Simple preparations best for showcasing scallops

A big platter of petrole sole fillets fresh from the Oregon coast prompted a recent discussion of wild, sustainable seafood.

Where do we get good-quality fish and shellfish, asked our friend, who was visiting from California. I replied with my longtime lament: The search is never-ending.

Just when I think I’ve found a worthwhile product at a reasonable price, it disappears from the retailer’s shelves. One of the most rewarding, but also frustrating, items I’ve purchased off and on for more than a decade is dry-pack sea scallops from Costco.

I say I purchase them off and on because they’re intermittently available. Whenever I really want them, they’re not in stock. And when I browse for them on a whim during one of my semiannual trips to Costco: Voila! There they are.

Pound for pound, sea scallops are one of the most expensive items in grocers’ seafood sections, Costco’s included. Expect to pay nearly $30 for 2-pound bag, which makes them an occasional indulgence.

I simply won’t purchase scallops at any price if they’ve been treated with sodium triphosphate, a preservative that can’t be washed off, as I mentioned in a previous post. Worse than the flavor is the chemical’s effect on cooking seafood, which exudes excess liquid and won’t brown at any temperature. The best safeguard is to look for the term “dry-pack” and carefully verify that no ingredients are present other than “sea scallops.”

Once you’ve secured good-quality scallops, the simplest preparations show them to their best advantage. And resist the urge to overcook them. They should still be slightly translucent at the very center when nicely caramelized on each side.

Here’s a recipe courtesy of Tribune News Service that’s just right for warm-weather meals. Another of my favorite combinations with scallops are grapefruit and avocados, when both produce items are still in season.

Tribune News Service photo

Pan-Seared Scallops With Fresh Greens and Raspberries

1/2 cup raspberry vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 teaspoon black pepper, plus more to taste

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1/2 cup good-quality olive oil

12 cups mixed light-colored baby greens, such as Bibb, Boston, frisée or any favorite greens torn into bite-sized pieces

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 pound sea scallops, patted dry

2 tablespoons butter

Juice of 1 lemon

Fresh shredded herbs such as basil or tarragon (optional)

3/4 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted

1 cup fresh raspberries

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt, black pepper and poppy seeds; In a slow, steady stream whisk in the olive oil until emulsified.

In a large bowl, toss the salad greens and mushrooms with half of vinaigrette. Divide among 4 dinner-size serving plates.

Season the scallops with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add scallops and sauté until barely cooked through and nicely browned on each side, for about 2 minutes per side. Drizzle with the lemon juice and sprinkle with the fresh herbs if using

Arrange a portion of scallops on top of each plate of greens; sprinkle with the chopped walnuts and raspberries. Drizzle with a bit of vinaigrette and pass remainder separately.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe adapted by the Detroit Free Press Test Kitchen from “Main-Course Salads” by Ray Overton ($15.95, Longstreet).

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