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Pan Seared Sea Scallops with Toasted Pecan and Sherry Sauce  printer friendly
By Charlie Burke

After all the Thanksgiving cooking, we decided to have a simple seafood dinner
the day after. I usually do not decide what to cook until checking the market for
what looks best and is not on the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Watch (www.
seafoodwatch.com) list of over-fished and endangered species. They send out a
free wallet size folder listing good choices and their web site is informative.

Sea scallops looked particularly fresh and are quick and easy to prepare. When
buying them, be sure that they are unprocessed, often referred to as “dry
packed” -- which means that they have not had a chemical liquid applied to
prolong shelf life and add weight.

Treated scallops exude a milky liquid when heated, cannot be sautéed properly
and lack the natural sweet flavor of the fresh dry packed product. Choose
scallops which are shiny and are sitting in minimal liquid. Their surface is
slightly sticky and there should be no fishy smell. Their color varies with their
diet, and they may be yellowish, pink or tan, rather than pure white. They
should not be rinsed before cooking, but the tough ligament from their shell
attachment should be removed before cooking.

Good scallops should not be masked by rich or creamy sauces, and I prefer to
simply sear them in a very hot pan and make a quick reduction with the pan
juices. They have a somewhat nutty taste and pair well with pecans and walnuts,
and slightly sweet sherry has similar flavors, so here they are sauced with
toasted pecans and a quick reduction of pan juices and Amontillado.

Four servings:

1 pound dry pack sea scallops
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1/3 cup toasted and coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
Olive oil or canola oil
½ cup Amontillado or similar medium dry sherry
1 tablespoon butter

Lightly season both sides of the scallops with salt and pepper and remove the
tough white ligaments. Heat a small sauté pan over medium heat and toast the
pecans until they color slightly and then chop them into 1/4-1/2 inch pieces.

Heat a large stainless steel or cast iron frying pan over high heat for a minute or
more and add the oil to film the entire pan. When the oil is shimmering and very
hot add the scallops, leaving spaces between them. Do not move them for 2
minutes, permitting that side to caramelize to a deep color, at which time they
will release from the pan without sticking. Turn them and sauté on the second
side until barely done in the center (1 – 2 minutes, depending upon the size of
the scallops). Remove the scallops from the pan and add the shallots, stirring
until they are soft. Add the sherry, scraping up the brown fond from the pan, and
reduce the liquid until it is slightly thickened and the alcohol has boiled off. Off
heat, swirl in the butter, return the scallops and their juice to the pan and add the
pecans, tossing quickly to coat the scallops. Serve them immediately on warmed
plates with your choice of sides – we served sautéed julienned leeks and carrots
with Israeli couscous which went well with the mild scallops.

Dry packed sea scallops are now in most markets. It is worth the effort to seek
out a reliable local fish store which usually receives shipments daily or every
other day. Sea scallops are perishable and develop a slightly bitter taste if not
perfectly fresh, so it is important to know and trust your fish monger. When
perfect, however, there are few species as delicious and easily prepared.
Experiment with your own reductions, using white wine or a little lemon juice to
make an easy pan sauce.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm
to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather
Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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Pan Seared Sea Scallops, photo by Charlie Burke
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