Seared Watermelon with Flavors of Summer – Yes, That’s Vegetarian – Recipe

Seared Watermelon with Summer Flavors
Seared Watermelon with Flavors of Summer – Yes, That’s Vegetarian

A few days ago I was surfing my RSS reader for a few minutes before bed, when this post from Alex and Aki hit me like a ton of bricks. I’ve seen compressed watermelon before, but I don’t think I’ve ever given any thought to searing it. Genius. I had to try this immediately, and fortunately I had a cut-up watermelon already in the refrigerator.

I didn’t do their whole process, I just went right to a smoking hot saute pan. The result was striking, both in looks and the flavor, which is sweet but with a hint of grilled taste. It might be surprising that something as wet as a watermelon can get hot enough to brown, but it has a lot of sugar that can caramelize, and when you apply moderate, even pressure with a heavy spatula (or grill weight) to compress the melon, it squeezes out enough liquid to allow the high heat to dry out the surface temporarily.

Here’s my riff, dressed up a bit with black olive, dehydrated corn, chive flowers, rosemary flowers and oregano tips, and a jus made from the fond and more watermelon juice. A large square like this makes a nice first course, but a smaller portion would also be excellent as an amuse bouche.

Hands down my favorite part of the garnish was the freeze-dried corn (which you can find at Whole Foods). It adds a nice crunch, but even better, the flavors of corn and watermelon just immediately take you to a summer picnic.

Seared Watermelon with Flavors of Summer
Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free / Serves 4

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 seedless squares of watermelon, 2 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ x 1″
  • 1/2 cup watermelon juice
  • 8 brine-cured black olives, pitted and mashed to a paste
  • Just Veggies brand freeze-dried corn
  • Chive flowerets (from 1 flower)
  • Rosemary flowers
  • Tiny tips of oregano
  • Maldon (aka the world’s greatest salt) salt
  1. Heat a saute pan over very high heat. Add the olive oil, and when it is smoking hot, add the watermelon. Be careful, there will be some spattering when the wet melon meets the oil, and I’ve also seen it flame up. Cook, pressing occasionally with a long, heavy spatula to compress, until the melon is well-seared on one side, about 3 minutes. Flip and repeat on the other side.
  2. Remove the watermelon. Pour excess oil out of the pan. Return the pan to the heat and deglaze with the watermelon juice, reducing it a bit but not to a syrup; we are looking for a jus-like consistency. Drizzle the jus on serving plates and place a piece of watermelon atop the jus.
  3. Garnish each piece with a small amount of the olive paste, a few kernels of dehydrated corn, a few of the chive flowers, rosemary flowers, and oregano tips, and a final sprinkle of Maldon (aka the world’s greatest salt) . Serve warm.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Wednesday, June 8th, 2011 in Appetizers, Experiments, Gluten-Free or modifiable, Recipes, Vegan or Modifiable.

21 Responses to “Seared Watermelon with Flavors of Summer – Yes, That’s Vegetarian – Recipe”

  1. Reply
    June 9, 2011 at 7:12 am #

    Wow! What a gorgeous photo.

    I love the dehydrated corn idea, but I can imagine that a few kernels of *frozen* corn (which I happen to have, inn contrast to the dehydrated stuff) could be pretty darned good as well, providing a nice hot/cold contrast. Then again, I like to eat frozen corn raw, so your mileage may vary.

    Since I’m not so keen on olives, I’m trying to think of a suitable replacement. I can imagine a little drizzle of something like cilantro pesto (I happen to have LOTS of cilantro in my garden right now) working, but I’d love any alternative suggestion. The cilantro seems to me to be all “high notes,” while the olive-mash has more of a “bass” to it that seems to balance the corn and watermelon.

  2. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    June 9, 2011 at 8:59 am #

    Hey John – I think the frozen corn idea could be good, especially if you can get it to the table at that perfect point where it is still cold but not rock hard. I'd then want to add something else for crunch, maybe popcorn, pistachio, or cocoa nibs. Cilantro pesto would work well; if I did that I'd probably omit some or all of the other herbs. A dot or two of rehydrated and pureed sundried tomato might be an interesting replacement for the olive. There are definitely lots of ways to spin this! Let me know what you try and how it turns out.

  3. Reply
    June 9, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    Thats so strange seeing another comment about the photo, it does look so tasty certainly. I wonder whether this recipe could work on a barbeque. Might have to give it a try. Great variation from the usual stuff.

