Succulent scallops are paired with sweet corn and crispy, salty bacon in my Seared Scallops with Creamy Corn and Bacon. It's a restaurant-quality dish that you can make at home.
There are few summer meals as simple and elegant as a plate of seared scallops and fresh, sweet corn. Scallops are highly prized for their delicate texture and taste, and they’re often thought of as gourmet, restaurant food. But the truth is that they’re actually quite simple to make at home. They’re perfect for a light, fast, and nutritious meal and only take minutes to cook.
I didn’t grow up eating scallops and didn’t really discover them until I was an adult. Now it’s a safe bet that I’ll order them if I see them on a restaurant menu. When I was in culinary school, I learned the proper way of cooking scallops so now I also love to make them at home. When seared quickly in a hot pan, they are deliciously sweet and tender, needing very little fat or added flavor. Put a few scallops on a plate and you turn dinner time into a delicacy- your guests will definitely be impressed!
Scallops have a delicate flavor that pairs perfectly with sweet corn and smoky bacon in my Seared Scallops with Creamy Corn and Bacon. It’s always a little bittersweet when September rolls around and fall produce like butternut squash and figs start to replace the summer fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. Take advantage of that end of summer corn with this simple and elegant dish.
What are scallops?
Scallops are bivalve mollusks, which means they have two shells similar to clams, oysters and mussels. The round part in the middle is the muscle, which is the edible part. When cooked, it is tender with a sweet taste with a hint of brininess. There are two types of scallops- sea scallops and bay scallops. Sea scallops (the ones used in this recipe) are larger while bay scallops are smaller and sweeter.
Health Benefits of Scallops:
Scallops are low in calories and packed with lean protein. They’re rich in a wide variety of vitamins and minerals including vitamin B12, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and selenium. In addition, compared to other seafood, scallops are typically low in mercury.
Scallops also have a good amount of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s can help reduce inflammation in the body, which is the root of many chronic diseases. They have numerous beneficial effects, especially when it comes to heart health and brain health. Because of these health benefits, the USDA dietary guidelines recommend eating at least 8 ounces (2 servings) of seafood per week. Unfortunately, this is a goal that 94% of children and 80% of adults currently do not meet. So the next time you’re at the grocery store, instead of reaching for beef or chicken, consider trying something different and grab some scallops instead.
How to Buy Scallops:
If the thought of buying scallops seems intimidating, don’t fear! The confusing numbers used to label them are referring to their size and how many of them would be in a pound. For example, if scallops are labeled as “20/30” it means that there would be 20-30 of them in a pound. Sometimes they’re labeled as “U/10” or “U/15.” The “U” stands for “under” and means that it would take less than 10 or 15 scallops to make up a pound. An easy way to think of it is that the smaller the number, the larger the scallops.
Be sure to buy dry-packed scallops, which are not treated with any chemicals. Wet-packed scallops are commonly treated with a phosphate solution that acts as a preservative. The scallops absorb this liquid, making them weigh (and cost!) more. It’s almost impossible to get a nice golden sear with wet-packed scallops because of the added liquid. The moisture impedes browning so the scallops end up steaming and can become rubbery. Dry scallops, on the other hand, caramelize nicely during cooking to give them that lovely golden brown color that you want.
Sometimes the abductor muscle might still be attached to the side of the scallop. If it is, simply pull it off and discard it.
How to Make Seared Scallops
When you’re ready to cook the scallops, pat them dry with a paper towel and season them with salt and pepper. Get your pan really hot and add your oil. When the oil is hot, add the scallops. Do not stir or move them! Cook 2-3 minutes until they’re golden brown then flip and cook about 2 minutes on the other side until just cooked through. Do not overcook them or they’ll get rubbery.
At this point, most professional chefs will put a chunk of butter in the pan (sometimes with herbs too) and baste the scallops with the melted butter for extra flavor and color. But this step isn’t necessary if you’re trying to cut down on calories and saturated fat.
How to Make Creamy Corn
Scallops have a mild, sweet taste and you don’t want to overwhelm them with bold flavors. I like to pair them with fresh, sweet, summer corn. I sauté the corn with some shallots and a touch of garlic and then simmer it with half and half. For a salty bite, I finish it off with some bacon.
What’s the trick to making the corn creamy? First, I use the “milk” from the corn cobs. After cutting the kernels of corn off the cobs, I scrape the “milk” from the cobs with the back of a knife. This liquid helps thicken the corn as it cooks. Second, I puree some of the corn in a blender and then stir it back into the corn. This step makes the corn nice and creamy but still leaves some texture from the whole corn kernels.
Succulent scallops, sweet corn and crispy, salty bacon- yum! It’s the perfect restaurant-quality dish that you can make at home.
More seafood recipes
Seared Scallops with Creamy Corn and Bacon
- 3 cups corn, preferably fresh corn cut from the cobs (about 4 cobs)
- 2 ounces bacon, chopped
- 2 teaspoons butter
- ¼ cup minced shallots
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Kosher salt and pepper
- ½ cup half and half
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound large sea scallops (about 12-16 scallops), side muscle removed
- Scallions for garnish
- If using fresh corn on the cob, cut the kernels off the cobs using a sharp knife. To do this, place a small bowl upside down inside a large bowl. Stand the corn upright on the small bowl and cut down along the sides of the cobs, cutting the kernels off. The kernels will drop into the bowl as you cut them off.
- Then use the back of the knife to scrape along the cob and get any corn “milk,” the liquid that is expressed (this liquid will help thicken the corn as it cooks).
- Heat a large cast iron or other skillet over medium heat and cook the bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon and set it aside. Drain the grease leaving about 1 teaspoon in the skillet.
- Add the butter to the skillet and let it melt. Add the shallots and garlic and cook 1-2 minutes until softened. Add the corn and season it with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the corn starts to soften. Add the half and half and simmer 5-6 minutes until thickened. Turn the heat off.
- Remove about 1 cup of the corn and add it to a blender along with 2 tablespoons of water. Blend until smooth. Add the corn puree back to the skillet and stir to combine. If the mixture is too thick, add a little water or half and half to loosen it up.
- Stir in the reserved bacon.
- Cook the scallops. Heat a clean skillet over medium high heat and add the oil. Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel and season them with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, add the scallops. Cook 2-3 minutes without moving them until golden brown. Flip the scallops over and cook another 1-2 minutes on the other side until just cooked through. Remove from heat.
- Serve the scallops on a bed of creamy corn. Garnish with scallions.