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Aug 30, 2011
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Wine With . . . Scallops with Curry and Coconut Milk


by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas


If you thought the reason that coconut milk existed was simply for its starring role in piña coladas, try making these scallops, and you’ll discover a whole new, delicious world of taste sensations.  Coconut milk is a common ingredient in tropical cuisines, especially in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.  In its purest form it adds a mysteriously complex and slightly sweet flavor to other foods, as well as a delicate, silky texture.  Since plump, ocean scallops are themselves silken and rich in both taste and texture, the combination of bivalve and coconut milk is very satisfying.  Synthesizing the mingling of these ingredients with a bright note of curry results in a truly paradisiacal dish.  

Scallops with Curry and Coconut Milk

Serves 4


1 pound large sea scallops, preferably dry-packed

2 teaspoons curry powder

One 13.66-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk

2-4 tablespoons butter

1 cup dry white wine

1 cup minced fresh mint, cilantro, and/or basil

4 cups warm cooked rice, white or brown

Lime wedges for garnish

Coat the scallops on all sides with the curry powder, adding more if necessary. 

Before you begin cooking the scallops, heat the coconut milk and keep it warm.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a heavy skillet.  When the pan is very hot add the scallops in a single layer (if they begin to stick, or if the pan seems to be getting dry, toss in the remaining butter).  Cook until scallops are browned on one side (2-3 minutes), then turn them carefully and cook for another couple of minutes, until browned on the other side and just cooked through. 

Divide the rice among 4 shallow bowls and nestle the scallops on the top of each.  Pour the wine into the skillet and stir constantly over high heat, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, until it is reduced by about half.  Pour the wine over the scallops and rice and top each serving with a couple of ladlefuls of warm coconut milk.  Sprinkle the minced herbs over the top and garnish with lime wedges.  Pass the remaining coconut milk at the table.

*  *  *

We tried twelve wines with these scallops, ten whites, one rosé, and just for the heck of it, one red.  The red wasn’t much fun, being much too heavy, and in fact some of the whites were similarly too forceful.  An otherwise delicious California Chardonnay, for example, turned sour and bitter, and robbed the dish of its tantalizing subtleties.  We quickly learned that the key in this pairing is harmony—both in the wine itself and in the match. 

This is an extremely delicately-flavored dish, with many delicious nuances of flavor.  The wine you choose needs to be delicate too.  At the same time, it can’t be too light as it could get lost.  All the wines we’re recommending had enough character and personality to hold their own on this gastronomic stage, without ever threatening to steal the show. 




Approx. Price



Joseph Drouhin, Montagny, Burgundy (France) 2009

(Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co)





Exhibiting nutty undertones and a lacy delicacy, this white Burgundy tasted smooth and sophisticated with the scallops.  Unlike the other Chardonnay-based wines we tried, it has just the right weight to mesh smoothly with the dish.




Gustave Lorentz, Alsace (France) “Le Rosé” 2009

(Imported by Quintessential LLC)





A supple, fruity rosé made with Pinot Noir, this wine added some depth of flavor to the pairing without seeming heavy-handed.  Its bright berry flavors keep it fresh and lively.




Maso Canali, Trentino (Italy) Pinot Grigio 2009

(Imported by Maso Canali)








Well-crafted with nuanced layers of citrus flavor, Maso Canali’s Pinot Grigio impresses year after year.  When paired with this dish, its lemony character made it shine brightly.




Robert Weil, Rheingau (Germany) Riesling “Estate Dry” 2009 (Imported by Loosen Bros.)





Though its bouquet seems somewhat sweet, this wine actually is quite dry on the palate, making it very food friendly.  The suggestion of sweetness accented the coconut milk in this particular dish, while the apple and peach flavors on the palate meshed seamlessly with the scallops.





Tablas Creek, Paso Robles (California) Vermentino 2010







The weightiest wine we’re recommending, this wine married nicely with the dish because it worked so well with the coconut milk in the sauce and the hint of curry on the scallops.  It ends on a slightly bitter and nutty note, providing an attractive foil to the sweetness in the dish.