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How to make scallops at home for your Valentine’s sweetie

Addie Broyles,
Scallops benefit from a hot pan and the late addition of butter. To that, you can add ingredients including capers, parsley, lemon juice and garlic. [Contributed]

When it comes to cooking seafood at home, it doesn’t get much easier than scallops.

Less of a hassle to eat than crabs, less expensive (and more satisfying, to me) than lobster, scallops are simple to prepare and add that hint of special that’s just right for an at-home Valentine’s dinner.

Scallops pair well with steak or on their own, and you’ll want to keep two things in mind when cooking both. Pat the exterior dry and season liberally before searing over a high heat.

Always go for dry-packed. Scallops taste so good at nice restaurants (usually) because they aren’t wet scallops, or scallops that have been soaked in a brine and can leave a weird aftertaste.

Higher-end grocery stores sell dry or dry-packed scallops that, though expensive, will cost less than what you’ll pay for them in a restaurant. Because they don‘t have excess moisture inside, the dry surface will sear nicely when it comes in contact with the high heat of the pan.

Use a paper towel to dry them well and then sprinkle with salt. You might have to remove a small muscle on the side of the scallop if the fishmonger hasn’t done so already.

Use fresh if you can, but frozen scallops can be thawed in the refrigerator overnight. Just make sure to pat them dry. Water is your enemy when you’re trying to get a sear — on scallops or a steak.

Seared Scallops in Gin, Brown Butter and Tarragon

We don’t always indulge ourselves at the pricey end of the fish counter, but when we do, we buy scallops. They’re our favorite seafood treat, but they’re not cheap, so we want to make sure we cook them perfectly every time. The best way is to sear these beautiful little mollusks to a perfect dark brown crust, leaving the center medium-rare. We pair them with a nutty brown butter sauce infused with the flavors of garlic, lemon, tarragon and gin.

— Emily Clifton and Matt Clifton

12 large dry (never-frozen) sea scallops

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola and grapeseed

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium shallot, chopped (about 1/4 cup)

2 medium cloves garlic, minced

Pinch of crushed red chile flakes

1/4 cup gin, divided

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons lemon zest

2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, roughly chopped

Steamed vegetables, rice or grains such as barley or quinoa, for serving

If the scallops have a side muscle attached, pull them off and discard them. Dry the scallops very well with paper towels, and season them lightly on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a large, heavy, stainless or carbon steel skillet over medium-high heat until it’s very hot. Add the oil, and heat it until it shimmers and just begins to smoke. Place the scallops in the pan in an even layer and gently press them down with a spatula to ensure good contact with the pan. Don’t touch or move them until the underside is deep golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully turn the scallops over; if they stick, cook another 30 seconds and try again. Cook on the second side just until the flesh on the side of the scallop looks opaque except for a faintly translucent strip in the middle, 1 to 2 minutes, depending on their size. Transfer the scallops to a plate.

Pour off any oil from the skillet, and set it back over medium heat. Add the butter and cook, swirling the pan, until the butter foams up, then turns golden brown and smells nutty, about 2 minutes. Add the shallot, garlic and red chile flakes and cook until soft and fragrant, about 1 minute. Take the pan off the heat and add 3 tablespoons of the gin, then return the pan to the heat and simmer until the gin is mostly cooked off, about 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice, lemon zest, tarragon and the last tablespoon of gin, then spoon the sauce around and over the scallops. Serve over rice or grains, with steamed vegetables — delicate flavors that will allow the scallops to hog the limelight. Serves 2 to 3 as a main dish, or 3 to 4 as an appetizer.

— From “Cork and Knife: Build Complex Flavors with Bourbon, Wine, Beer and More” by Emily Clifton and Matt Clifton (Page Street Publishing, $21.99)

Blackened Sea Scallops

Scallops are a real treat. I like to make them when someone special is coming by or even sometimes for myself. These exceptional blackened scallops are an excellent choice. They’re not burned black; it’s the Cajun rub that creates the look. It infuses the scallops with the flavors of the Gulf Coast. Pair them with a nice glass of chardonnay and lemon-garlic asparagus. You can thank me later! It’s easy to double or triple this recipe if you want. Just make more rub and use more scallops. Depending on the size of your skillet, you may not need more butter or olive oil for coating and cooking.

— Quad Webb

For the Cajun rub:

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For the scallops:

1 pound large fresh sea scallops

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Juice of 1 lemon

Prepare the rub: Stir together the salt, red pepper flakes, cayenne, garlic powder, paprika and nutmeg in a shallow bowl. Set aside.

Prepare the scallops: Pat each scallop dry with a paper towel and then dredge on all sides in the spice mixture, shaking off any excess (they should be well-coated).

Heat oil in a large cast iron skillet over high heat until almost smoking.

Place scallops into the skillet and do not move. Allow the scallops to cook on the first side for 2 to 3 minutes until they form a golden crust and are easy to flip. Flip, add the butter and allow to sear for another 2 to 3 minutes on the other side.

Using a large spoon, baste the scallops with the melted butter throughout the process. Remove from the pan, drizzle with additional butter sauce from the bottom of the pan and lemon juice. Serve immediately. Serves 2.

— From “Cooking with Miss Quad: Live, Laugh, Love and Eat” by Quad Webb (Countryman Press, $29.99)