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Scallops have always held a special place in my heart after I learned an easy and foolproof way to cook them. Granted, my instructor was a handsome Scottish chef wearing a kilt, but that's beside the point.
With the right technique under your belt, scallops are an incredibly simple undertaking; cooked incorrectly, though, and they quickly become tough and rubbery. My instructor's tip was easy (and life-changing): Get the pan and cooking fat hot, add the scallops and cook until the exterior is nearly opaque, and finally flip them, remove the pan from the heat, and allow the residual heat to finish cooking the second side.
Depending on the size of the scallops, though, I've found that this method can sometimes lead to the scallops being a little more underdone than I've liked, so instead of turning off the heat, I allow the other side to sear for about one minute more in the pan, leaving me with beautiful brown crusts and a lightly cooked center. Still, if you like you scallops less cooked than I do, you can try removing them from the heat sooner.
Aside from the cooking method, the single most important thing about scallops is to buy good ones, which invariably means "dry packed" scallops that haven't been soaked in a chemical brine. They cost more per pound, but they're considerably sweeter and more delicious, and they also aren't bloated with the water weight of the brine.
The best part about working with scallops is that they can be served over a variety of accompaniments, like pasta, grain salads, or vegetables like cauliflower that's both roasted and puréed. Since harissa has become a staple condiment in my kitchen, thanks to all the flavor and spice it adds to a dish, I figured mixing it with light and nutty quinoa would make for a filling and savory base for my scallops.
The quinoa itself is also straightforward—I begin by softening shallots in the pan, followed by a pinch of cumin and then the quinoa. I toast the grain for about a minute before cooking it in chicken broth (a great shortcut for extra flavor). Then I stir in some ribbons of kale at the end and allow them to wilt. Topped with crunchy pistachios and fresh, grassy cilantro, this bright and flavorful meal is a great weeknight go-to. Plus that leftover quinoa makes an easy lunch or picnic meal that can be topped with grilled chicken or served with hummus the following day.
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