Actually Charlie's Brown Butter Scallops

Serves 4 as an entree or 6 as an appetizer

Actually Charlie's Brown Butter Scallops

Years ago on a drive down to Key Largo, I stopped at a fish shack for a quick lunch and ended up spending 3 hours enjoying a fabulous brown butter sea scallop dish, one incredible daiquiri and fantastic tales with Charlie at Actually Charlie’s.  Some days are meant to be experienced in slow motion with the ocean breeze and brilliant sun.

We talked of Chinese New Years at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, the starlit skies of Northern Africa, Bedouins in Kuwait and the jungles of Panama. He told me about old Cuba, Paris cafés, Bolivia and sailing in open waters. I told him about Arabic tea, Bruneian water villages and farms in Pakistan. We agreed Cuban cigars and a good whiskey on an autumn night beat any other evening. We disagreed on whether it was better to listen to Puccini or Billie Holiday when chopping vegetables.

At the end of the week, I timed my drive back to Miami to allow a stop for lunch at Actually Charlie’s. I was more than a little disappointed to see the boat was gone with a sign propped on the bar. “Closed until the winds bring me back”. A few years later, on another drive to the Florida Keys, all evidence of Actually Charlie’s had disappeared except for a dilapidated boat dock. I like to think he found such grand adventures he simply had no reason to return and hope whether he is back packing in the wild or watching the sunset in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, he continues to build his story.

This recipe for sea scallops follows the simple dish Charlie created for me that day with a few extra ingredients and serving with a green tomato salsa.  Adding red pepper flakes to the marinade provides a bit of heat which is off set by the salsa.

Slice the scallops into two discs prior to marinating.  This allows use of high heat for flash searing for a great browned crust on the outside but tender inside.  The addition of olive oil to the butter not only adds a flavor tier, it assists in preventing the butter from burning under high heat.

Be sure to flash sear the cilantro prior to topping the scallops.  Increases the dimension of the cilantro’s flavor.


3 T garlic infused extra virgin olive oil
2 t freshly grated lime zest
1 T fresh lime juice
1 T minced garlic
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 t kosher salt
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper

24 large sea scallops, about 1 1/2 ounces each
½ c unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1/4 c packed cilantro leaves
Overseas Highway Green Tomato Salsa

Flavor Tier 1

Place all marinade ingredients in a small jelly jar or pint jar. Shake briskly to combine.

Flavor Tier 2

Rinse the scallops under running cold water. Check each scallop for the small, tough side muscle. If present, remove with kitchen shears and discard. Placing a scallop on a cutting board on its side, cut in half to have two scallop medallions. Repeat with remaining scallops. The result will be 48 scallop medallions. Place the scallops in a re-sealable gallon size plastic bag.

Flavor Tier 3

Pour all of the marinade over the scallops. Seal the bag and gently knead the bag to evenly distribute the marinade. Refrigerate for 30 minutes turning the bag every 15 minutes.

Flavor Tier 4

Place ¼ cup of the butter and ½ tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet. The olive oil will help to prevent the butter from burning. Heat over low heat until the butter is browned and releases a nutty aroma, approximately 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Heat oven to 250° then turn off. Remove scallops from marinade. Discard bag and marinade. Pat dry with paper towels. Reheat the butter in the skillet over medium high heat. Add 12 scallop medallions. Sear 2 minutes. Turn and sear for an additional 1 minute. Transfer to heat resistant platter. Loosely cover with foil and place in oven. (Scallops will continue to cook in the oven.) Repeat process with 12 more scallops. Drain butter and oil and reserve. Place remaining butter and olive oil in skillet over low heat; cook until butter is browned and releases a nutty aroma. Turn to medium high heat. Repeat process for cooking remaining scallops. Keep scallops in oven until ready to plate.

Flavor Tier 5

Place reserved butter oil mix back into the skillet and heat over medium high heat. Add the cilantro leaves. Sauté the cilantro stirring constantly and scraping any browned bits from the skillet for 2-3 minutes until crispy. Remove cilantro to a cutting board. Pour the drippings into a small bowl. Chop the cilantro and add to the bowl.

Flavor Tier 6

To serve as an entrée: Spoon 2 tablespoons of the salsa on one side of individual plates. Place 12 scallops on top of the salsa in a fan manner. Evenly divide the crispy cilantro butter mix on top of the scallops. Place an additional 2 tablespoons of the salsa on the opposite side of the plate and serve remaining salsa in a dish.

To serve as an appetizer: On a serving platter, spread enough salsa to lightly cover the bottom of the platter. Arrange the scallops around the platter in a fanned manner. Evenly drizzle the crispy cilantro butter drizzle over the scallops. Serve additional salsa in a serving bowl.

Serve immediately.