A thin coating of oil, flour, cornstarch, and sugar keeps the scallops from sticking to the grill and promotes browning.
Grilled Scallop and Zucchini Skewers with Basil Vinaigrette
SERVES 4 to 6
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS In theory, scallops are tailor-made for the grill. The blazing-hot fire should deeply brown the bivalves’ exteriors while leaving their centers plump and moist, with a hint of smoke. Unfortunately, in reality, by the time the scallops develop a good sear, they’re usually overcooked and rubbery. And then there’s the problem of trying to flip them when they inevitably stick to the cooking grate. To avoid overcooking the scallops but still have them develop a brown crust, we needed a quick blast of blazing heat. So we built the hottest fire possible by corralling the coals in a disposable aluminum pan set in the bottom of the grill. We found that using large dry scallops kept them from falling through the grate and avoided the soapy flavor that afflicts wet scallops. To make flipping easier, we incorporated a couple of techniques into our recipe: We lightly coated the scallops with a slurry of extra-virgin olive oil, flour, cornstarch, and sugar and threaded them onto doubled metal skewers. The slurry kept the scallops from sticking to the grill grate, the sugar promoted browning, and the two skewers prevented the scallops from spinning when turned. Thoroughly oiling the grate also helped get our scallops off the grill in one piece. For a perfect complement, we whipped up a sweet basil vinaigrette and grilled fresh zucchini to serve alongside the juicy, smoky scallops. Be sure to purchase dry scallops for this recipe. If you can find only wet scallops, or if your scallops are not labeled, see here for more information on buying scallops. You will need eight 12-inch metal skewers for this recipe.
1½ pounds large sea scallops, tendons removed
¾ cup fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1¾ teaspoons sugar
Salt and pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced ¾ inch thick
1 (13 by 9-inch) disposable aluminum roasting pan (if using charcoal)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1. Place scallops in rimmed baking sheet lined with clean kitchen towel. Place second clean kitchen towel on top of scallops and press gently on towel to blot liquid. Let scallops sit at room temperature, covered with towel, for 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, pulse basil, chives, vinegar, garlic, ¾ teaspoon sugar, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in food processor until roughly chopped, about 5 pulses. With processor running, slowly drizzle in 6 tablespoons oil and process until emulsified, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Measure out and reserve 2 tablespoons vinaigrette in large bowl. Set aside remaining vinaigrette for serving. Toss zucchini with reserved 2 tablespoons vinaigrette, then thread onto two 12-inch metal skewers.
3. With scallops on flat work surface, thread onto doubled skewers so that flat sides will directly touch grill grate, 4 to 6 scallops per doubled skewer (3 doubled skewers total). Return skewered scallops to towel-lined sheet and refrigerate, covered with second towel, while preparing grill.
4A. FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL Using kitchen shears, poke twelve ½-inch holes in bottom of disposable pan. Open bottom vent completely and place prepared pan in center of grill. Light large chimney starter mounded with charcoal briquettes (7 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour into even layer in pan. Set cooking grate over coals with bars parallel to long side of pan, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
4B. FOR A GAS GRILL Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave all burners on high.
5. Whisk remaining 2 tablespoons oil, remaining 1 teaspoon sugar, flour, and cornstarch together in small bowl. Remove towels from scallops. Brush both sides of scallops with oil mixture and season with salt and pepper.
6. Clean cooking grate, then repeatedly brush grate with well-oiled paper towels until grate is black and glossy, 5 to 10 times. Place scallops and zucchini on grill (directly over coals if using charcoal). Cook (covered if using gas), without moving them, until lightly browned on first side, 2½ to 4 minutes. Gently flip skewers and continue to cook, without moving them, until zucchini is tender and lightly browned and scallop sides are firm and centers are opaque, 2 to 4 minutes. Using tongs, slide zucchini and scallops off skewers onto serving platter. Serve with remaining vinaigrette.
Use your fingers to peel away the small, crescent-shaped muscle that is sometimes attached to scallops, as this tendon becomes incredibly tough when cooked.
Skewering Scallops for the Grill
To double-skewer scallops, which makes flipping them much easier, thread 4 to 6 scallops onto one 12-inch metal skewer, then place second skewer through scallops parallel to and about ¼ inch from first skewer.
NOTES FROM THE TEST KITCHEN
In general, most recipes use only one type of scallop—sea scallops. The other scallop varieties, bay and Calico (the latter often mislabeled as bay), are much smaller and often too rare and expensive or very cheap and rubbery.
DRY VERSUS WET SCALLOPS Wet scallops are dipped in preservatives (a solution of water and sodium tripolyphosphate, known as STP) to extend their shelf life. Unfortunately, these watery preservatives dull the scallops’ flavor and ruin their texture. Unprocessed, or dry, scallops have much more flavor and a creamy, smooth texture, plus they brown very nicely. Dry scallops look ivory or pinkish; wet scallops are bright white.
DISTINGUISHING DRY FROM WET If your scallops are not labeled, you can find out if they are wet or dry with this quick microwave test: Place one scallop on a paper towel–lined plate and microwave for 15 seconds. A dry scallop will exude very little water, but a wet scallop will leave a sizable ring of moisture on the paper towel. (The microwaved scallop can be cooked as is.)
