Seared Scallops with Corn Salsa and Cilantro Pesto

Sweet, tender, mild, succulent, moist, and juicy. These are some words that describe one of my favorite seafood, the scallop. I love the shape and design of their shells, which I collect, but I love the mild flavor of their meat even more. Part of the bivalve family of mollusks, these shelled creatures are prized for their tender, white meat. Harvested at sea usually by dredging the ocean floor or by diving, a more ecological method, scallops have their meat removed before arriving in markets. That is why you rarely see them in their shells.

Luckily, I have had the opportunity to see scallops in their natural yet man-made habitat. When I was a teen I worked on a scallop farm out on Long Island Sound as part of a summer aquaculture program. The scallops were housed in lantern nets, suspended directly in the sea between buoys. On reaching the farm, boatmen would lift the nets out of the sea for the students to work on. We moved the baby scallops from their crowded lantern nets into new ones that afforded them the space to grow to full marketable size. While handling them, the scallops, like toy water pistols, would squirt us with briny water. Besides not being allowed to eat the scallops, it was a fun and memorable experience.

This dish pairs sweet scallops with a sweet summer corn salsa. It’s a simple, fast, and colorful salsa of corn, onion, bell pepper, and jalapeño pepper combined with cilantro and lime juice for a bit of tartness. For some additional flavor, a cilantro pesto makes a great sauce to serve alongside the scallops. This dish makes a perfect appetizer or first course for a summer dinner party. The best part is that it comes together very quickly, which means there is more time spent with guests than in the kitchen.

When shopping for scallops, look for fresh, dry-packed sea scallops, preferably diver. Wet-packed scallops have been soaked in a solution, which whitens them and increases their weight. They are not good for searing as they emit a lot of soapy liquid. Plus why would you want to buy scallops that are artificially pumped up? For this recipe look for large scallops, that are 10 to 20 count per pound. The smaller the count per pound, the larger the scallop size and vice versa. If you must buy frozen, just one tip, let them defrost in the refrigerator before using it. Do not defrost in the microwave.

Seared Scallops

1 pound sea scallops, about 12 large
2 teaspoons olive oil
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Remove the small side muscle from each scallop. Rinse with cold water and pat dry.

Warm oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet on high heat. Salt and pepper the scallops. Add scallops to the very hot pan at least an inch apart from one another. Sear the scallops for 2 minutes per side. The scallops should have a golden crust on each side. Serve immediately. Yield: 4 servings.

Corn Salsa

2 ears sweet corn, sliced from the cob
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons lime juice (about 1 lime)
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

In a pot of simmering water, blanch the corn for 2 minutes. Drain immediately. Alternatively, in a heat-proof bowl, cook the corn for 2 minutes in the microwave on high.

In a bowl, combine corn, onion, peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or cold. Yield: 4 servings.

Cilantro Pesto

1 bunch cilantro, stems removed
½ cup pine nuts
½ cup olive oil
coarse sea salt

Add cilantro and pine nuts to a food processor and pulse until thoroughly combined. Drizzle in oil and process until smooth. Season with salt. Leftover pesto can be stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month or frozen in a resealable plastic bag. Yield: 1 cup.

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