Nothing is more delectable that grilled, pan-seared, or sautéed scallops, unless it's scallops that have been gently kissed by the subtle flavors of the perfect scallop marinade. Both meaty sea scallops and their fingernail-sized cousins, bay scallops, are naturally a little sweet and very tender. They respond brilliantly to the right combination of marinade flavors as long as those flavors don’t overwhelm because scallops are delicate morsels that could easily get lost in stronger tastes. Some of the best ingredients for scallop marinade include a lime juice, tamari sauce, or white wine base, to which ginger, garlic, chopped fresh or dried herbs, or other delights are added. With a few marinade wizard tricks, even a novice cook can produce scallops worth celebrating.
The first thing to keep in mind is that a good scallop marinade can be simple or complex, but it should never marry too many disparate flavors. For example, while a small amount of mustard, a few drops of Worcestershire sauce, or even a slight splash of hot pepper sauce can become successful marinade components, using all three will produce a marinade sturdy enough for a steak but too bossy for the scallops’ shy personality. One way to decide what to include and what to leave out is to consider international cuisines and create a marinade using light flavors often found together.
The simplest scallop marinade might begin with white wine and the juice of a fresh lime or two. Some chopped parsley, marjoram, or basil will contribute a fragrant, fresh layer of flavor, and a little finely minced garlic deepens the taste on the tongue. Adding some olive oil or melted butter will coat the delicate sea babies as they cook, keeping the marinade in.
For those fond of Asian flavors, try a marinade that combines light tamari sauce with a squeeze of lemon and a teaspoon or two of good-quality sesame oil. Adding a generous pour of cooking sherry will enhance the scallops' natural sweetness. Garlic and ginger pureed into a paste will quickly paint the scallops with a rich, tangy high note, and the tiniest teaspoon of honey will whisper a sweet aftertaste.
Whatever the type of marinade, keeping a few rules in mind will produce succulent scallops brimming with taste. Scallops are much more delicate than red meat or chicken and shouldn’t be marinated for more than an hour, two at the very most, or they will begin to break down and turn mushy. Mixing marinade in a resealable freezer bag to which scallops are added coats them all evenly and means less cleanup. If a bowl is used, it should be glass rather than aluminum to avoid a chemical reaction with the citrus. Marinating should always take place in the fridge, and under no circumstances should leftover marinade ever be reused.