A Simple Treatment for Stunning Scallops

Posted July 17, 2018 4:58 p.m. EDT
Updated July 17, 2018 5:01 p.m. EDT

Sea scallops, with their beautiful fan-shaped shells, are prized among the luxury seafoods, along with lobsters and crabs. As with many such things, the simplest preparations are usually the best: My go-to approach with scallops is to pan-sear or grill them, which concentrates their flavor and gives them a crisp exterior.

Though very fresh scallops may be eaten raw, sliced thinly as for an Italian crudo or turned into a Mexican ceviche, I think cooked scallops are best when they are medium in the center, not rare.

For a July sea-scallop supper, I paired grilled jumbo scallops with a kicky corn salsa, made bright green with puréed raw tomatillos, punched up with jalapeño and lime.

The sweetness of the scallops plays well with the acidity and medium-hot spice of the salsa. I was happy serving mine with small boiled potatoes, but this simple presentation could easily be turned into a more complex composed salad by adding avocado, radishes, cherry tomatoes and lettuce leaves, presented on a large platter.

If outdoor grilling is not possible, use a ridged stovetop grill or a cast-iron pan, cranked up to nearly smoking. Large scallops, about two ounces each, are ideal for grilling or pan-searing.

Whatever the size, it is most important to look for the best scallops: usually called dry-packed, day boat or diver scallops. This means they have not been treated with sodium bisulfite (or another preservative solution), which bleaches them, plumps them with water, and makes them nearly impossible to brown.

The trick here is to grill the scallops long enough on the first side. Let them brown and crisp well — otherwise they will stick and have an anemic appearance. So wait three to five minutes before attempting to turn them — you want them golden and burnished on top.

With the colorful corn and pepper salsa, lime wedges and cilantro sprigs, this platter of scallops has a cheerful summery appearance, and the flavor of sea air and sunshine.

— Recipe: Grilled Sea Scallops With Corn and Pepper Salsa

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 30 minutes


For the salsa —

12 medium tomatillos, husks removed, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)

1 jalapeño, seeds and veins removed to lessen heat if desired

2 large ears fresh sweet corn, kernels removed (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 medium sweet red bell peppers, or a mixture of colors, finely diced

1 small red onion, finely diced

2 tablespoons lime juice

Salt to taste

For the scallops —

12 large sea scallops (about 1 1/2 pounds)

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Lime wedges, for garnish

Cilantro sprigs, for garnish


1. Prepare a charcoal fire for grilling (or use a ridged stovetop grill pan).

2. Make the salsa: Place the tomatillos and jalapeño in a blender or food processor and pulse to make a rough purée. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in corn, bell peppers, onion and lime juice. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let salsa rest for a few minutes, then taste and adjust salt.

3. Season sea scallops with salt and pepper on both sides and drizzle with olive oil. Rub with fingers to distribute and coat scallops with seasoning.

4. When the grill is medium hot, set the scallops on it in a single layer. Leave for 3 minutes, until well browned. (It is OK to lift an edge to peek, but do not try to turn the scallops until they have colored well or they will stick to the grill.) When they are nicely crisped and browned turn each scallop with tongs and cook for another 3 minutes, until cooked through.

5. Transfer scallops to a serving platter and spoon some salsa over them. Garnish with lime wedges and cilantro sprigs. Pass the salsa at the table.

— And to Drink ...

Both grilled sea scallops and corn have an inherent sweetness, which goes exceedingly well with chardonnay. Take your pick: How about a fine white Burgundy, like a Meursault? Or an up-and-coming chardonnay from Oregon? Or one of the more restrained versions from California or Australia? If you prefer not to have chardonnay (or if you think the zesty salsa will be too spicy), riesling is another alternative, whether dry from Austria or Germany or a moderately sweet German spätlese. I might also suggest a good Savennières or Anjou chenin blanc from the Loire Valley, a rich white Rhône wine, or even a good Champagne. If you insist on red, try a modestly fruity pinot noir. — ERIC ASIMOV