Saturday, April 23, 2011

Test Kitchen: Antojito's Sea Scallops in Saffron and Chipotle Salsa Recipe

This month's Test Kitchen was an attempt to get me excited about Mexican cuisine. So I picked the "Antojitos" Cookbook that I got as a gift from my sister. It's a cookbook by some New York chefs who owns the Manhattan restaurants La Palapa's.

Of the three recipes put up on the poll, more than 42% of you voted for the Sea Scallops with Saffron and Chipotle Salsa. (It was followed closely, or 30%, by the Guajillo Chili-rubbed Chicken and hardly anyone felt like the Chilled Avocado Soup, 27%.)

Scallops are always a guaranteed winner (and lately a bit expensive), and here's how it went when I tried this recipe for dinner recently.

The recipe tells you to prepare the scallops by using a pairing knife to remove and discard the small, tough membrane from the side of each scallop. You know what's weird? I've never done this before. Every time I've cooked scallops before, I never realized there was a tiny tough part on the side. I probably was such a big that I ate it and just though, "geesh, this scallops kind of tough." So when I looked at the scallops, I realized there was this really separate part that's slightly tougher. So I just cut it off. Now I know to always prep my scallops.

The recipe says to roll the scallops in some all-purpose flour to coat before pan-frying them in a skillet. First you season it with some salt and pepper, then roll them in the flour, shaking off the excess. Then place all the scallops over high heat with olive oil. The recipe said 1/4 cup and that sounded a lot and you know my issue with grease and oil, so I just used enough olive oil to create a thin layer in the pan. I cooked it following the recipe, which says 5 minutes untouched.

This is how the scallops look all golden brown. Then I cooked it for 3 minutes longer and reduced the heat to low and cooked it for another 2 minutes. I placed the scallops on a platter and kept it in the microwave to stay warm while I worked on the saffron and chipotle salsa.

The recipe starts with 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (keep in mind I made half the recipe as usual) in a skillet (I only had a small saucepan) along with 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat, then lowered the heat to medium to add one shallot that I minced, cooking it for 2 to 3 minutes. (Do not brown.) Then I stirred in 2 tablespoons of adobo sauce from a can of chipotle pepper. (Again, the recipe just wanted the adobo sauce, so I just froze the chipotle peppers to use later.) The recipe says to boil the sauce for about 2 minutes to let it thicken, but I have to say it barely thickened during that short time. The recipe then says to take it off the heat and add a pinch of saffron threads, leaving it to sit and infuse.

Then I plated up the scallops and drizzled the sauce over it. That's the end of the recipe, and in the cookbook there wasn't a photo so I didn't know how it should look when plated. But I knew it sounded boring with just the scallops drizzled in sauce. So I decided to dress it up myself by adding toasted sunflower seeds and ripped pieces of cilantro. Pretty huh?

My tips and warnings about this recipe:

  1. Don't be so exact about the cooking of sea scallops. Go with what you think should work for your stovetop and the size of your scallops. I followed the timing exactly, and my scallops turned out overcooked. Probably because my new stove gets super hot on high, and maybe my scallops were smaller than what the recipe expected. So just brown for how long you think it should take, keep in mind seafood doesn't take that long to cook.
  2. I think the sunflower seeds and cilantro did the trick with garnishing. I think it would have been totally boring without it. If you don't like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds would also seem appropriate.
Ease of cooking: This is a very simple recipe, although there are added steps that I really wonder about, mainly the directions to coat the scallops in flour. That does help the scallops get crispy a bit, but I've seared scallops naked (the scallops, not me!) without flour and they seemed crispy, especially when using butter. I may skip that step next time. Also, the sauce didn't thicken the way it should have, so not sure if it's really that fast to make sauce in 2 minutes.

Taste: The scallops, of course, were great because like I mentioned, how wrong can you go with scallops. But the sauce, which should have taken the scallops to another level, was actually mild and didn't seem to add a lot to the overall dish.

Overall grade: B-. I love scallops and the recipe was simple, but maybe too simple. And I was annoyed having to deal with the whole flour coating thing, and the sauce that never really thickened. And unfortunately, I don't think it inspired me to do more Mexican cuisine.

Don't forget to vote for next month's Test Kitchen in the upper right column. I delve into another Iron Chef cookbook, choosing recipes from Chef Michael Symon, who came out with his "Live to Cook" cookbook last year.


julieako said...

You are not a Mexican food fan? I love Mexican food...Enchiladas Enmoladas mmmmm. I like your advice to use your gut feel instead of following the recipe exactly. I can't remember the last time I followed a recipe to the letter. Did you keep the "tough" scallop parts to use in stock or something?

Row said...

Heh, no wonder the scallops I used in cooking always "seemed" kinda tough. Now I'll know how to prep them for next time. Thanks for the tip!

Single Guy Ben said...

No, I didn't make stock. They were just six little pieces! Hardly much body for a stock. Yeah, I don't know why people get so excited about Mexican food. My position is that Mexican food always have the basic ingredients: rice, beans, some kind of meat (carnitas) and tortilla. Just presented in different formats. Maybe throw in some tomatoes and lettuce. So I feel it's not diverse enough to keep my interest.

foodhoe said...

hmmm, maybe your next trip should be to travel through Mexico to explore the cuisine. I'm sure it's much more than just rice beans, meat and tortilla! The sauce was only butter and adobo sauce?

Single Guy Ben said...

Foodhoe, there was also minced shallots in the sauce. But it's definitely not as complicated as mole.