Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Scallops with Sweet Potato, Spinach & Vanilla Saffron Sauce Recipe

Scallops with Sweet Potato, Spinach & Vanilla Saffron Sauce 1

Here is a recipe which is totally unlike any of the usual fare that you might usually find on my blog, but in exploring the use of vanilla for a "Make it with ... Mondays" entry I wanted to try and use this ingredient in a more savoury application.  I had once seen Jamie Oliver on TV preparing fish with vanilla, and the idea of that combination was intriguing to me.  I set about searching in books and on the internet for recipes with fish and vanilla and didn't manage to turn up anything that was particularly appealing.

Then in an old issue (number 118 to be precise) of Cuisine magazine I came across this recipe for Hapuku with Spinach, Kumara & Saffron Vanilla Butter Sauce.  This was in fact a recipe from Swell restaurant, Waikanae Beach, which had been requested by a reader.  I really liked the idea of this recipe, but some of the steps and techniques involved were a bit "cheffy" for me - let's not forget I am the master of the one-pot-wonder, so I did make several changes to turn this into really a very simple dish.  Furthermore, since I was eating on my own, I decided to splash out on some beautiful scallops instead of the fish.  Using the original recipe as my inspiration, this is what I did to turn this into a beautiful dinner for one.

Scallops with Sweet Potato, Spinach & Vanilla Saffron Sauce Recipe
One generous serving (or two small serves)
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

12 scallops
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 vanilla bean *(reserve 1/2 for sauce)
olive oil

1 medium-sized, orange-fleshed sweet potato
olive oil
flaky sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

2-3 large handfuls baby spinach leaves
flaky sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:
1/2 cup fish or chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
2 cloves garlic, peeled (not chopped)
2 bay leaves
pinch saffron threads
1/2 vanilla bean *(see above)
1-1/2 teaspoons cream
2-3 tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees F).  Peel the sweet potato and cut into smallish cubes.  Line a roasting pan with a sheet of parchment paper, add the sweet potato, drizzle liberally with olive oil, sprinkle over some flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and toss well to make sure all the sweet potato is well coated.  Roast in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes until golden and crispy.

Meanwhile, put the lemon juice into a shallow bowl.  Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and set one half aside to use for the sauce.  Scrape the black seeds out of the other half and add them, along with the scraped out bean pod, to the lemon juice.  Add a generous drizzle of olive oil, stir to combine, and add scallops to the mixture.  Leave to marinate for a few minutes while you prepare the sauce.

Put stock and wine into a small saucepan with the whole garlic cloves and bay leaves, set over high heat and allow to reduce by half.  Scrape the seeds out of the reserved 1/2 vanilla bean, and add the seeds and pod to the pan, along with the saffron strands.  Reduce down to about 1-1/2 tablespoons.  Set aside to infuse while you prepare to cook the spinach and scallops.

Set a non-stick pan over high heat, add the scallops to the hot pan and sear on both sides.  These take just a moment or two on each side and care should be taken not to over-cook or they will be rubbery.

Scallops with Sweet Potato, Spinach & Vanilla Saffron Sauce 3

In a separate pan, heat a generous knob of butter, add the spinach leaves, sprinkle with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, and cook until just wilted - again just a moment or two.

While the spinach and scallops are cooking, finish the sauce.  Strain the sauce into another small pan (discarding the vanilla bean, bay leaves and garlic clove), and add the cream.  Bring to a simmer, then add in the butter a teaspoonful at a time, whisking constantly so that each addition is fully emulsified.

To serve, place the roasted sweet potato on a serving plate, and top with the wilted spinach.

Scallops with Sweet Potato, Spinach & Vanilla Saffron Sauce 2

Arrange the seared scallops over the top, and drizzle generously with the sauce.

As I said before, this is definitely not the kind of thing that I normally make - it's a rare thing indeed for a sauce to be made in my house - but I will definitely make it again.  It was utterly delicious, and made a really special treat for "just me", or would be a beautiful dish to serve company for a special occasion.  I found that the scallops didn't really pick up that much flavour from the vanilla in their little marinade, even though you can see plenty of the little black seeds on the flesh of the scallops cooking in the pan.  It may be that I had a little too much lemon juice in the marinade which dominated a little, and I would reduce that next time (maybe even leave it out altogether).  The flavour of the vanilla did definitely come through in the sauce though - not strongly, but certainly unmistakably there - subtle and tantalising. The sauce had a beautiful savouriness to it and is certainly a sauce that I would make again - it would make a beautiful accompaniment to a piece of fish and also worked extremely well with the spinach and sweet potato.

This post is my contribution to Make it with ... Mondays challenge vanilla - the linky is open until Monday 24 January, so keep your vanilla posts coming, and don't forget to check out this week's special ingredient which is quinoa.

Make it with ..... Mondays

I'm also submitting this post to Magazine Mondays and the Hearth & Soul blog hop and to Food on Friday: Scallops, hosted by Carole at Carole's Chatter.


  1. I'd go for any dish with scallops!

  2. This looks so amazing, Sue. The flavor combinations seem daring but have a natural affinity for each other. I think the colors make it very appetizing, as well.

  3. i was so much looking fwd for this recipe this is truly amazing Sue...i'm sure not to miss cooking this recipe ..thanks for the share :)

  4. I have never seen scallops with the bit or orange on them. This is such a beautiful dish.

  5. After making Giada's butternut squash and vanilla risotto, I'm totally up for vanilla in unconventional dishes. This looks wonderful!

  6. There must be some amazing flavors in that recipe! Wow!

    Thanks for sharing with the Hearth and Soul hop this week.

  7. Oh wow, Sue! That looks spectacular, and thanks for simplifying the dish and making it less chefy :) I made vanilla salt last year and have found it to be good on a surprising number of foods. It adds a sweet note without any overt sugariness. Thanks for sharing this treat with the Hearth and Soul hop.

  8. This is a beautiful dish! The combination of flavours is really fantastic. This is great, Sue!

  9. This looks amazing! I've been wanting to experiment with quinoa - thanks for the inspiration. Hope you had a wonderful time at the wedding.

  10. Sue, I love how you made the dish less "chefy", lol. I just love scallops but for some reason I never make them. Why? I have no idea! Your dishes are always so healthy and so delicious-looking!! I could dig into this right now.....

  11. This is such an interesting combination of flavors - I'm intrigued! Must be more experimental in the kitchen from now on.


  12. This sounds really interesting!

  13. I saw Rick Stein using vanilla with fish at the Love Cooking Festival in London too - it seems to be a delicious trend! Your recipe looks beautiful and the flavours sound wonderful. We love scallops, so I've bookmarked it to try soon!

  14. This is such a beautiful dish! I wish I could grab some scallops and cook this but unfortunately in Greece we do not have scallops. I have never tried to add vanilla to my cooking but judging from the pictures I think I will have to reconsider!

  15. I love scallops and this dish looks terrific.


  16. Thank you all so much for visiting, and for taking the time to leave such lovely comments - I appreciate every single word :-)
    Sue xo


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