Fresh scallops with their plush texture and voluptuously sweet flavor are not common on Chinese tables. Typically, scallops are dried to preserve and intensify their taste, then used as a flavoring, much in the same way as dried shrimp. I, however, cannot resist them fresh, and am often inventing Chinese-spirited dishes to show them off.
Rinse the scallops briefly with cool water. Drain and pat dry.
Add the scallops and ginger to the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife and process until coarsely minced. Add the wine, salt, pepper, cornstarch, and egg white, then process until completely smooth, scraping down as needed. (Do not heap the cornstarch or pepper on the white top of the blade, lest it cling there and not incorporate.) Scrape the purée into a small bowl.
The scallop mixture may be refrigerated up to 12 hours before shaping the balls. Press a piece of plastic film directly on top of the purée to make an airtight seal.
Spread the sesame seeds on a large plate. Line a baking sheet with a sheet of wax paper. Put 2 tablespoons com or peanut oil in a small dish. Line up the seeds, tray, oil, purée, and a tablespoon on your work surface.
Coat your palms and the spoon with a bit of oil so the purée does not stick. Scoop up a slightly rounded tablespoon of the scallop mixture with the spoon, then shape it softly into a walnut-size ball between your palms, smoothing the surface with your fingers. Roll it gently in the seeds to coat it on all sides, then shape it again softly in your hands. Put it aside on the waxed paper, then continue to make balls until the purée has been used up, oiling hands and spoon as required. When you are finished, there should be about 16 balls.
The scallop balls may be refrigerated for several hours, wrapped airtight in plastic. Bring to room temperature before frying, still sealed airtight. If exposed to air, the balls will have a somewhat tough crust once fried.
Make the sauce and cover the pot to keep it warm. If you like, this may be done before you shape the balls.
About 20 minutes before serving, put a serving platter and a small sauce bowl of contrasting color in a low oven to warm. Line a baking tray with a double thickness of paper towel. Have the tray, several additional sheets of paper towel, a large Chinese mesh spoon, and the scallop balls all within reach of your stovetop.
Heat a wok or deep, heavy skillet over high heat until hot. Add the oil, then heat to the light-haze stage, 350° on a deep-fry thermometer, when a single sesame seed bobs to the surface within 3 seconds and spins with a trail of tiny bubbles. Adjust the heat so the temperature does not rise.
Add 5 scallop balls to the oil, one by one. They will take about 45 seconds to rise to the surface. After about 15 seconds, nudge them gently with the spoon, so they do not sit too directly on the hot bottom of the pan, then turn them once or twice after they float to the surface. Fry until pale gold, about 3–4 minutes, then remove to the paper-towel-lined tray. Do not let the scallop balls turn brown in the first frying. They will cook and color to doneness when fried a second time.
Check that the oil is at 350°, then fry and drain the next two batches. Do not worry if the balls collapse as they cool. They will swell again in the second frying.
Raise the heat to 375°, then add the balls in one batch. Adjust the heat so the temperature does not rise. Fry for about 1 minute, turning the balls with the spoon, until they are swollen and golden brown. Do not let them get too dark or swell so that the coating cracks open. As soon as they are puffed, remove the balls in 2 or 3 quick motions to the fresh paper-towel drain, then shake the tray to blot up the excess oil. Serve at once.
To serve as an hors d’oeuvre, scrape the sauce into the warm bowl, put the bowl in the center of the platter, then cluster the scallop balls around it. Serve as finger food or with small forks, inviting your guests to dip the crispy balls into the sauce.
For table service, use the same presentation. Or, drizzle half the sauce over the scallop balls and serve the remainder in a bowl off to one side for those with a sweet tooth.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.