One weird thing about American food is that we steam a lot of things that don’t taste good steamed and we don’t steam a lot of things that do. This is not our fault–we are a young country after all, and so we are still learning. But to provide an example, broccoli and brussels sprouts don’t taste good steamed, yet they’re often sold in packages that encourage us to do so, sometimes in the very bag they’re sold in. On the other side of the coin, if Asia has taught me anything, it’s that there are few better things in life than a steamed scallop sauced with some garlic and soy. But in American (New) restaurants, scallops seem to be always prepared the same way–seared, on some puree. This is too bad; I enjoy a seared scallop as much as the next guy, but sometimes they can feel greasy and they just never quite have the clarity of a steamed one. As they say, though, if we want change, we will need to make the road by walking.
- 8-10 large scallops (look for “dry” scallops, which are less processed) (if you don’t have scallops, this recipe works well for shrimp too)
- 4-5 cloves garlic, minced fine
- 1 thin coin ginger, peeled
- 4 tbsp water
- 2 tbsp seasoned soy sauce for seafood (Lee Kum Kee is a reputable and generally available brand it’s sold in a green bottle with a picture of a tasty fish on it) (regular soy sauce will work in a pinch)
- 1 tbsp neutral oil (I like peanut)
- 1/4 tsp honey (or sugar)
- 1/4 tsp black vinegar (optional) (this will add a layer of tart depth, but still very tasty without)
- 1/2 tsp chili oil (optional)
- Pinch salt
- Scallions and cilantro, for garnish
- Make the sauce. (Note you can scale the sauce up and down depending on your needs, the important ratio is 1 part oil to 2 parts soy to 4 parts water. A little bit will go a long way.)
- In a cold, small saucepan, add the oil, garlic, ginger, and a pinch of salt (starting cold helps reduce the risk of burning). Bring it up to medium-low and fry, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds to a minute, until fragrant. It will smell really good. Don’t let the garlic brown, we are just trying to take the raw edge off it.
- Then, add the water, soy sauce, honey, black vinegar, and chili oil at once (fine to mix this in a separate bowl beforehand). This will stop the frying process and keep the garlic from browning. Bring it up to a low simmer, stirring constantly, for just a minute or so. Turn off the heat and taste. It should taste savory and garlicky, slightly sweet, and delicious. Adjust seasoning if necessary–if the soy flavor is too harsh (this might be the case if you’re using regular soy), add water; if it’s too bland, add some salt (not more soy). The sauce should look delicate and light brown, not too dark, with the oil beading handsomely throughout.
- (FWIW, this sauce is pretty versatile and also really good with dumplings and really good over plain rice.)
- Steam the scallops separately in a steamer basket over boiling water, about 5-6 minutes. I like my scallops medium and almost raw and sashimi-like in the center, but if you like them more well done add a minute or two. No need to season them, as they will later get bathed in the sauce.
- Place the scallops in a shallow bowl. Heat the sauce back up to a bare simmer, and then pour over the scallops. Garnish with cilantro and scallions. Serve with rice.