Way back at the very beginning of the pandemic shutdown in the spring of 2020, I was hosting a local television segment on food and dining out. I would go around to area restaurants and farms, interviewing chefs and growers, all the while sampling their fresh harvests and delicious dishes. When restaurants were forced to shut down, we created a series on cooking restaurant-quality meals at home. I invited a few chefs into my own home to cook for the show (this was the time before masks became mandatory and we really knew what was happening with the coronavirus).
One of my first guests was local Chef John Kelly (currently at Flights Wine Bar in Bend). He suggested we make a scallop dish together and explained how scallops are one of the easiest proteins to prepare—plus they're available year-round and they pair well with all kinds of flavors.
Other reasons that now is a good time for this particular recipe: The Oregon Whiskey Festival, celebrating whiskey distilled and made in Oregon, is coming up later this month (Sept. 23-24) at Oregon Spirit Distillers, and celery and arugula are both now in season!
What I learned from Chef Kelly is that happy accidents often occur in pro kitchens, and his Pickled Celery Caramel is one of them. The day he forgot about the celery he was pickling on a back burner was the day he discovered that reducing pickled celery down for longer than you meant to made for a syrupy candied celery that paired perfectly with scallops. I also learned how to choose a fresh scallop by smelling it; it shouldn't smell at all fishy, but rather nice and sweet.
A couple of other scallop tips to keep in mind before you heat up your skillet include removing the small abductor muscle if the scallop has one (it's a small finger-like piece of flesh that pulls off easily) and making sure your scallops are dry before putting them in the hot oil. This ensures that the scallops will get that desired golden brown sear.
Seared Scallops with Bourbon Bacon Sauce & Pickled Celery Caramel
- 8 small to medium sized scallops, fresh or frozen (if frozen, thaw in fridge) keep scallops as cold as possible until ready to use
- Salt and pepper, as desired
- Canola oil
- 4 slices bacon, par-baked (partially cooked), chopped into pieces
- 2-3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
- 1/2 ounce bourbon/whiskey, your local favorite
- 1 ounce orange juice
- 1½ cups heavy cream, room temperature
- 1/2 cup green peas, fresh or frozen
- Pickled Celery Caramel (recipe below)
- Arugula, for garnish
Remove abductor muscle from scallops if present. Dry each scallop completely with a paper towel. Season scallops with salt and pepper as desired. Heat heavy non-stick skillet on high heat until very hot. Add a few swirls of canola oil. Add scallops, leaving room between them (if necessary sear in two batches). Tilt pan back and forth, moving oil around until scallops are golden-brown on each side, turning only once. Scallops will easily release from pan once seared properly.
Add bacon pieces and garlic to skillet. Remove just the scallops from the skillet and set aside while making sauce. Remove the skillet from heat and add bourbon to the bacon and garlic bits. Stir a few times, allowing alcohol to burn off. Return skillet to heat and add OJ, stirring once or twice. Add warmed cream to skillet, continuing to stir so sauce doesn't stick and also to release tasty tidbits from bottom of skillet. Once sauce has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, stir in peas to warm through. Remove from heat. Spoon sauce onto plate and top with seared scallops. Drizzle Pickled Celery Caramel on top and place arugula on the side.
Pickled Celery Caramel
- ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
- ¼ cup sugar
- 4-5 celery stalks, sliced thinly
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 bay leaf
Mix vinegar and sugar together in a small sauce pan and heat on low heat until combined. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer on low for 20+ minutes, until sauce is thick and syrup-y. Set aside to garnish scallop dish. Reserve leftover in fridge for several weeks.