while the dipping sauce provides satisfying sweet, sour and slightly hot notes.

Although this recipe might not meet strict guidelines for those on diets, the amount of oil used is low, and only a tablespoon and a half of sugar is called for in the sauce.

Bundles of steamed snow peas or sugar snaps and some cooked basmati rice would make fine partners for sesame scallops. Bowls of fresh sliced strawberries served with scoops of coconut sorbet could follow.

Sesame Scallops With an Asian Dipping Sauce

Serves 4

DIPPING SAUCE:

5 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (see note)

3/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt plus an extra 1/4 teaspoon if needed

3/4 teaspoon sesame oil

3/4 teaspoon fish sauce

SESAME SCALLOPS:

1 pound sea scallops (about 20), side muscles removed and scallops patted dry

1/4 cup sesame seeds plus more if needed

3 to 4 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

kosher salt

8 metal or wooden skewers, optional

1 small bunch watercress, rinsed and dried

For the sauce, whisk together vinegar, pepper flakes, sugar, canola or vegetable oil, 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, sesame oil and fish sauce in a non-reactive bowl. Taste and, if desired, add additional 1/4 teaspoon salt. Divide sauce evenly among four very small bowls or ramekins. (Sauce can be prepared a day ahead; cover bowls with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring sauce to room temperature before using.)

For the scallops, pat scallops dry with a clean kitchen towel. Spread sesame seeds on a plate and dip one side of each scallop in the seeds. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and, when oil is hot but not smoking, add enough scallops to cook without crowding, seeded sides down in a single layer. Lower heat to medium and cook about 2 minutes. Watch carefully so that sesame seeds do not burn. Using tongs or a two dinner forks, turn scallops and cook on other side until they are translucent and cooked through, about 1 to 2 minutes more. Do not overcook or scallops will be tough. When done remove to a platter, sprinkle with salt and cover loosely with foil. Repeat with remaining scallops, adding more oil if necessary.

To serve, skewer 2 to 3 scallops on each of the skewers and arrange two skewers on each of four dinner plates. Or divide scallops evenly and arrange on four plates. Garnish each serving with several watercress sprigs and a bowl of dipping sauce. Serve immediately.

Note: Rice wine vinegar is available plain and seasoned. The plain variety is the type used in this sauce.

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