A couple of months ago my husband and I had the opportunity to travel to Vietnam. We like traveling to places that push us outside our comfort zones and introduce us to new ways of thinking about things. One of the major highlights of the trip, if not our favorite thing altogether, was without a doubt the food culture.
There is so much more to Vietnamese cuisine than the pho restaurants in the United States would have you think. Endless amounts of rice noodle dishes, more vegetables and herbs than you thought you could consume in a day, meals perfectly balanced with salty, sweet, sour, and spicy – we did not go hungry while traveling in Vietnam by a long shot.
To put the cap on a wonderful gastronomic tour of the country, we participated in a motorbike food tour in Ho Chi Minh City on our last night. I’ve had a prior run in with motorbikes while traveling, a story for another time, so I was a bit skeptical about the whole experience. But XO Tours came very highly rated, and I can say now it was one of the best things we did on the trip.
First, the motorbike riding was unforgettable. Our guides, Phuong and Tuyen, were very safe and provided so much insight about Vietnamese culture that we wouldn’t have normally been able to get a glimpse into. Riding around Ho Chi Minh City on the back of a motorbike is what I imagine being part of a school of fish is like. Everyone is moving in unison is some sort of organized dance that you don’t understand as a bystander but that everyone participating is well versed in. It was exhilarating.
Then there was the food. Being on motorbikes allowed us to move all across the sprawling city to see and eat things not normally seen and eaten by travelers. They eased us in with an approachable noodle dish from the center of Vietnam, Bun Bo Hue, and the night took off from there. One of the main areas of focus? Seafood. Simply prepared. Fresh. Delicious. Think prawns grilled in front of you over hot coals, crab claws with chili rock salt, clams in a sweet lemongrass broth, and scallops with green onions and peanuts.
And so comes the inspiration for these simple, Vietnamese inspired scallops. The scallops we ate in Vietnam were served on the half shell, similar to how we eat oysters here in the US. Since those are very hard to find here, I opted for quick pan fried scallops instead. The green onions give a savory earthiness to the dish and the peanuts lend great texture. The best part about it though is the citrusy sauce meant to mimic the sweet and sour kumquat sauce we ate on our tour.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 lb scallops, patted dry
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp salt
- Juice of 1-2 limes, 1 tbsp in total
- Juice of half a small orange, 1 tsp in total
- 1/4 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 small chili, seeded and finely diced, 1/4 tsp in total
- 2-3 bunches green onions, about 1/4 cup in total
- 1/4 cup rough chopped, unsalted peanuts
Start by pulling out your scallops and patting them dry with paper towels. Let sit on dry paper towels while you make the sauce. To make the sauce, combine lime juice, orange juice, soy sauce, sugar, and chili in a small bowl. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
Next, chop peanuts and green onions. You can mix the green onions into the sauce at this point, but wait to add the peanuts until the very end for maximum crunch. Give the sauce a little taste and adjust the balance as you see fit. If it needs a little more sweetness, add some sugar. If the orange flavor is too strong, counter it with some lime juice. The one thing I would go easy on is the soy sauce since it has such a strong flavor. If it needs more saltiness, go for kosher salt instead.
Next heat vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed saute pan over medium to medium high heat. You want the pan to be hot enough to get a nice sear on the scallops. Ensure the scallops are thoroughly dried and season with salt. Add them to the hot pan and cook 2-3 minutes on each side. A golden brown crust should form and the scallops should be cooked all the way through when cut. Remove from pan and place on serving plates.
Finally, add the peanuts to the sauce with green onions and stir to combine. Spoon it generously over top of the scallops. Serve immediately. I quick sautéed some green beans and broccolini to serve alongside the scallops as well.
Vietnamese Style Scallops with Peanuts and Green Onion
- 1 lb scallops patted dry
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1-2 limes, juiced 1 tbsp in total
- 1 small orange, juiced 1 tsp in ttoal
- 1/4 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 small chili seeded and finely diced
- 2-3 bunches green onion, chopped 1/4 cup in total
- 1/4 cup rough chopped peanuts unsalted
Remove scallops from refrigerator and pat dry thoroughly, place on paper towels to rest
Combine lime juice, orange juice, soy sauce, sugar, and finely diced chili in a small mixing bowl
Stir sauce to dissolve sugar and add chopped green onions. Set aside
Heat vegetable oil in heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium to medium high heat
Add scallops and cook 2-3 minutes on each side until browned and cooked through
Place scallops on serving plates and add peanuts to the sauce with green onions stirring to combine
Spoon green onions and peanuts with sauce over the scallops generously and serve immediately with side of your choice