What do you do when you have a serious craving for a creamy, cheesy, tomato bisque, but also for deliciously seared scallops?! Well you combine the two, naturally 😉 It took a little brain power but I’ve conjured up a combination of flavors here that just can’t be beat. I happened to have a couple of jars of my canned garden tomatoes on hand but store-bought canned Roma tomatoes work perfectly as well, especially with my additional pairing of sun-dried tomatoes, whoa BABY.
If scallops don’t float your boat, fear not! You can omit them altogether and still have a perfectly decadent Tomato Parmesan bisque on your hands. OR, you can replace the scallops with some tasty pan-seared shrimp as well. (Note to self for next time…)
If you do go the scallop route however, there is some important information to note though about achieving that perfect, rich, golden outer crust when you sear them. It’s all about having control over the amount of moisture in the scallops. Overly moist scallops give off a lot of water when they cook, which causes a great deal of evaporation, which causes the scallops to steam, instead of sear. Gaining control over that moisture begins with determining whether or not your scallops are “wet” (not ideal, but fixable), or “dry.”
A little background info: A good portion of the scallops sold in the US are known as “wet” scallops, meaning that they’ve been soaked in phosphates for the purposes of preserving them, whitening them, and allowing them to gain water weight. This phosphate bath leaves them with a soapier taste, and after being cooked, they’re smaller, tougher, and less flavorful. Needless to say, dry scallops are of higher quality and cost more per pound, but wet scallops are much more dense in moisture and are heavier as a result, which plays into the cost anyway. This picture is a good visual of what wet scallops look like, versus dry ones.
With a little additional preparation, you can still achieve a perfect sear with wet scallops. So, first thing’s first:
How to test your scallops for wet vs. dry:
Place a paper towel on top of a microwave safe plate. Place a single scallop on the paper towel and microwave at 100% for 15 seconds. If the paper towel has a decent amount of moisture on it, you’ve got wet scallops on your hands. Alternatively, if the paper towel is fairly dry, you’ve got dry scallops and can proceed with searing.
How to “fix” wet scallops:
In a large microwave safe bowl, combine 1 cup of water, ¼ cup of lemon juice, and 2 Tablespoons of salt. Heat in the microwave in 30 second increments, stir, and repeat until the salt is fully dissolved. From here, allow it to cool, placing it in the fridge if needed (you don’t want the scallops to cook in it).
Add the scallops and let them soak for 30-40 minutes in the fridge. Then proceed with steps outlined below!
Feel free to dress your bisque up with an extra sprinkling of Parmesan and basil!
- 1 cup diced yellow onion
- 1 cup diced carrots
- 1 cup diced celery
- 1 Stick + 1 Tablespoon butter, separated
- 1 (28 oz.) can plum tomatoes
- ½ cup sun dried tomatoes
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1.5 teaspoons dried oregano
- ⅓ cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
- 4 cups chicken stock OR seafood stock*
- ½ flour
- 1 cup half and half
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1.5 cups grated parmesan cheese
- Salt/pepper, to taste
- 10 large sea scallops
- 3 Tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
- ¼ cup lemon juice & 2 tablespoons salt are needed to “fix” wet scallops (see info above)
- In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt one Tablespoon of butter and 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Stir in the diced onions, carrots, and celery and cover the pot and cook until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add the plum tomatoes, (juice and all), along with the sun dried tomatoes. If the sun dried tomatoes were in oil, they can still contain a light coating of oil when added to the bisque.
- Stir in the oregano, basil, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, tomato paste, and chicken or seafood stock. Reduce heat to medium low and let it simmer, covered, for 45 minutes or more. (I like to let mine simmer all afternoon if I’m able, it just gives the flavors that much more time to blend together).
- Remove the bay leaf and use an immersion blender to blend it to your desired consistency, a little remaining texture doesn’t hurt! If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can ladle the soup into a blender and mix it in batches.
- Next, prepare the roux by melting a stick of butter in a sauce pan. Slowly whisk in ½ cup flour and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly, to rid the mixture of the flour taste.
- Gradually add a cup of bisque to the flour mixture, whisking constantly. This will turn into a very thick paste. Whisk in 2 more cups of the tomato soup, then stir that mixture back into the soup pot.
- In a large bowl, combine the half and half and milk, and slowly pour in a ½ cup of bisque to temper it. This prevents the dairy from curdling by adding it quickly to hot soup. Next, pour this mixture into the bisque.
- Whisk in the Parmesan until smooth. Reduce the heat to low and continue to heat, covered.
- Important! Read above instructions to determine if you have wet or dry scallops before performing the instructions below!
- Rinse your scallops, pat them dry, and place them in between 6 paper towels, (3 on top, 3 on the bottom) for 15 minutes.
- Season each side of the scallops with a sprinkling of pepper if desired.
- Use a cast iron skillet if possible, one large enough to cook the scallops without touching one another, so that the moisture around them can evaporate quickly.
- Use enough oil to create a light coating over your pan, 3 tablespoons might be more than you need, it depends on the size of your pan. *Note: Using regular butter instead of oil will cause little black flecks to appear on your scallops from the burnt milk solids.
- Heat the oil over medium high heat until it starts to smoke lightly. Add the scallops and let them sit undisturbed for about 2 minutes, (It’s important to time this accurately). When it’s been nearly that amount of time, take a peek at the bottom of one. When a rich, golden crust has formed, they’re ready to flip. The second side may be ready more quickly, around the 1.5 minute mark.
- Once they’re of your desired color and texture, transfer them to a paper towel lined plate. Ladle the soup in to serving bowls and top each with a beautiful seared scallop! Bon appetite!
Once the vegetables have been softened on the stove top, you can also transfer them to a crock pot from there and let it simmer with the tomatoes, spices, tomato paste, and stock for 5-7 hours on low. Then you turn it up on high for the next set of cooking steps (mixing in the roux, dairy, and cheese).
*Chicken OR seafood stock works well with this recipe, it depends on how much you want to enhance the seafood flavor of this dish versus a more traditional creamy tomato flavor.
Resources used to research wet/dry scallop information: