Pan Seared Scallops with Sweet Corn and Chilies

Pan seared scallops nestled in a bed of sweet corn and poblano chilies are perfect for sultry summer nights. Invite some friends over, pour a glass of crisp white wine, and watch the fireflies.

July in New England is the “everything goes better with corn” season, and that includes seafood.

Seared scallops on a bed of creamy corn spiked with poblano chilies borders on fancy food, which belies how quick and easy it is to prepare. Sweet corn with cream underlines the sweetness of scallops, and slightly spicy poblanos with cilantro provide the contrast.

This is an easy summer dish perfect for any night of the week, but make no mistake, it’s also worthy of a weekend dinner with your favorite people. Pair it with some small, boiled potatoes tossed in parsley and butter, then pour glasses of crisp, cold white wine and toast to good friends. Ah, summer!


There are two kinds of scallops: bay scallops and sea scallops. As their names indicate, they come from different waters.

  • Bay scallops are harvested from shallow waters and estuaries along the east coast (most famously in my neighborhood, from Cape Cod Bay).
  • Sea scallops dwell in deep waters and are harvested by trawling boats with chains and nets or from the ocean floor by licensed scuba divers. Scallops harvested by divers are called Diver Sea Scallops, and as you can imagines they are much pricier.

Bay scallops are sweeter and much smaller than sea scallops. Sea scallops are about 1 1/2 inches in thickness and diameter, while bay scallops range from 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch wide. They can be used interchangeably in recipes, but cooking times will vary because of their size difference.


Many scallops are sold after they have been soaked in a bath of phosphates, which makes them swell and appear larger. These are called “wet scallops” and their appearance is whiter than dry scallops. They absorb much of that liquid, which adds to their weight (which you are paying for) and when they are cooked, much of the liquid evaporates, producing a tougher texture.

“Dry scallops” are almost vanilla-colored in appearance compared to white wet scallops. They will caramelize nicely in the pan when seared and do not release as much liquid. They are sweet, with a natural “from the sea” flavor.

I definitely recommend dry scallops.


To prepare scallops before cooking, you first need to remove the side muscles (the small piece of tough meat on one side of the scallop where it was extracted from the shell.) You may see very few or no muscles on the scallops you have purchased, but if you do, remove them.

If using frozen scallops, defrost them in the refrigerator overnight or a few hours before cooking. Treat them as above.


Getting a good sear on scallops is easier than you think. Just follow a few simple steps to achieve perfectly seared scallops every time!

  • Dry the scallops well with a paper towel. When they hit the pan, their lack of surface moisture helps them brown quickly. If they are wet, they may become overcooked before they brown.
  • You want your pan hot! A cast iron skillet is great for this.
  • Once you get the sear on one side, remove the pan from the heat, flip the scallop and let it finish cooking with residual heat.


Use a sharp paring knife to shave off a few rows of corn at a time. Either set the ear on a small cutting board placed on a rimmed baking sheet to capture errant kernels that tend to fly all over the place, or (my favorite) stand the corn upright in the center of a Bundt pan and let the kernels fall into the pan as you remove them.


One of the benefits of using fresh corn is that you can extract the creamy liquid known as corn milk that lingers beneath the kernels. Once you’ve removed the kernels, slide the dull side of the knife over the cob to scrape out the pulpy juice. It’s like liquid gold; when added to the kernels, the corn becomes creamy and luscious.


In corn season, fresh corn is always optimal, but you could substitute frozen corn.

Unfortunately, you can’t get corn milk from frozen kernels. To mimic the creaminess of corn milk using frozen corn, try pureeing a small amount (about 1/3 cup of the kernels) in a blender to release some of the starch.


The scallops should be sautéed just before serving, but you could make and refrigerate the corn a day or two in advance and reheat it in a pan or in the microwave. You may need to re-season it with salt and pepper, and add a little more water or cream to restore its original creaminess.

Love Scallops? Try these Recipes!

  • Seared Scallops with Asparagus Sauce.
  • Seared Scallops with Brown Butter and Capers
  • Baked Scallops
  • Seafood salad with scallops called Frutti di Mare

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