The London Sugar Club was a very popular restaurant in the mid-1990s. Its doors have since closed but chef Peter Gordon’s recipes live on. One of my all-time favorites is from his The Sugar Club Cookbook, Grilled Scallops with Sweet Chili Sauce and Crème Fraîche. I’ve served this dish for years to consistently rave reviews.
Although the original recipe doesn’t call for cooking the shellfish sous vide–style, it is now my preference. I love the utterly moist, creamy texture of scallops cooked in the water oven. They are never rubbery and always emerge melt-in-your-mouth tender.
The combination of ingredients for the finished dish may seem odd, but it works. The scallops are sweet and succulent, and I use the velveting technique to give them a golden crust. The watercress adds wonderful color and a peppery note, while the chili sauce, daubed with a smidgeon of crème fraîche, contributes another dimension of complexity to an outstanding dish.
The scallops are great but, frankly, it’s the Sugar Club Sweet Chili Sauce that makes them a standout. Trust me, it’s worth the effort to make it! Also, it has an indefinite shelf life if you store it in the freezer, where it never really solidifies. Sally heats a dollop of cream or crème fraîche with the sauce and pairs it with grilled swordfish. Yummy! Once you try this versatile condiment, you’ll never want to be without it.
Serves 4 as a first course
- Preheat the water bath to 122°F (50°C).
- Divide the scallops between two large (gallon-size) zip-lock food bags. Seal the bags using the water displacement method. (You can vacuum seal the bags but it tends to flatten the scallops, which you don’t want.)
- Cook for 30 minutes; they can be held for 2 hours.
- When ready to sear the scallops, remove them from the bags and pat dry with paper towels. Arrange some of the watercress on each of the serving plates and set aside.
- Mix together the melted butter, flour, cornstarch, and salt to make a slurry. Brush one side of each scallop with some of this velveting mixture.
- Meanwhile, place a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over high heat until the pan is very hot. Add enough canola or sesame oil to lightly film the bottom of the pan. Add the scallops, velveted side down, and cook for 15 to 25 seconds, or until the surface is golden. Divide the scallops among the prepared plates, browned side up. Add a generous dollop of Sugar Club Sweet Chili Sauce to each scallop and then top with a teaspoon of crème fraîche. Serve immediately to oohs and aahs.
Makes about 2 cups
- Place garlic, jalapeños, ginger, galangal (if using), lime leaves, lemongrass, and cilantro in a food processor and process until it forms a fairly smooth paste. Set aside at room temperature.
- Combine the sugar and ¼ cup of water in a saucepan and set over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat to high and do not stir again. Boil the syrup until it turns a dark caramel color, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the chili paste, vinegar, fish sauce, and tamari and return the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer the sauce for 2 or 3 minutes. Let the sauce cool to room temperature and then freeze indefinitely.