TREATING WET SCALLOPS When you can find only wet scallops, you can hide the offputting taste of the preservative by soaking the scallops in a solution of 1 quart of cold water, ¼ cup of lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of salt for 30 minutes. Be sure to pat the scallops very dry after soaking them. Even after this treatment, these scallops will be harder to brown than untreated dry scallops.
ALL ABOUT GRILLING
A lot of Mediterranean cooking takes place over a live charcoal fire. (We’ve found that even the best gas grills don’t brown and sear as well as charcoal.) A charcoal grill offers some other advantages over gas, including more options for creating custom fires (see here ) and a better capability for imparting smoke and wood flavor. That said, using a charcoal grill does require some extra effort. Setting up the grill and properly heating and cleaning it before cooking are as important to successful grilling as getting the food just right.
Setting Up A Charcoal Grill
1.USE A CHIMNEY STARTER We strongly recommend using a chimney starter because lighter fluid imparts an off-flavor to grilled foods. Plus, this simple device gets all of the charcoal ready at once; a large starter holds about 6 quarts of charcoal. Remove the cooking grate and open the bottom vent. Fill the bottom of the starter with crumpled newspaper, set it on the charcoal grate, and fill the top with charcoal.
2.GET THE COALS HOT Ignite the newspaper and allow the charcoal to burn until the briquettes on top are partly covered with a thin layer of gray ash. Fine gray ash is a sign that the coals are fully lit and hot and are ready to be turned out into the grill. Don’t pour out the coals prematurely; you will be left with both unlit coals at the bottom of the pile that may never ignite as well as a cooler fire.
3.POUR OUT THE COALS Once the coals are covered with gray ash, empty the briquettes onto the grill and distribute them in one of the custom grill setups. Different types of food require different types of fire, so arrange the coals as called for in the recipe.
4.GET THE COOKING GRATE HOT Set the cooking grate in place, cover, and heat the grate until hot, about 5 minutes. A hot cooking grate jump-starts the cooking process and reduces sticking once you place food on the grill. Also, a blast of heat will make it easier to clean the grate.
5.SCRUB THE COOKING GRATE CLEAN Use a grill brush to scrape the cooking grate clean. Some cooks think a dirty cooking grate “seasons” the food. This makes no sense; you wouldn’t cook in a dirty pan. If you skip the cleaning step, food is more likely to stick and to pick up off-flavors.
6.OIL THE COOKING GRATE Using tongs, dip a wad of paper towels in vegetable oil and wipe the cooking grate several times. The oil offers another layer of protection against sticking. But the oil burns off and so needs to be reapplied every time you grill. Pouring the oil into a small bowl makes it easier to dip the paper towels.
Building the Right Fire
Two of the biggest mistakes outdoor grillers make happen before the food even hits the grill: creating too much fire and setting up the fire incorrectly. The first problem is easy to avoid—add the amount of charcoal called for in recipes or, if cooking on a gas grill, adjust the burner temperatures as directed. The second problem is more complicated. Depending on the food being cooked, we use one of the four grill setups outlined below. You might have to adapt these setups based on the shape, depth, and/or circumference of your grill.
A single-level fire delivers a uniform level of heat across the entire cooking surface and is often used for small, quick-cooking pieces of food, such as sausages, some fish, and some vegetables.
CHARCOAL: Distribute the lit coals in an even layer across the bottom of the grill.
GAS: After preheating the grill, turn all the burners to the heat setting as directed in the recipe.
This setup creates two cooking zones: a hotter area for searing and a slightly cooler area to cook food more gently. It is often used for thick chops and bone-in chicken pieces.
CHARCOAL: Evenly distribute two-thirds of the lit coals over half of the grill, then distribute the remainder of the coals in an even layer over the other half of the grill.
GAS: After preheating the grill, leave the primary burner on high and turn the other(s) to medium. The primary burner is the one that must be left on; see your owner’s manual if in doubt.
Modified Two-Level (Half-Grill) Fire
Like a two-level fire, this fire has two cooking zones, but the difference in heat level is more dramatic. One side is intensely hot, and the other side is comparatively cool. It’s great for cooking fatty foods because the coal- or flame-free zone provides a place to set food while flare-ups die down. For foods that require long cooking times, you can brown the food on the hotter side, then set it on the cooler side to finish with indirect heat. It’s also good for cooking chicken breasts over the cooler side gently, then giving them a quick sear on the hotter side.
CHARCOAL: Distribute the lit coals over half of the grill, piling them in an even layer. Leave the other half of the grill free of coals.
GAS: After preheating the grill, adjust the primary burner as directed in the recipe and turn off the other burner(s).
A concentrated fire creates a blazing-hot fire for food like scallops or lamb that needs to quickly get a good sear to avoid overcooking the delicate meat.
CHARCOAL: Poke 12 holes in the bottom of a 13 by 9-inch disposable aluminum roasting pan. Open the bottom and lid vents completely and place the pan in the center of the grill. Pour the lit coals into the pan, set the cooking grate in place, and preheat the grill.
GAS: Turn all burners to high and preheat the grill; leave all burners on high.