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Perfect Summer Scallops

Phoebe's Summer Scallops, 2009 edition, are slathered with a bright version of guacamole that's thinned by the addition of tomatillos and spiked by fresh jalapenos.
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Once summertime hits, the first thing I crave in the kitchen is a perfect, crisp pan-seared scallop. When I'm in charge of the meal in my parents' house, fresh sea scallops are the first thing I run to town to buy. Unfortunately, I don't think they share the same zealousness for night after night of scallop variations. So I try to restrain myself and am left dreaming of the endless flavor possibilities, until the time comes to make my few experiments count.

I've kept my technique the same over the years, attempting to perfect the dark brown crust on each side of my scallops. But the sauces, salsas, and salads that accompany have run the gamut from sweet pureed peas with but a hint of mint to crispy pancetta with balsamic roasted tomatoes, and, my tried-and-true favorite, cumin corn salad with perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes.

All winter I've been looking forward to the farm fresh produce that could better my summer scallop, but somehow indecision always strikes when faced with the dozens of wicker baskets overflowing with the long-awaited rewards.

This time around, inspiration struck thanks to an old collection of recipes.

A few weeks ago I spent the weekend on Shelter Island at my friend Ali's house. In her mother's study, the walls were lined with old Food and Wine magazines, and editions of Gourmet dating back to 1942. While the rest of the gang relaxed on the porch, I hunkered down on her living room sofa, fully embracing my food-nerd standing and indulged in a few issues from the late 90s. I've been on a bit of a Mexican kick lately, and it was when I came across a travel issue on the lesser-known provinces of Mexico that I found my scallops' new friend.

Phoebe's Summer Scallops, 2009 edition, are slathered with a bright version of guacamole that's thinned by the addition of tomatillos and spiked by fresh jalapenos. This salsa verde is topped with a cherry tomato corn salsa similar to the old standby but improved by fresh cilantro which ties the whole summertime experiment together.

--Phoebe Lapine of Big Girls, Small Kitchen


Seared Scallops with Tomatillo Guacamole and Corn Salsa
Makes 3-4 servings


12 large scallops
olive oil

For the Tomatillo Guacamole:

1 avocado, halved and pitted
1/2 pound tomatillos, husked and coarsely chopped
1/2 lime, juiced
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
1/2 small onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 - 1 jalapeno, seeded and coarsely chopped (to taste)
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp cumin
salt to taste

For the corn salsa:

3 ears corn, shucked
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1 tsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp cumin
salt to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil.

In the meantime, combine all ingredients for the guacamole in a food processor or blender and pulse until mixture is combined, but still fairly coarse. Set aside.

When the water is at a rolling boil, add the corn and blanch for one minutes, just until the color of the kernels have intensified and turned a brighter shade of yellow. Be careful not to over-cook, these should only take a minute. Remove with tongs and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. When cool, pat the cobs dry.

In the center of a large bowl, take one cob at a time, stand it upright and shave the kernels off with your knife. Be careful not to cut too deep, you don't want the coarse center of the cob to come off with the corn. Repeat with the remaining cobs until all have been shaved. Toss together with the remaining ingredients for the salsa, and set aside.

NOTE: the salsa can be made the day before.

Rinse the scallops well, pat them dry with paper towels, and season both sides well with cumin and salt on a large side plate.

Lightly coat the bottom of a large skillet with olive oil and set over high heat. When the pan is smoking hot, add the scallops, making sure not to crowd the pan. Allow the first side of the scallops to sear without moving them (2-3 minutes). When the bottom half has turned from opaque to white, and the bottom is a dark brown, flip the scallops and sear on the other side.

Cook the scallops for another minute or two on this side, then remove to a platter.

Serve the scallops with a generous dollop of tomatillo guacamole and a spoonful of corn salsa on top. A light side salad rounds out this perfect summertime meal.

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