Seared Scallops with Corn and Tarragon

Guess what today is?!?!  Today is….my Mom’s Birthday!  Happy Birthday, MOM!!!!

My mom is the best. Loyal, a good listener, generous, slow to anger. (I actually can’t remember the last time she was angry with me – even though I know plenty of times she could have been!) Best of all, she believes in me 110%, all the time, without waiver, and with the utmost enthusiasm no matter the circumstances. Pretty great, eh? Usually, to celebrate my mom I opt to cook for her, but this year we are doing things a little differently. Since we actually have a lot of things to celebrate this month (more on that later), I’m taking Mom out to dinner tonight. But, if I were cooking for her, this would be the dish – Seared Scallops with Corn and Tarragon.

I mean, it’s kind of a perfect, celebratory summertime dish! Perhaps you have someone you should be celebrating this month??

An overhead shot of a white plate with a creamy sauce of corn, zucchini and pancetta on the bottom and two seared scallops on top.

Over the years, I’ve come to learn that scallops are one of those ingredients that people find intimidating to cook at home. But they shouldn’t be! Scallops are so easy to cook and incredibly worth it. Here are a few things to keep in mind when buying scallops.

Three Basic Tips for Buying Scallops:

  1. Find a good source.
    • I shop at a lot of stores, but I only buy seafood at certain ones. The display and the products in it must look fresh and lively. Not wilted, tired or, as I often say “sad”. AND, you absolutely must be able to ask questions of the people who work there. If they give you any attitude, leave and shop somewhere else.
  2. Buy fresh, not frozen or previously frozen.
    • In my opinion, fresh is a better product and therefore results in a better final dish.
  3. Ask for Whole Scallops
    • I always ask the counter-person as they are selecting my scallops to choose ones that are whole, and not split or falling apart. Honestly, this sometimes solicits a little attitude, but I don’t care. Scallops are fragile and the more they get handled and transported they can start to tear apart, so no offense, but these are not the ones I want to pay for.

A black plate with large, raw scallops with the "foot" still attached.

One more thing to note is that scallops have a little side muscle called the foot, which you want to remove before cooking. I photographed them on a black plate above so the contrast would better show the little muscle. Above, you see them pulled away slightly. They peel right off very easily, and in some cases, they have already fallen off. So just take a quick look and remove any you see.

I always arrange my scallops on a plate of paper towel before I get started cooking so any excess moisture can be pulled away, helping to get the best sear possible.

So, with scallops prepped, let’s get to it. Start by browning pancetta cubes in a saute pan. I love buying those packages of pre-diced pancetta so I can just drop them straight in a pan.

Crispy pancetta browning in a pan.

While the pancetta browns, I prep the other ingredients – shave corn off the cob, slice zucchini, chop tarragon and measure out my wine and milk. Since this recipe moves quickly, I like to have everything on deck!

After the pancetta cooks, I use a slotted spoon to transfer it to another plate of paper towels. This leaves behind some fat in the pan to make the creamy corn. And, saves on dishes!

I start the corn kernels in the warm pork fat just for a few minutes, then I make a roux by melting a little butter and stirring in some flour. Hey, no one promised this would be a healthy celebration!

Then, I deglaze with white wine, ‘cuz wine and seafood are good for each other. Next comes the milk.  I used 2% milk in the recipe because I wanted it to be a little lighter, but whole milk will work fine, too.

Creamy corn simmering in a saute pan with a wooden spoon.

To finish the sauce/side, I stir in tarragon, zucchini, salt and pepper, and add back the cooked pancetta. Isn’t it lovely?! Now, the scallops cook so quickly that you can do one of two things. You can a) start the scallops in a separate pan as the corn sauce begins to thicken, which helps with a more same-time finish. Or, b) you can finish the sauce and set it aside while you start the scallops, which helps keep your focus on one thing at a time. This is a good bet if you are new to or uncomfortable with cooking scallops.

Keep in mind, if the creamy corn sits to the side it will continue to thicken, but if it gets too thick, just add more milk to thin before serving.

A saute pan with creamy corn, zucchini and pancetta being stirred with a wooden spoon.

The thing I love about cooking scallops is that they take no time at all. At most, 2-3 minutes per side for scallops of the U10-12 size. Scallops are best served slightly undercooked, and if you watch the sides you can see an almost built-in temperature gauge. Take them off the heat when they still have a slightly translucent band around the center. To serve, simply scoop some creamy corn and tarragon mix onto each plate and top with the seared scallops.

Aren’t birthdays and Mom’s awesome? In honor of amazing Mom’s everywhere, leave a comment below telling me what you love most about your Mom!

A white plate with a creamy sauce of corn, zucchini and pancetta on the bottom and two seared scallops on top.

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An overhead shot of a white plate with a creamy sauce of corn, zucchini and pancetta on the bottom and two seared scallops on top.

Seared Scallops with Corn and Tarragon

  • Author: Emily Wilson
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 2-4 Servings
  • Category: Seafood
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Seared scallops with corn and tarragon is an easy dish to make at home, while also being a delightfully celebratory summertime dish.


Ingredients

  • 6-8 large sea scallops
  • 4 ounces pancetta, cubed
  • 2 ears of corn kernels shaved from the cob, about 2 cups
  • 1 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 cup white wine, crisp and clean variety
  • 3/4+1/4 cup 2% milk
  • 2 tablespoons fresh tarragon
  • 1 small zucchini, sliced thin
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of Maldon salt, optional

Instructions

  1. Set scallops on a plate of paper towel. Remove foot or side muscle.
  2. Set a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until fat is rendered and cubes are crisp, about 5-8 minutes. Stir often and lower heat if necessary. Use a slotted spoon to transfer pancetta to a plate lined with paper towels.
  3. While pancetta cooks, prep the corn, zucchini and tarragon.
  4. Set the sauté pan back over medium heat and add the corn kernels. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook about 2 minutes. Stir often.
  5. Add butter to the corn and melt, then sprinkle flour into the pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring continuously, then slowly pour in the wine. Mixture will become very thick. Slowly whisk in 3/4 cups of milk, then simmer until sauce is thickened.
  6. Stir in the tarragon, zucchini and cooked pancetta. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then lower heat to very low while you sear the scallops.
  7. To cook the scallops, season with salt and pepper. Warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat.
  8. Once oil is hot, add the scallops. To get a good sear, make sure you hear the oil sizzle aggressively. Cook until scallop has a golden brown crust, then flip and sear the second side. For scallops that are 1-2” thick, this should only take about 2-3 minutes per side. You want to retain a slightly translucent band around the center to indicate they are not cooked all the way through.
  9. As your scallops finish, check the sauce. If it’s too thick, stir in a little more milk. Scoop the sauce onto plates or shallow bowls. Arrange scallops on top, then finish with a few leftover leaves of tarragon and a sprinkle of Maldon or kosher salt.

Notes

For an entree portion, 3 or 4 large sea scallops per person is nice. If you want to serve this as an appetizer, 1 or 2 large scallops is perfect.

Keywords: How to cook scallops, easy scallop recipes, scallops, seared scallops, summer corn

 



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