The First Rule Of Fight Club


BAH Note:  This post was already written and queued up before my breakup with Chris Kimball.  I considered deleting it but the mental image of Chris Kimball turning into Tyler Durden amuses me.  I refuse to let him rain on my parade.

It’s no secret that I am was a home cook recipe tester for Cook’s Illustrated.  There are many of us out there testing and tasting  the dishes that will eventually show up in some form in the pages of Cook’s Illustrated.  But you’d never know it because we all agree to an honor code that we will not write, blog, or publish recipes in testing.  There’s good reason for that.  These recipes go though multiple rounds of development before they get published.  So who is to say that what I tested is what goes to print?  Besides, I wouldn’t didn’t want to get kicked out of the club for breaking the rules.  Remember the first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.  I wouldn’t didn’t want Chris Kimball to go all Tyler Durden on me, so until now I’ve kept my mouth shut about Pan Seared Scallops.

I tested this recipe in April 2009.  And then I waited.  And waited.  And waited to see the final recipe in print.  It wasn’t until the November/December 2009 issue that my wait, and my silence, ended.  These scallops made a big impression on me.  So much so that I held on to my test recipe to see how it might have been changed.  I was pretty opinionated in my feedback to CI.  I praised the final product but challenged the ease of their basting technique.  I also railed about the use of 1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar in the reduction sauce.  Balsamic vinegar isn’t cheap.  And asking me to use 1/3 of a cup for a reduction for which only a few tablespoons will go on the meal?  That’s ridiculous. I drew the line at even considering to include the tablespoon of port.  I don’t have port and I’m not going to buy a bottle just to use one tablespoon of it.

The first thing I noticed when I read the piece, was that they did not change one thing in the cooking technique.  So the awkward butter basting made the final cut.  However, they did include a sidebar where they rated basting spoons.  First, how many home cooks actually HAVE basting spoons?  Second, if they knew about such things, why didn’t they bother to mention them to those of us charged with home testing the recipe?  I supposed I could have found an alternate solution like using a turkey baster to suck up the melted butter and safely baste the scallops.  But really, should I have to?

Then I got to the sauce recipes.  And you know what?  That balsamic reduction got the boot.  Instead, they went with lemon brown butter and tomato ginger sauces.  That made me kind of sad.  Because as much as I complained about the balsamic reduction, it was good.  Not just good.  It was Good, with a capital G.  There was just too much of it.  Maybe I’m just destined to have a container of balsamic reduction in my fridge to use with reckless abandon.  Not like that would be the worst thing in the world.

No, it would be worse to forget the first rule of Fight Club and have a bowtied, spectacled Tyler Durden show up at my front door.  Maybe if I served him these Pan Seared Scallops with Balsamic Reduction, he’d forget all about beating me to a pulp.

Pan Seared Scallops

Cook’s Illustrated

CI says “We strongly recommend purchasing “dry” scallops (those without chemical additives).  If you can only find “wet” scallops, soak them in a solution of 1 quart cold water, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons table salt for 30 minutes before proceeding with Step 1.  In Step 2, season with pepper only.  If you are unsure whether your scallops are wet or dry, place 1 scallop on a paper towel lined, microwave safe plate and microwave on high for 15 seconds.  If the scallop is “dry”, it will exude very little water.  If it is “wet”, there will be a sizeable ring of moisture on the paper towel.  The microwaved scallop can be cooked as is.”

  • 1 1/2 pounds dry sea scallops, 10 to 12 per pound, small side muscles removed
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Place scallops on rimmed baking sheet lined with a clean kitchen towel.  Place a second clean towel on top and gently press to blot liquid.  Let scallops sit for 10 minutes  at room temperature while the towels absorb excess moisture.

Sprinkle scallops on both sides with salt and pepper.  Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12 inch, nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking.  Add half of the scallops in a single layer and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes without moving until well browned.

Add 1 tablespoon butter to the skillet.  Carefully  flip scallops and continue to cook.  Tilt the skillet so that the butter collects on one side and use a large spoon to baste the scallops with melted butter.  Cook 30 to 90 seconds more until the sides of the scallops are firm and the centers are opaque  Remove smaller scallops from the pan as they finish cooking, transfer to a large plate, and tent loosely with foil.  Wipe out skillet with a wad of paper towels and repeat cooking with remaining oil, scallops, and butter.  Serve immediately with lemon wedges or sauce.

{Printable Recipe}

Balsamic Vinegar Reduction

  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon port

BAH Note:  This recipe takes a while to reduce so it needs to be made before you start on the scallops.  Stash leftover sauce in your fridge.  Serve with pound cake, vanilla ice cream, strawberries.  In my opinion, the port is optional.  I didn’t use it and my sauce came out just fine.

Combine ingredients in a small saucepan.  Reduce mixture for 30 to 40 minutes over extremely low heat (barely simmering) to about half of its original volume.  Cover and keep warm.

{Printable Recipe}

19 thoughts on “The First Rule Of Fight Club

    1. Thanks Karen, these really are amazingly good. I’d say they’re a close rival to my other favorite scallop recipe by Jacques Pepin, which will make it up here someday.

    1. I broke up with them after CK’s NYT Op Ed piece came out. I don’t want someone else’s drama or controversy in my kitchen…I provide enough of it myself.

      I thought long and hard about whether to even post this piece. But to be honest, it’s one of my favorites both as a narrative and a recipe. Although I have a feeling that I’m going to start seeing some crazy search inquiries in my stats now that I’ve got this Tyler Durden/Fight Club reference posted.

    1. I’ve definitely been going through some ATK withdraw since our breakup. And I had to talk myself out of buying one of their huge compilation cookbooks at the bookstore this weekend. I know the recipes would work but I can’t bring myself to contribute another dime to The Cult of Personality.

  1. My mouth is watering at the mention of balsamic vinegar sauce and scallops on the same plate. I say tweak it the way you want it and make it BAH approved. 🙂

  2. Not only is balsamic vinegar expensive, it’s easy to burn. About 10 years ago I tried a recipe that involved a balsamic reduction requiring a whole cup of the stuff. One minute it was still too thin…the next, it was charred to the pan. 😦

    1. Kathy, I cringe just reading that. And I imagine it didn’t smell too good.

      Did you see Sunday’s episode of Worst Cook? I was surprised only one person on the Blue Team overcooked the reduction sauce.

  3. I’m glad you didn’t tear the recipe into little pieces after your breakup! These sound sooo good.

    This is definitely on my to-cook pile.

    1. Julie, hope you’ll enjoy these as much as I do. Yes, it would have been very foolish of me to kick this recipe to the curb.

  4. I love scallops but everyone seems to think they need a layer of bacon fat to taste good.

    Not that Ihave anything against bacon, I just like the taste of scallops er…….pure.

    Also Ithought scallops were scallops. Dry? Wet? Who knew?

    1. I think I’ve made it clear that I would never turn down a bacon wrapped anything but these beauties need no bacon to shine.

  5. So I couldn’t hold out another day; I had scallops for dinner tonight. I did not make them though. Mitchell’s did. And I’m A-OK with that because they were awesome.
    Thanks for starting the crave, Hon. 🙂

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