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Spicy Scallops with Vegetable-Rice Pilaf

The spice and smoke usually associated with Cajun dishes give this combination of sea scallops and long-grain rice a big flavor. There are a number of Cajun spice mixtures on the market, but making your own lets you control its heat. 

Ingredients:

For the vegetable-rice pilaf:

  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt 
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice 
  • 3/4 cup shelled fresh or frozen English peas 
  • 1 preservative-free bacon slice 
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion 
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped green onion, white part only 
  •   

For the spice mixture: 

  • 1 tsp. sweet paprika 
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder 
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder 
  • 1/2 tsp. ground or finely crushed dried thyme 
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper 
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground white pepper 
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt 
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper 
  •   
  • 3/4 lb. sea scallops, side muscles removed and scallops halved horizontally 
  • 2 tsp. canola oil 
  • Lemon wedges for serving (optional) 

Directions:

To make the pilaf, in a heavy saucepan over high heat, bring the water and salt to a boil. Slowly add the rice, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Uncover and check to see if the rice is tender and all the water has been absorbed. If not, re-cover and continue to cook for a few more minutes.

Meanwhile, if using fresh peas, bring a small saucepan three-fourths full of water to a boil. Add the peas and boil until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside. If using frozen peas, set them aside.

Just before the rice is ready, in a fry pan over medium-high heat, fry the bacon until it starts to brown at the edges, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel to drain, then chop into 1/4-inch pieces. Return the pan to medium-high heat, add the red onion and green onion to the bacon fat remaining in the pan, and sauté until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes, reducing the heat as needed. Stir in the cooked fresh or frozen peas.

Transfer the rice to a large bowl. Add the vegetables and bacon and, using a fork, combine them, taking care not to mash the rice. Cover the bowl to keep the rice warm and set aside.

To make the spice mixture, in a small bowl, stir together the paprika, garlic and onion powders, thyme, cayenne, white pepper, salt and black pepper. Measure out 1 1/2 tsp. to use on the scallops. Store the remaining spice mixture in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to 4 weeks.

Sprinkle the 1 1/2 tsp. spice mixture over the scallop halves, turning to coat evenly on both sides.

In a large, nonstick fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the canola oil. Add the scallops in a single layer. Cook until seared and slightly blackened around the edges, 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, turn the scallops and sear on the other side, about 2 minutes.

Mound one-fourth of the rice in the center of each warmed individual plate. Arrange one-fourth of the scallops around each mound of rice. Accompany with lemon wedges and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Essentials of Healthful Cooking, by Mary Abbott Hess, Dana Jacobi & Marie Simmons (Oxmoor House, 2003).