WARM SPINACH SALAD WITH PAN-SEARED SCALLOPS

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS: Attempts to make perfectly seared, caramelized sea scallops usually result in overcooking these tender mollusks, rendering them rubbery and tough. We wanted a concentrated, nutty, rich-colored crust encasing an interior of sweet, creamy, perfectly cooked scallop meat. And for a complete meal, we wanted to incorporate our scallops into a main course salad that would be both elegant and satisfying.

We tackled the scallops first: To get scallops with a crusty exterior, using the unprocessed variety is a must. We found it was essential to dry the scallops thoroughly before adding them to the pan, to further guard against the scallops steaming rather than searing. Equally important is to avoid crowding the pan. We cooked the scallops in batches, browning each batch on just one side, then returned them all to the skillet at once to cook through on the other side, so that each salad would have hot, not tepid, scallops.

For the salad, we liked baby spinach and watercress for easy prep and moist, tender greens. A bright dressing with sherry vinegar and fresh orange complemented the rich scallops. For a finishing touch, toasted sliced almonds lent our salad nutty flavor and welcome crunch.

Pan-Seared Scallops with Wilted Spinach, Watercress, and Orange Salad

SERVES 4

Sea scallops can vary dramatically in size from 1 to 1½ ounces each. A dinner portion, therefore, can range from four to six scallops per person. To ensure that the scallops cook at the same rate, be sure to buy scallops of similar size. Note that scallops have a small, rough-textured, crescent-shaped muscle that toughens once cooked. It’s easy to remove—simply peel it from the side of each scallop before cooking.

SALAD

5 ounces baby spinach (about 5 cups)
4 ounces watercress or arugula (about 4 cups)
¾ cup sliced almonds, toasted

SCALLOPS

pounds large sea scallops (16 to 24 scallops), tendons removed (see note)
Table salt and ground black pepper
¼ cup vegetable oil

DRESSING

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ medium red onion, sliced thin
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
2 large oranges, peel and pith removed, quartered and sliced ¼ inch thick
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1. FOR THE SALAD: Toss the spinach, watercress, and almonds together in a large bowl; set aside.

2. FOR THE SCALLOPS: Place the scallops on a dish towel–lined plate or baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Lay a single layer of paper towels over the scallops; set aside.

3. Add 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil to a 12-inch skillet and heat over high heat until just smoking. Meanwhile, press the paper towel flush to the scallops to dry. Add half of the scallops to the skillet, dry side facing down, and cook until evenly golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the scallops, browned side facing up, to a large plate; set aside. Wipe out the skillet using a wad of paper towels. Repeat with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the remaining scallops. Once the first side is golden, turn the heat to medium, turn the scallops over with tongs, and return the first batch of scallops to the pan, golden side facing up. Cook until the sides on all the scallops have firmed up and all but the middle third of each scallop is opaque, 30 to 60 seconds longer. Transfer all the scallops to a clean, large plate; set aside.

4. FOR THE DRESSING: Wipe the skillet clean with a wad of paper towels. Add the olive oil, onion, thyme, and ½ teaspoon salt to the skillet and return to medium-high heat; cook until the onion is slightly softened, about 1 minute. Add the oranges and vinegar to the pan and swirl to incorporate. Remove from the heat.

5. TO FINISH THE SALAD: Pour the warm dressing over the salad mixture and gently toss to wilt. Divide the spinach salad among four plates and arrange the scallops on top. Serve immediately.

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