For dinner last night, I wanted to prepare something new. Like all of us, sometimes I just want to make something different, something I’ve never prepared before. Scallops is a dish I often order in fine restaurants, typically as an appetizer. I love how simultaneously delicate, luscious, and sweet scallops can be, even when combined with a bold flavors. When our weekly FreshDirect grocery order arrived, I noticed that Sean had added a big bag of wild caught sea scallops. Reading the description, I smiled because I knew why he had:
Flash-frozen by fisherman at the height of freshness, these little gems of the sea come to us local — from the cold waters of the Gulf of Maine down to the coast of New Jersey. Sweet and rich, these scallops are all natural and never processed in any way other than quick freezing to help maintain their superior quality. Our pre-portioned and individually packaged bag allows you the convenience of making your favorite scallop dish whenever the mood strikes.
There is nothing better than high quality fish. As I’ve written about before, we routinely keep frozen wild-caught fish and seafood in our freezer. Not only is it healthy and well-sourced, but because it defrosts so quickly, we can make any dish really fast. Still, I was skeptical about how well the scallops would hold up. And, they’re super expensive at nearly $35 for 1.5 pounds. I was inspired to try something new and take a chance.
When our friend Steven came to dinner recently, we feted him to our Lamb Korma Pilaf with saffron yogurt sauce and tamarind chutney. It was such an elegant, deeply satisfying entree, that I made a mental note to make more dishes with saffron.
I got online and came across NecessaryIndulgences’s recipe for Scallops with Saffron Cream Sauce. I was taken by how positive the reader’s comments were. My idea began to form: create an elegant appetizer that I can serve at my next Big Apple Curry dinner party…it had to be something I would order in a fine dining restaurant and instantly fall in love with. That was my goal, folks, however lofty it was…and with frozen scallops, no less. I pictured combining it with tiny florets of golden cauliflower, just roasted, and rounding out the bold saffron, lemon, and turmeric flavors with dots of sweet raisins. I found my apron and got to work. I explained to Sean that rather than rush, like I usually do on a busy weeknight, I was going to take my time, really concentrate on each step of the cooking process, and do it right.
First, I carefully defrosted eight sea scallops for the two of us, by putting them into a ziplock bag and immersing them in a bowl filled with cold water. Then, I started on the sauce, so that I could watch the flame and really whisk it well so it didn’t burn or bubble over. It didn’t take long to sauté onion and garlic in butter (what better smell is there, right?) and before long I was whisking in the heavy cream and saffron. Next, I took my time washing, draining, and patting dry the cauliflower. With a sharp knife, I carefully cut each piece into small florets, then tossed them in a bowl with olive oil, turmeric, salt, and pepper. I took out a big non-stick skillet and put it on a high flame. I let the tiny florets crisp up, marveling at how versatile cauliflower is. Once nicely browned, I moved the cauliflower to the sides with a wooden spoon, added a dollop of butter, which sizzled, then the raisins, and then took the skillet off the heat. Finally, I gently patted dry each scallop, seasoned with a bit of freshly ground salt and pepper, and seared them in a hot cast iron pan for 2 minutes on each side.
As I pulled out our dinner plates, I explained to Sean that I wasn’t sure how it tasted or how well my idea came together, that it was an experiment for our next dinner party. As we settled into the dish, I heard Sean say “Oh wow. Oh man, this is so good.” The sea scallops gave no hint at all that it had been frozen. Melting in my mouth, the soft, delicate scallop was the perfect foil for the creamy, lemony saffron sauce, roasted cauliflower, and buttery raisins. It was divine and exactly what I had pictured it would taste like. Make no mistake, this is not a light dish, it’s rich and decadent all the way. The perfect appetizer the next time we have friends over for supper.
Sea Scallops with Saffron Cream Sauce, Turmeric Cauliflower, and Buttered Raisins (adapted)
- Sea scallops, 1/2 pound per person
- 2 1/2 tablespoons butter (divided)
- 1/2 cup chopped shallot or red onion
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 lemon, juiced
- Handful of chives, finely chopped (I used dried chives instead, about 1/8 cup)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Pinch of saffron (about 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon)
- 1/2 head of cauliflower
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
- 1/4 cup raisins
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Wash and dry the scallops. If you’re using frozen scallops, defrost them by placing them in a sealed plastic bag and immersing them in a bowl of cold water. It should take no more than 30 minutes. Once they’re defrosted, remove from bag and gently place on dry paper towel, on the bottom and the top, so they dry.
- Melt butter (2 tablespoons) over medium heat in a medium saucepan.
- Add the chopped shallot or red onion and sauté until soft.
- Add the minced garlic, lemon juice, and handful of chopped chives.
- Combine all of the ingredients in the pan and then add the heavy cream.
- Whisk until it starts to thicken.
- Add the saffron.
- Whisk the sauce and simmer until it thickens a little more.
- Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper, if needed.
- Turn off the heat and set the sauce aside while you prepare the cauliflower and scallops.
- Wash cauliflower, drain, then pat dry. Using a small, sharp knife, gently cut into small-sized florets. Add these to a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add olive oil, salt, pepper, and turmeric. Mix well to combine.
- Heat a large, non-stick skillet on a high flame. Add cauliflower and spread evenly across skillet so each floret is touching the pan. Sauté for 5-8 minutes so that each floret is browned.
- Move cauliflower to the sides of the skillet. In the middle of the pan, add the butter (1/2 tablespoon) and once melted, add the raisins. Let the raisins soften up in the butter for 5 minutes. Once raisins are soft, remove from heat and set aside.
- Heat a small non-stick skillet with a bit of cooking spray on a medium-high flame. Season the scallops with salt and pepper and add them to the hot pan.
- Cook them for 1-2 minutes on each side. Remove to a plate and set aside so they don’t overcook and become tough.
- Reheat the saffron sauce, if needed; add a bit more heavy cream to thin it out if it’s become too thick.
- Spoon some of the sauce on a plate and top with the cooked scallops. Add cauliflower florets and raisins around each scallop. Top with chives. Serve immediately.