April 29, 2015

Scallops with Purple Cauliflower and Sage Brown Butter

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Ok, back to recipes. Mothers' Day is quickly approaching, and over Spring Break I made this delicious dish for my mom, who happens to love scallops, vegetables, and the color purple. It's elegant, luxurious, secretly not too unhealthy, and packed with flavor. Scallops are naturally rich and buttery, but topping them with sage brown butter makes them infinitely better. Serve them over a cauliflower puree and some roasted cauliflower florets and you've got one classy meal.

Scallops come in a pretty big range of sizes. I suppose you can make this dish with the tiny bay ones, but that doesn't feel like much of a meal to me. I prefer to splurge on the big sea scallops, which aren't as easy to overcook and look gorgeous with a proper sear. For reference, diver scallops don't necessarily indicate size, just the harvesting method. Anyway, the trick to getting that sear is starting with dry scallops. I let mine sit on paper towels for a few minutes before one good final blot.

One of the best things about this recipe is that the sauce is made as you cook the scallops. The sage brown butter sauce is just that: sage brown butter. To cook the scallops, heat some butter in a big skillet until hot and foamy, add some sage and the scallops, and cook without disturbing the scallops until they are a deep golden brown. You can nudge the skillet a few times to stir the butter around and prevent it from burning, but you want the butter to become brown and nutty and the scallops to get brown and crispy. To cook the other side, flip the scallops, add more butter, and cook until browned. The sage should release even more flavor as it cooks, so go easy on it until you figure out the proper amount since it is a very strong herb.

If you plan on making the cauliflower too, I would start it well before the scallops because you do have to baby the scallops to an extent. I like purple cauliflower for the color contrast (and my mom absolutely loves purple), so if you can find it I highly recommend using it. Regular cauliflower is definitely an ok substitute but your plate will look fairly beige.

Initially, I wanted to serve these scallops over a pool of velvety cauliflower puree, but I realized that the deep purple color and crunch of the roasted cauliflower added another dimension to the dish without any extra work, so I served both. To start, cut the cauliflower into small florets and wash. Blanch and shock them in a pot of boiling salted water and an ice bath to preserve the color (it will look like a lot of the color has drained out but roasting brings it back). The florets are then tossed with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper and roasted until tender. I reserve some of the roasted florets to serve whole and then puree the rest in a food processor with lots of butter and some of the water from the blanching process. If all goes well, you should end up with a healthier, more colorful version of mashed potatoes.

To serve this gorgeous dish, I spooned some of the cauliflower puree on a plate, topped it with the scallops and roasted cauliflower, and drizzled the sage brown butter over all of it. My family agreed that it tasted even better when you had everything in one bite, and this presentation facilitates that. I don't think anything can top this for a fancy homemade Mother's Day dinner, but stay tuned for an appetizer that can definitely compete.

2 lbs Large Scallops
2 Heads Purple Cauliflower
1 1/2 Sticks Butter
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
6 Cloves Garlic
1 Bunch Sage

Heat oven to 375F. Bring a large pot of liberally salted water to a boil and prepare an ice bath.

Wash the cauliflower and cut into florets. Boil in the water for 30-45 seconds and immediately transfer to the ice bath to blanch and shock, working in batches as necessary. Reserve some of the cooking water.

Toss the florets in the olive oil and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Spread onto a cookie tray and roast until tender, about 30-45 minutes.

Transfer 3/4 of the cooked florets and all of the garlic to a food processor. Add 1/2 stick of butter, season with salt and pepper, and pulse until smooth, gradually adding the cooking water as necessary.

Pat the scallops completely dry on paper towels and season both sides with salt and pepper. Heat 2 T butter in each of two large skillets until hot and foamy. Add a few sage leaves and divide the scallops between the pans. Sear until deep golden brown, add the remaining butter, flip, and sear the other side until deep golden brown and cooked through.

Serve the scallops over the cauliflower puree along with the remaining roasted cauliflower and a drizzle of the sage butter.

Serves 6


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  4. Really enjoyed the recipe. Presentation was phenomenal! I did add a slice of fried pancetta in between the cauliflower mash and scallops. Thank you.