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Originally published Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 12:10 AM

Harvest savings and local flavor

Urban Eats gathers 39 of the area's most esteemed restaurants to provide a 3-course dinner (appetizer, entrée and dessert) for only $30. Visit them Oct. 1-29, Sunday-Thursday nights.
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Recipe: Herb-Crusted Scallops with Tarragon Cream

Scallops are breaded and quickly cooked in this recipe for Herb-Crusted Scallops with Tarragon Cream.

Detroit Free Press

Scallops are among my favorite seafood because they are easy to prepare and they taste great.

The key to preparing a dish with scallops is to pair them with subtle flavors that don't mask their taste.

I recently had a shrimp-and-scallop dish at a restaurant in London, Ontario. It was served with a Pernod (pehr-NOH) cream sauce and a side of angel hair pasta tossed with roasted tomatoes. The sauce was so delicious that I used a piece of bread to soak up every last drop.

Pernod is the brand name for an anise-flavored liqueur, and is similar to ouzo. The liqueur added a smooth, not-too-overpowering taste to the sauce.

A bottle (750 milliliters) of Pernod is about $35 — pretty pricey to use in cooking. But you could substitute any brand of anise liqueur.

In today's recipe, I created a version of that restaurant dish with only scallops. In the sauce, I used fresh tarragon — which has a distinct anise or sweet licorice flavor — instead of the Pernod. I minced the tarragon and used it in the herb crust as well as the sauce.

A note of advice: Use tarragon sparingly because a little goes a long way.

The restaurant version of the dish included roasted tomatoes that weren't all that great. So for today's recipe I opted for lightly seasoned and sauteed grape tomatoes and fresh zucchini.

The quick pan saute brought out the sweetness of both the tomatoes and zucchini, which are a good fit with the fast-cooking scallops.

When choosing sea scallops, give them the sniff test. They should smell sweet and not fishy.

Next, check for the color, and choose ones that are creamy or light beige. If they are super white, chances are they were treated with sodium tripolyphosphate, which is added to increase their weight and extend their shelf life. The preservative makes them absorb moisture and weigh more.

Or you can choose scallops that are frozen and labeled "dry," which means they have not been soaked.

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When properly prepared, scallops should taste sweet.

Herb-Crusted Scallops with Tarragon Cream

Makes 4 servings

12 large sea scallops

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup plain panko bread crumbs

3 tablespoons fresh coarsely chopped tarragon, divided

2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

1/4 teaspoon Morton Nature's Seasons Seasoning Blend or favorite all-purpose seasoning

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 pint good-size grape tomatoes, washed, cut in half

1 large zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced

3 tablespoons dry sherry or water

3/4 cup half-and-half mixed with 1 teaspoon cornstarch

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

2. Rinse the scallops and pat them dry with paper towels. Season both sides with salt and pepper. On a plate, combine the bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon tarragon, the parsley and seasoning blend. Mix throughly.

3. In a large skillet, combine 2 tablespoons of the olive oil with 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Coat the scallops on both sides with the crumb mixture. Working in batches if necessary, place the scallops in the skillet and cook, about 3 minutes on each side, turning only once or until scallops reach the desired doneness. Remove to oven-proof plate, cover with foil and place in the oven to keep warm.

4. Wipe out the skillet and heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the tomatoes and saute about 2 minutes or until they start to brown. Add the zucchini and saute 2 minutes more until just tender. Remove the vegetables to a plate and keep warm in the oven. Set the same skillet over low-medium heat and add the sherry or water to deglaze it. Stir the remaining 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon into the half-and-half mixture. Pour into the skillet and heat gently until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. It should have a mild anise flavor.

5. Place 3 scallops on each plate, drizzle with some sauce and serve with sauteed vegetables.

Note: Fat-free half-and-half can be substituted for the regular half-and-half in this recipe.

— From and tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

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