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8 & $20: Seared Sea Scallops and Avocado Salad

A spring addition of fava leaves and a juicy white Rioja make a delicious and healthy weeknight meal
Photo by: grandriver/iStock
Impressively delicate seared scallops are simpler than they look.

Samantha Falewée
Posted: April 11, 2017

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

Buttery, perfectly seared sea scallops were one of my first fine-dining favorites—I was delighted by the precise balance of the caramelized, golden-brown tops and the soft, melt-in-your mouth flesh. But I know better now than to think these delicate morsels are the exclusive domain of professional kitchens: Seared scallops are simple to make at home too.

There's no substitute for freshness when it comes to seafood, and your best bet when shopping for scallops is to talk to your trusted fishmonger. Pay close attention and ask for "dry" or "natural" scallops as opposed to "wet," "treated," or "soaked" scallops, which have been treated with phosphates to preserve them and retain water weight. You can often tell the difference by sight alone—wet scallops are often bright white, while natural, dry scallops show a slightly warmer, fleshier color that's closer to vanilla, cashew or coral.

When I was grocery shopping for this dish, I spied a hallmark of spring: fava leaves, which I promptly substituted for the more traditional accompaniment of spinach. Best picked off the top of the plant, fava leaves have a buttery, grassy taste.

Before prepping your scallops for cooking, be sure to remove the tough side muscle if your fishmonger hasn't already. Feel around your scallop and if there is a firmer, tougher section, that's the side muscle, and it should easily peel off. Scallops sear better when they've had a chance to lose some of their moisture (yet another reason to insist on natural, dry scallops); before cooking, season them with salt (and pepper, if desired) and set them to rest on paper towels for 10 to 15 minutes.

This recipe calls for clarified butter, and you'll want to stick to that if appearance is important. Regular butter contains milk solids, which is why it has such a low smoke point in comparison to olive oil, and those solids can quickly blacken and discolor the scallops. Extra-virgin olive, soybean or grapeseed oils are all suitable substitutes, but skip the canola oil, as it can impart an unsavory fried-fish note. Use a kitchen timer to avoid the dreaded rubbery, overcooked scallops.

For wine, a variety of whites can work well with this dish. The richness of the buttery scallops and avocados begs for a wine with bright acidity and a clean finish. In this case, it was a juicy white Rioja that worked best, with notes of thyme and a hint of stone fruit on the palate that complemented the slightly sweet flesh and caramelized edges of the scallops.

Seared Sea Scallops and Avocado Salad

Pair with a juicy, bright white such as Bodegas Faustino Viura Rioja VII 2015 (86 points, $12).

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
Approximate food costs: $30

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons clarified butter
  • 8 sea scallops (about 2/3 of a pound)
  • 2 cups fava leaves (or greens)
  • 1/2 cup light vinaigrette
  • 2 avocados, pitted, quartered and peeled
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, cored and sliced
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese

1. Remove side muscle from scallops (if necessary), season with salt and pepper and set on paper towel to rest for 15 minutes.

2. While scallops rest, heat sauté pan or skillet (preferably cast iron) on the stovetop on medium-high heat until hot; drop in a tablespoon of clarified butter and let melt completely.

3. In a large bowl toss fava leaves with vinaigrette, sliced green apple, avocado and goat cheese (in that order), sprinkling salad garnishes (walnuts, pine nuts, etc.) as desired.

4. Place the scallops in the hot pan and do not move them until they are ready to be flipped. After 75 seconds, flip the scallops onto a part of the pan that has not yet been used (if possible) and cook for an additional 75 seconds, then remove.

5. Place scallops over the salad, serve immediately. Serves 2.

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