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July, 2008

Pan-Seared Sea Scallops with Israeli Couscous Salad

By Heidi Allison

If you’re looking for a luxurious dinner for two that’s heart-healthy and you get on the table in less than 15 minutes, give this recipe a shot. The delicate, sweet meat of the scallops is the perfect foil to the aggressive lemon and garlic flavor of the Israeli Couscous Salad.

Israeli Couscous Salad
If you’re looking for a luxurious dinner for two that’s heart-healthy and you get on the table in less than 15 minutes, give this recipe a shot. The delicate, sweet meat of the scallops is the perfect foil to the aggressive lemon and garlic flavor of the Israeli Couscous Salad. Not only is this dish a magical flavor pairing, it also plates up beautifully with no effort on your part--the round shape of the scallops is mirrored by the large, buckshot-shaped Israeli couscous. And, the natural au jus sauce appears on it’s own as the shellfish rests—how easy is that!

The secret to perfectly cooked scallops is creating a crust. Although grilling and broiling can get the job done, the best way to get great caramelization with these tender bivalves is to pan-sear them—it locks in both moisture and flavor without making them tough. However, you need to keep an eye on the clock—more than 3 minutes can quickly turn the scallop from a succulent, sweet meat into something that resembles shoe leather.

Pan-Seared Sea Scallops with Israeli Couscous Salad
When pan-searing scallops, it’s crucial they take on a dark golden brown color. Brisk cooking in a very hot, uncrowded pan not only brings out their sweetness, but keeps them from getting stringy and rubbery. The trick to creating a great crust on scallops is to make sure they are perfectly dry before adding them to a hot, well-oiled pan. While some chefs lightly dust them in flour to ensure that no moisture (scallop juice) remains, I find this technique dilutes their delicate flavor, and muddies the taste of the natural juices (your sauce) which are released as the scallops rest on the serving plate after cooking. What works best is simply letting the scallops air-dry for at least 10-15 minutes after you pat down their surface with a paper towel. And once they hit the heat, do not move them for 1 ½ minutes per side—the exact amount of time it takes for the surface proteins to caramelize without toughening up.

Scallops are an excellent source of low-fat, high quality protein, and contain significant amounts of heart–healthy omega-3 fat acids, magnesium and potassium-- all nutrients that provide significant benefits for the cardiovascular system. Omega -3 fatty acids keep the blood flowing smoothly by preventing the formation of clots. Magnesium keeps your blood pressure in check by causing blood vessels to relax while improving blood flow.

Scallops are also a very good source of an important nutrient for cardiovascular health, vitamin B12. This vitamin is needed by the body to convert homocysteine, a chemical that can directly damage blood vessel walls, into benign substances. (High levels of this chemical are associated with an increased risk for atheroscleroisis, diabetic heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.) Moreover, a recent study found that women with low or marginal B12 levels appear to suffer from osteoporosis more frequently. A high level of vitamin B12 has also been shown to be protective against colon cancer. Just 4 ounces (about two large sea scallops) contains 33 percent of the daily value for this vitamin.

Pan-Seared Sea Scallops with Israeli Couscous Salad
Serves: 2

Couscous Salad
8 cups boiling water
1 Tbsp. salt 1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 cup Israeli couscous
Juice of 2 ¼ lemons
1 large shallot, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
½ cup halved sweet grape tomatoes
¼ cup mint, minced
¼ cup flat leaf Italian parsley, minced

Greek Lemon and Garlic Dressing
Juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. dried oregano
5 cloves garlic, minced and smashed with the back of a heavy knife to a rough paste
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Sea Scallops
6 large sea scallops
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1 tsp. butter, unsalted, room temperature
1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

Preparation:
Place 8 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of salt in a pot and bring to a boil. Add Israeli couscous. Return water to a boil and cook until just tender—about 13-14 minutes. Drain in a mesh strainer (shaking several times), and place in a shallow plate. Drizzle with a splash of olive oil and toss. Squeeze a ¼ lemon over couscous, spread out in a thin layer and allow to cool. When room temperature, transfer couscous to a large bowl and add shallot, tomatoes, mint and parsley.

In a small bowl, add ¼ cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons), salt, oregano and garlic. Whisk in 1/3 cup oil in a slow, steady steam until emulsified. Add ½ of dressing to bowl with couscous and toss. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator.

Pan-Seared Scallops
Rinse scallops with cold water and place on a plate. Thoroughly pat dry both sides of the scallops; then let the scallops air-dry on the plate for at least 10 minutes. Lightly salt and pepper the scallops. Add the ½ tsp. butter and ½ tsp. olive oil to an 8-inch non-stick sauté pan on high heat until the oil is just smoking. Gently place scallops in the pan making sure that they are not touching each other. Sear for 1 ½ minutes, then turn over and cook for an additional 1 ½ minutes. Transfer scallops onto one half of a serving plate in a triangle pattern, and mound the opposite side of the plate with half of the couscous salad. Repeat process with remaining scallops and couscous and wait 5 minutes before serving to allow the au jus (natural juice) sauce to be released.

Notes from the Author:
You may need to add more lemon juice to the couscous salad just before serving---the flavor should be an aggressive lemon and garlic flavor, and the pasta absorbs the lemon taste as it sits.