Scallops are not a popular household ingredient in New Orleans and they’ve only been a noticeable part of the local restaurant scene for about 15 years. Honestly, had I not moved to Atlanta, I probably would have never cooked them for my family. Nothing against scallops. It’s just that in New Orleans scallops are, as local food critic, radio host and author Tom Fitzmorris points out, “exotic.” They don’t come from local waters. But there are so many other amazing, fresh seafood options that do, which is why scallops don’t get a whole lot of local attention. Here in the land-locked ‘burbs of North Georgia, however, fresh seafood is hard to come by. So when I’m in a seafood mood, have depleted my stash from home and don’t have time to run to Whole Foods or Harry’s, I make do with the prefrozen selection at my local Kroger. Last week, a dear friend and neighbor, Sean (a Connecticut native with an insatiable appetite and some sharp cooking skills), raved about the quality, flavor and price of scallops he had recently picked up at, I believe, Whole Foods. For some bizarre reason, I’ve been craving them ever since and new exactly how I wanted to prepare them—blackened—with some type of fresh sauce or salsa. Conveniently, the Cajun-Mexican scallop dish I had been envisioning all came together just in time for Cinco de Mayo.
The blackened seasoning and the blackening process work really well with big sea scallops because both help the scallops achieve that ever-so-delightful crust on the outside while keeping the inside tender and creamy. The Grilled Corn Guacamole enhances the natural sweetness of the scallops, balances out the spice of the blackened seasoning and provides a nice contrast in texture. The chips are mere lagniappe—a little something extra to conveniently transport all those amazing flavors in one bite.
When purchasing scallops, be sure and select dry or dry-pack sea scallops (as opposed to wet scallops). The wet ones are treated with some kind of solution that helps them stay moist and gives them a longer shelf life, a process that involves chemicals and also inhibits the browning process. There’s nothing appealing about that.
Happy Cinco de Mayo!
Blackened Scallops with Grilled Corn Guacamole Recipe
16 dry large sea scallops (about 1 1/4 pounds)
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup Blackened Seasoning Mix
Grilled Corn Guacamole, recipe follows
Tortilla chips, for serving
Finely chopped jalapeño peppers and yellow and red bell peppers, for garnish
If not already done, remove the tough muscle from the side of each scallop by peeling it off with your fingers. Rinse and thoroughly pat dry; set aside. Preheat a large cast iron skillet over very high heat until smoking hot, 5-10 minutes (This is best done outside over a propane burner. If cooking inside, turn range hood on high and open a few windows.) Melt the butter in a small, shallow dish. Place the blackened seasoning mix in a separate shallow dish. Working in batches (do not crowd the skillet), dip each scallop in the melted butter then dredge in the blackened seasoning mix. Sear scallops, turning once, until crusty golden brown and cooked through, about 2-4 minutes per side. To serve, arrange 16 large tortilla chips on a serving platter. Top each with a layer of Grilled Corn Guacamole and one blackened scallop. Garnish with chopped peppers. Makes 8 appetizer servings.
Grilled Corn Guacamole Recipe
2 ears fresh corn, shucked
2 ripe Hass avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
1/4 cup finely chopped red onions
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons sour cream
Salt and pepper
Prepare grill for direct cooking over medium heat. Grill corn, turning occasionally, until lightly charred, 10-15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off the cob and place in a medium bowl. Add next 6 ingredients (through sour cream) and stir to desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups.