- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2007

My thirtysomething son is a last-minute person, so I wasn’t surprised when he called a few days ago to say that he and his family had decided to drive out from Boston to western Massachusetts for a Sunday-afternoon visit.

“We’ll just have an early supper with you and Dad,” he informed me, “then head back.”

I had no hint that this was in the works, but I was delighted at the chance to see him and his wife plus our two little grandchildren. Never mind that I had so much on my plate that I had hadn’t given a thought to entertaining.

An easy spring main course, but something with lots of flavor, was what I needed. My daughter-in-law loves fish, so seafood became the inspiration for the menu.

In a French food magazine, I saw a recipe for sauteed scallops napped with an orange-saffron sauce. With a short list of ingredients and fairly simple directions, the entree sounded perfect. I jotted notes for slight changes in the margins, then began to think of sides. Fresh asparagus and mashed potatoes, two dishes that fall within the easy category, would complement the fish.

Never one to leave anything to chance, I decided to try out the scallops before the visit, and wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I was stunned by the simplicity of the light and delectable citrus-scented sauce that coated the tender shellfish. This main course looked as if it took far longer to prepare than the 30 or so minutes required.

The sauce, made with fresh orange juice, white wine and a hint of saffron, can be simmered several hours ahead so that at serving time, all that is necessary is to quickly sear the scallops and then swirl some butter into the sauce and cook it a few minutes more.

This recipe, which serves four but can be doubled if needed, is definitely going in my “last-minute guests” file.

Pan-sauteed scallops with orange saffron sauce

4 to 5 large navel oranges

1 cup dry white wine

1/4 teaspoon loosely packed saffron threads, crushed

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

12 large scallops, 2 or more ounces each, with side muscles removed and discarded

Kosher salt

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons chopped chives or flat leaf parsley, optional

If you have a citrus stripper, strip about 4 teaspoons fine julienne strips of orange peel (about 1/8 inch wide and 2 to 3 inches long) from one of the oranges for the garnish. If not, use a vegetable peeler to remove several wide strips from one of the oranges, being careful to avoid any of the white part beneath the skin.

Then cut the strips into thin julienne strips. (The strips can be prepared 2 hours ahead; wrap in moistened paper towels and leave at room temperature.)

Juice the oranges to make 1 cup and place juice in a medium, nonreactive saucepan along with the wine. Place over medium heat and cook 1 minute.

Stir in the saffron and simmer the mixture 5 minutes to let the flavors meld. Remove and set aside. (The orange and wine mixture can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Leave at room temperature.)

When ready to saute scallops, heat the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a medium, heavy skillet set over medium high heat. When quite hot but not smoking, add the scallops and saute until golden on the undersides, about 3 minutes or more.

Turn and cook until golden on the other sides, about 3 minutes more. Remove scallops from the skillet, salt them and cover loosely with foil to keep warm.

Pour the orange mixture into the skillet and bring to a gentle boil. Dice the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and whisk it in. Stir in the vinegar. Cook over high heat until the sauce has reduced by a third, 5 or more minutes.

Sauce will not be thick, but will have intensified in flavor. Season sauce with salt, if needed. Return the scallops to the pan and cook 1 minute more in the sauce.

To serve, ladle sauce over the scallops and garnish with julienned orange peel, and, if desired, chives or parsley. Makes 4 servings.

Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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