Grilled Scallops with Cilantro

Another invention of mine, totally NOT Chinese but using some ingredients common to Chinese cuisine and very appropriate for that ever-popular summer activity: grilling! Fish sauce, a very salty concoction made from anchovies,  is a predominantly Vietnamese ingredient but is widely available in both Asian markets and many well-stocked conventional grocery stores (in the Asian food section).

Serves 6 as a main course, 8-10 as an appetizer.


  • 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 T finely minced onion – red, yellow, or white
  • 1 T rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
  • 2 T oil – preferably high-heat sunflower or safflower oil
  • 2 T sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sugar, preferably brown or “raw”
  • kosher salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • chili sauce (such as Sriracha) or chopped salted chilies to taste – start with a modest amount! (optional)
  • 2.5 lb sea or bay scallops


  1. Combine all the ingredients except the scallops in a bowl and let the mixture sit at room temperature for 1-2 h.
  2. Rinse and pat the scallops dry, removing the small muscle that sometimes remains attached to the side – this can be very tough but makes wonderful seafood broth or stock when combined w/ fish bones, shrimp shells, etc.
  3. Mix the scallops gently with 1/2 the sauce until thoroughly coated.
  4. Refrigerate 1-3 h, turning gently 1/2 way through.
  5. Thread the scallops on skewers and grill over a medium flame, approximately 2 m for sea scallops, 1 m for bay.
  6. Brush with the reserved sauce, turn, and grill approximately another 2 m for sea scallops, 1 m for bay. Do not overcook, or the scallops will be tough and the sauce will burn.


  • Grill the scallops ahead of time and serve them warm or at room temperature as an hors d’oeuvre.
  • The scallops are also excellent served cold in a salad.

do ahead:

You can make the marinade up to 2 days ahead – best to leave the vinegar and chili sauce out until the time you plan to marinate the scallops.

3 Cups Scallops

The “3 cups” style of cooking originally refers to a recips for cooking an entire chicken using 1 cup each of soy sauce, sesame oil, and wine. Obviously for lesser amounts of food, the amount of ingredients has also been reduced, but for most recipes of this style, the proportion remains the same 1:1:1. Often these dishes are served in a very hot cast iron pot or bowl.

For the basil, you can use thai basil, the more common Italian variety, or play with the kinds you can find fresh at the market, or you can substitute cilantro. Scallops seem to be one of the few seafood types for which the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program recommends buying the farmed variety. They are best fresh, but frozen will work as well – just be sure to thaw them slowly in the refrigerator, not in water.


  • 1 lb bay scallops
  • 3 T sesame oil
  • 2 small red chilies (optional), cut diagonally into elongated rounds
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 slice ginger, cut into thin strips
  • 3 T light soy sauce
  • 3 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 2 scallions, roll cut into 1″ lengths
  • salt, to taste
  • 3 sprigs basil


  1. Gently remove the small muscle that is sometimes found attached to the side of the scallop – these can get extremely tough when cooked, but they make a great ingredient for fish stock or broth.
  2. Heat a wok over medium high heat, then add the sesame oil just until it shimmers.
  3. Explode the chilies, garlic and ginger just until fragrant, then add the soy sauce, cooking wine, and scallions. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.
  4. Add the scallops, cooking just until they become opaque all the way through – this may take as little as a minute.
  5. Adjust the seasoning, garnish with the basil, and serve.


You can substitute just about any type of seafood for the scallops – squid, shrimp, and fish slices all work well.