I am a seafood lover, but this has not always been the case. As children growing up in New England, my younger brothers and I were served swordfish on a regular basis. This may sound luxurious, but in those days, swordfish was a local staple harvested from the nearby Atlantic waters, and my mother was determined to serve us fish in the spirit of a well-rounded diet. Swordfish night was not a popular event.
I confess that we took drastic measures to finish our dinner. Since it was effectively a prerequisite to our desired dessert, my brothers and I often resorted to dousing our swordfish steaks in ketchup (as the eldest, I take full responsibility). Mercifully, when information about mercury levels in swordfish became more widely known, it suddenly disappeared from our dinner rotation. We were not upset.
As my interest in food grew, I outgrew my categorical aversion to seafood. I started by eating milder white fish and seafood, deemed “un-fishy” in flavor. And then I discovered scallops. Sea scallops were and are unlike any other fish or shellfish I have eaten, and wonderfully un-fishy. Creamy white and cylindrical in shape, they don’t even resemble fish, and their flavor is lusciously buttery and sweet. When cooked well — preferably seared — they develop a crispy caramelized crust that gives way to a juicy, tender interior. I was hooked then and remain hooked to this day.
Scallops are easy to prepare in a pan. You can serve them with sauces and accompaniments, add them to pasta and rice, or simply enjoy them on their own. Their natural sweetness is complemented by bright citrus and crisp, sweet vegetables, such as corn and bell peppers, which make them a delightful summer meal.
For best results, here are a few simple yet important steps to searing scallops:
Dry: Line a large plate or cooking tray with paper towels. Place the scallops on the tray and then place another paper towel over the scallops. Gently press to blot any moisture. Let stand for 5 minutes, then discard the towels. This will remove any excess moisture and prevent the scallops from steaming when searing.
Sear: The best way to cook a scallop is to sear it. Use a cast-iron skillet if possible. Heat the skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, then add oil and continue to heat until the oil is shimmering. Arrange the scallops in the skillet without overcrowding. Sear, undisturbed, until a golden crust forms around the base and the scallop releases with ease from the pan when lifted with a spatula. Do not disturb the scallops until they release easily! Then flip and sear the other side of the scallop.
Size: Choose the largest scallops you can find. Sizes range from 10 to 40 per pound. Their sizes are measured by the count to a pound and labeled U/10, U/15, etc. The U stands for “under,” which means that U/15 scallops will have a count of 15 or under for 1 pound. U/10 and U/15 are the largest and ideal for searing.
Seared Sea Scallops With Sweet Corn Salad and Garden Salsa
Yield: Serves 4
- 1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
- 1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
- A few grinds of freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Corn kernels from 2 ears of corn (or 2 cups defrosted frozen corn)
- 2 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded, diced
- 1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Dash of hot sauce
- 16 to 20 large (U/15) sea scallops
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Combine all the salsa ingredients except the oil in a food processor and pulse to chop. Add half the oil and process to blend. Add the remaining oil 1 tablespoon at a time until you achieve salsa consistency. Taste for seasoning. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
2. Combine all the salad ingredients in a bowl and stir to blend. Taste for seasoning.
3. Thoroughly blot the scallops dry with paper towels. Season with salt and black pepper.
4. Heat a large (preferably cast-iron) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, and when it begins to shimmer, arrange the scallops in the skillet without overcrowding. Sear until a golden crust forms around the base and the scallops release easily with a spatula, about 4 minutes. Flip the scallops and continue to cook until golden brown and cooked through the centers, about 3 minutes more, depending on the size of the scallops. Transfer to a plate.
5. Spoon the salad onto a serving plate. Arrange the scallops on the salad. Drizzle a little salsa over the scallops and the salad. Serve with the remaining salsa.
Lynda Balslev is an award-winning food and wine writer, cookbook author and recipe developer. She also authors the blog TasteFood, a compilation of more than 600 original recipes, photos and stories.