  4. Reply
    June 9, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    sweet baby cheeses!

  5. Reply
    June 9, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    This looks absolutely beautiful! And deceptively like meat. I love grilled and cooked fruit but have never tried cooked watermelon. I love the idea of pairing the sweet and savory.

  6. Reply
    June 10, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    I usually have an aversion to cooking fruit, since I’d really like to simply eat the fruit… however I’m not that big on watermelon, so this seems like something I would try!

  7. Reply
    June 10, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    Stunning photograph. I love grilled watermelon and this looks amazing! In Israel it’s common to serve watermelon with Bulgarian cheese (similar to feta) and mint – I might have to try it grilled with a similar combo!

  8. Reply
    June 10, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    This looks so cool, I have to try it! I love taking watermelon in a savory direction.

  9. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    June 10, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    Thanks, Katherine! I love the watermelon and feta combination too, I think that would be really interesting with this dish, especially if you grilled it and then chilled it.

    Michael Natkin
    Find me:
    The latest from my blog, Herbivoracious: Seared Watermelon with Flavors of Summer – Yes, That's Vegetarian – Recipe

  10. Reply
    June 10, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    i saw the post that you were referring to the other day. Thomas Keller has a very fancy “steak tartare” using watermelon in Under Pressure. I’m considering making his version as I have the book but Kelcogel F is like 130 bucks! I like the sound of this version better…at least my bank account does!

  11. Reply
    June 11, 2011 at 3:37 am #

    Whoa! The first time I’ve heard of seared watermelon! Thanks for sharing! I gotta find a watermelon first.

  12. Reply
    June 12, 2011 at 5:43 am #

    Looks fantastic, definitely something to try this summer with a nice bit of Feta.

  13. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    June 12, 2011 at 9:36 am #

    Thanks, Eric! There is also a watermelon bulgogi in Modernist Cuisine that looks quite amusing/amazing!

  14. Reply
    June 12, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    This sounds (and looks) amazing…I like to serve a grilled apple and haloumi cheese appetizer…this makes me think it would work well with watermelon too. Or maybe even pari this watermelon with a thin slice of paneer?

  15. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    June 14, 2011 at 7:46 am #

    Hey Nithya – oh yeah, I could definitely see the versions you are talking about. The most common dairy pairing with watermelon is feta, but that doesn't mean there aren't other good options to try.

    Michael Natkin
    Find me:
    The latest from my blog, Herbivoracious: Double Crust Pizza with Broccoli Raab, Ricotta and Caramelized Onions – Recipe

  16. Reply
    June 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    We made it with a sun-dried tomato sauce AND a (very mild) cilantro pesto, with the nearly-frozen corn kernels, the “jus” dribbled around, and the Maldon salt. The pieces were only abour 3/4″ thick, and I think I cooked them 2 min per side, with the result that I got some searing, but the very center was still cool-ish. The results were wonderful — not oversweet (as I had feared), but instead a lovely balance of flavors and textures and color. The seared watermelon itself is so ‘surprising’, even though we all knew what it was, that it hardly seemed to taste like watermelon. In that sense, it’s a little like the herb-baked cucumber recipe that I recommended to you once before — a really familiar flavor becomes new when placed in a new context. (BTW, my daughter tells me she had some grilled watermelon at a restaurant in Newport, RI .. so perhaps the word is out!)

  17. Reply
    June 17, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

    Searing watermelon? Forget searing, I’d never thought that something as wet as watermelon had possibilities of browning in any way!
    The browned (or charred) edges look really cool and make it so tempting..
    And, love the reflection in the photograph..

  18. Reply
    June 19, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    Beautiful photo! Love the colors! I’ve never even imagined searing watermelon before. That’s a really clever idea. And the olive paste makes for a really unique flavor combination. I’ll definitely be trying this one out this summer. What other unconventional recipes have you come across with summer fruits? I want to venture out a little bit and find some new uses for the stuff in our little fruit garden.
    ~Nancy Lewis~

  19. Reply
    June 24, 2011 at 8:21 am #

    What an interesting thought to sear watermelon! I wonder if it wouldn’t go good with perhaps a berry sauce. Healthy and beautiful.

  20. Reply
    September 5, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    I have not long had a new grill pan, will have to get this good looking dish on the go. Not sure if it will look as good as this picture though. Would oil in the pan spoil it a bit, which sort is best to use? Also would any sort of nut go with this?, and I suppose the nut and olive elements just balance out this dish nicely.

  21. Reply
    September 28, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    absolutely gorgeous photo and amazing idea … thanks for sharing!

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