Scallops with Bacon-Red Pepper Coulis
We’ve always been a bacon-forward household but I find myself using it in places that even I wouldn’t have expected just a few years ago. That succulent, umami quality is basically irresistible to Willa and Phoebe, so it can really help them to at least try new things when it’s a part of the meal. Even bacon-like will do the job: from guanciale to pancetta, I’m about to have an autumnal run of blog posts that involve some fatty cured pork products.
First up is a dish that I first made over the summer, but can easily be a fall weeknight dinner. Coulis, if you don’t already know, is just a fancy word for any puréed fruit or vegetable sauce. And if you use a jarred roasted red pepper this meal can be on the plate within 30 minutes. The main difference between this coulis and any other is—you guessed it—the use of bacon as the initial fat in the sauce, rather than a more typical vegetable oil.
“Dry” scallops are another crucial ingredient here, otherwise it’s almost impossible to get that caramelized exterior which turns the scallops into something almost candy-like. Since you’ve already cooked bacon, you can use a bit more of that fat to cook the scallops here for some extra bacon punch. For this dinner, I made a simple side dish of couscous with pine nuts to sop up the extra sauce.
- For the Coulis
- 4 pieces of thick-sliced bacon
- 1 shallot, sliced
- 1 small clove of garlic, chopped
- 12 oz jar of roasted red peppers, drained and roughly chopped*
- 1 sprig of thyme, leaves picked off
- 3/4 c. of chicken stock or broth
- 1-1/2 tsp. sherry vinegar
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- For the Scallops
- 1 lb. of dry ocean scallops (around 12 to 16)
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- An herb for garnish (optional)
- Cook the bacon in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat until crispy, then remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Remove a tablespoon of bacon fat from the pan and set aside,
- Increase the heat to medium and add the shallots and garlic to the pan. Sauté until the shallots are translucent. Add the peppers and thyme to the pan and cook a few minutes more. Add the chicken stock and stir, scraping off any browned bits that might still be stuck to the pan. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes, then carefully add the contents of the pan into a blender. Pureé the sauce until smooth (1 to 2 minutes on high speed), then pour the contents into a medium sauce pan. Add the vinegar and stir, and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper to your taste. Keep the sauce warm over very low heat.
- Season the scallops with a bit of salt and pepper. Place a cast iron skillet or heavy-bottomed sauté pan over high heat. As it warms up, add the reserved bacon fat to the pan to coat the bottom. Add a little olive oil if you don't have enough bacon fat to cover your entire pan bottom. Once the pan is extremely hot, carefully add the scallops one at a time. Sear the scallops for 5 to 6 minutes to get them nicely browned—don't move the scallops after putting them in the pan, otherwise they won't form that seared crust. Flip the scallops and cook around 2 minutes more, then remove the scallops to a warm plate to rest (keep the browned side up so it doesn't steam off!).
- To plate, put a few tablespoons of the sauce on a plate and spread, arrange the scallops on top of the sauce, and finish with a piece of bacon crumbled over each plate. Garnish with something green if you like.
- * If you are particularly DIY, you can also roast the peppers yourself. Preheat the oven to 450°F, wash and dry three large red bell peppers, coat them with a bit of olive and place them on a rack over a sheet pan. Cook for around 30–45 minutes, until the outsides are black/charred. Remove from oven, carefully move the peppers to a bowl and cover tightly with saran wrap. Once the peppers are cool, you should be able to easily remove the skins, then slice open and remove the seeds and stem. You can retain any juices you might get and add to the sauce in lieu of the chicken stock.
- For you pescatarians out there, you can substitute olive oil for the bacon fat in the recipe, and add a dash or two of smoked paprika to the coulis.
- A scallop will often have a tough strip of flesh attached to its side, which is where it connected to its shell. Remove that by peeling it away before seasoning.