Seared Scallops with Grilled Sweet Onion, Red Pepper Coulis, and Arugula Flowers

April 3rd, 2009 by megan · 11 Comments

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Seared Scallops with Sweet Onion, Red Pepper Coulis, and Arugula Flowers

Seared Scallops with Sweet Onion, Red Pepper Coulis, and Arugula Flowers

It’s kind of a long title, but really, this is an elegant recipe that isn’t terribly difficult to make. It makes a really lovely first course for a fish dinner. I stumbled upon arugula flowers the other day at the farmer’s market and now I’m hooked – not only are they beautiful (but in a subtle way – they don’t hit you over the head with color like other edible flowers), but they taste delicious. Slightly spicy like arugula, the flowers have a tender bite and great texture. I’ve been sticking them in salads and munching on them right out of the fridge.

I’m also lucky to have access to a great seafood purveyor at one of our local farmer’s markets – Blue Moon Fish – who focus on wild, seasonal, and sustainably-harvested seafood from our local waters. Their scallops are some of the best I’ve ever had. Harvested off the coast of Montauk, Long Island, the scallops are smaller than the gigantic sea scallops you often see in commercial markets, and they’re fresh and delicious and sweet and buttery. Good, fresh scallops should smell exactly like the sea, not bitter or fishy. Untreated scallops should be off-white to beige in color – usually not snow-white. Inferior-quality scallops are often treated with a chemical called sodium tripolyphosphate as a preservative to help them retain water and to stay plump, thus increasing their shelf life (ewwww on so many levels). Ask for “dry-pack” or unsoaked scallops (or chemical-free) – or better yet, get to know a few local fishermen (and -women) and ask them directly how their scallops are processed. (Um, this suggestion will only work if you live close to an ocean.) Most high-quality scallops are untreated – and after a few taste tests, you’ll start to discern a difference in flavor. The chemically-processed scallops can often have a bitter undertone and a texture that is mushier than a fresh, untreated scallop.

Scallops usually have what is called an adductor muscle attached to them – the muscle will generally be a crescent-shaped piece of flesh attached to the side of the scallop. (It’s this muscle that the mollusk uses to close its shell.) Remove the adductor muscle before searing the scallops; it’s quite tough and doesn’t particularly taste good. As with searing other kinds of meat, make sure that your pan is extremely hot and that your scallops are extremely dry before you add them to the pan. And don’t move them around once you’ve started to cook them. They will form a brown crust and will release on their own. One last thing: do try to find a sweet onion variety – regular onions will overpower the delicate taste of the scallop.

Leftover red pepper coulis is delicious on sandwiches (or mix with mayo for a red pepper mayonnaise) and as a dip for fried fish.

Arugula Flowers

Arugula Flowers


For the red pepper coulis:

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded, chopped roughly into 2-inch pieces
Kosher salt
Cayenne pepper
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of your knife
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon heavy cream (optional)
Lemon juice (optional)

For the grilled sweet onion:

1 large sweet white onion (such as Vidalia, Maui, or other sweet variety), sliced into 3/4-inch thick rounds
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the seared scallops:

1 tablespoon grapeseed or canola oil
6 medium sea scallops, adductor muscles removed
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the garnish:

1/4 cup microgreens
Handful of arugula flowers or other small, edible flower

Special Equipment: Food processor, grill pan


For the red pepper coulis:

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a small, heavy saucepan. Add the bell pepper, a generous pinch of salt, and a tiny pinch of cayenne. Sweat the pepper (cook without browning) for 3-4 minutes, or until the pepper is slightly soft. Add the garlic and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. (Turn down the heat if the pepper or garlic starts to even remotely brown.)
  2. Add the water and turn down the heat to medium-low. Cover the pot with the lid slightly ajar and cook until the pepper pieces are soft and most of the water has evaporated, about 15 minutes.
  3. Carefully add the contents of the pot to the food processor and process until smooth. Add the heavy cream and pulse to evenly distribute.
  4. Taste and season with additional salt and a few drops of lemon juice, if necessary.
  5. For a very smooth coulis, force the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding the solids.
  6. Keep the red pepper coulis warm.

For the grilled sweet onion:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300ºF.
  2. Heat your grill pan (or grill, if you should be so lucky) over high heat.
  3. Season the onion slices generously with salt and pepper. Oil them lightly with the olive oil.
  4. Grill the onions over high heat until grill marks form and the onions have softened, 5-6 minutes per side. Taking care to keep all of the rings intact (you want a solid bed for your scallops), transfer the onion slices to a small baking sheet and keep warm in the oven.

For the seared scallops:

  1. Generously season the scallops with salt and freshly ground pepper.
  2. In a medium, heavy saute pan, heat the oil over high heat until very hot, but not smoking.
  3. Add the scallops. Sear (without moving) on one side until golden brown, about 1 minute to 1 1/2 minutes per side (this will depend on how large your scallops are). Flip the scallops and cook on the second side for another minute.
  4. Remove from heat to a warm plate. Tent with foil to keep warm.

To serve:

  1. Place a warm grilled onion slice on a small plate. Spoon the red pepper coulis around the onion slice (or transfer the coulis to a squeeze bottle and decoratively squeeze the coulis around the onion slice).
  2. Top the onion slice with 3 seared scallops. Top the scallops with a handful of microgreens. Scatter arugula flowers on top of the microgreens.
  3. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Serves 2.


The Duo Dishes Apr 3, 2009 at 1:58 pm

There’s nothing like a buttery scallop with a nice crust. Your recipe sounds delicious, and your photography is beautiful.

katiek Apr 3, 2009 at 3:11 pm

This is so pretty! I saw arugula flowers at market this past weekend too. Have you ever tried peppercress? If not, you would love it. Smaller, but more powerful than arugula. It will clear your senses. I use them sparingly. Perched on top of dishes such as these.

Also, i really like how smooth the coulis bc you pushed it through a sieve. Maybe a bit of citrus zest too? YUM!

Natasha - 5 Star Foodie Apr 3, 2009 at 11:02 pm

Wow, this is gorgeous! I love scallops and the red pepper coulis here! The arugula flowers are a neat addition – I have to look for those!

Daily Spud Apr 4, 2009 at 7:12 am

Next time my rocket/argula plants start going to seed and flowering I will be harvesting the results instead of tossing them into the compost!

sivan harlap Apr 4, 2009 at 4:18 pm

I saw scallops and arugula flowers at the greenmarket today! Wish I would have seen this post earlier.. Looks gorgeous and YUMMY!

Joan Nova Apr 4, 2009 at 6:10 pm

ooh…I’m going to be on the hunt for arugula flowers. this is first I’ve heard of them. Love scallops, love red pepper coulis, and love the way you combined all.

gastroanthropologist Apr 8, 2009 at 7:42 am

I didn’t know you could eat argula flowers – thx for the tip. This scallop dish is making my mouth water and its not even time for breakfast yet…

maggie (p&c) Apr 8, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Some of the best scallops I’ve ever had were from Blue Moon. Gorgeous photo, really lovely.

Sara Apr 8, 2009 at 9:50 pm

Everything looks great but I especially like the red pepper coulis.

Kevin Apr 10, 2009 at 4:10 pm

That looks good! Great presentation!

AHO Menu Feb 20-26, 2012 | De Ma Cuisine May 4, 2012 at 8:30 pm

[...] Seared Scallops with Grilled Sweet Onions, Red Pepper Coulis and Arugula Flower [...]

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