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Recipe: Fancy up menu for Valentine’s Day

We all love a one-pot meal, especially these (pandemic) days, when home cooking is a given, all day, every day. But for a special occasion, like Valentine’s Day, or perhaps when you’re just craving something a bit fancier, consider a slightly more complex dish.

For an impressive main course that is no trouble to execute, look to wild sea scallops. Seek out large, dry-packed “day boat” scallops; usually there are 12 to a pound.

Sear them slowly, cooking them mostly on one side in a cast-iron or other nonstick skillet, to expose a well-browned crisp top once they are flipped. Then they just need a minute or two more to finish. Some people like scallops that are nearly raw inside, but I prefer them fully cooked — firm but still juicy — so the recipe reflects that.

To offset the scallops’ sweetness, I chose to make a spicy carrot coulis. A “coulis,” pronounced koo-LEE, is a thin, pourable sauce, often made from tomatoes for savory dishes, or from berries for desserts. This brilliant orange sauce gets a splash of vinegar for a hit of acidity and a pinch of cayenne for heat, a perfect foil for the scallops’ sweetness. For the best flavor, use young carrots, not large “horse carrots.”

This is a very easy dish if the sauce is prepared in advance. (It can be made up to a day ahead, just reheat to serve.) Then it’s just a matter of searing the scallops and assembling the plates.

SEARED SEA SCALLOPS WITH SPICY CARROT COULIS

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 18 large dry-packed sea scallops, cleaned and patted dry (about 1-1/2 pounds)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup roughly chopped cilantro, leaves and tender stems (from 1 small bunch)
  • 2 tablespoons finely cut chives or green scallion tops
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced Fresno, serrano or jalapeno chiles
  • Lime wedges, for serving
  • >> Carrot Coulis:
  • 1-1/2 cups sliced young carrots
  • 12 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
  • Generous pinch ground cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon honey or sugar
  • 2 cups chicken broth, light vegetable stock or water

>> To make the coulis: Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until carrots are very soft, about 15 minutes.

Puree all ingredients thoroughly in a blender and strain if necessary — it should be very smooth and not too thick, rather similar to a thin milkshake. Taste and adjust seasoning. Keep warm if not made ahead.

>> To pepare the scallops: Set two wide cast-iron skillets or a large griddle over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, film with olive oil. As oil heats and just before cooking, season scallops with salt and pepper on both sides.

When oil is wavy, place scallops in pan without crowding. Leave undisturbed to brown well and crisp on one side, 4 to 5 minutes. Flip and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more, until cooked through, but juicy. Place scallops browned side up on paper towels to blot bottoms.

To serve, ladle about 1/4 cup warm coulis onto individual warmed dinner plates. Set scallops on top, browned side up. Sprinkle with cilantro, chives and sliced chiles. Serve with lime wedges. Serves 4 to 6.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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