April 9, 2010

seared scallops with cauliflower puree and caper-raisin emulsion

Travel always brings unique culinary pleasures, ideas, inspiration. On a trip to Atlanta in mid-March, I fell in love with crisp-fried, cumin-dusted chickpeas, lightly pickled baby root vegetables served in a mason jar with luscious homemade buttermilk dressing (from the "Food in a Jar" section of the menu - does it get any more adorable?), and roasted beet and arugula salad with lemony fresh ricotta at the restaurant Abattoir. At R. Thomas' Deluxe Grill, an eclectic place where the chef really has a thing for quinoa (it's in at least half the dishes on the menu) and also for exotic birds (not on the menu, but on the premises; they have a sort of makeshift bird sanctuary surrounding the entrance), I tucked into a soul-soothing take on Southern comfort food called The Southern Vegetarian. And, though I was and continue to be utterly shocked by this, I had some amazingly sweet-smoky-vinegary stewed collard greens at a lunch buffet spot in the convention center (I don't normally seek out convention center food, but I was on a work trip. And these were among the best collards I've ever had; of course, I'm from the northeast, so you can take that with a grain of salt!).

But my most-swooned-over dish was a main course of pan-seared sea scallops with cauliflower puree and caper-raisin emulsion at Peasant Bistro. My goodness, what a combination. Each bite was a chorus of flavors and textures: sweet, tender mollusc, velvety and savory puree, briny-sweet-pungent sauce. The addition of a few stems of lightly sauteed broccoli rabe, nestled into the puree, were an ideal counterpoint to the sweetness of the scallops. I adored everything about the dish, but it was the cauliflower puree that really hooked me. So silky and full of flavor -- as satisfying as mashed potatoes, but lighter and more elegant. At first taste, I thought, this is definitely a dish to make at home. 

Although it was new to me, the combination of scallops, cauliflower, and caper-raisin sauce apparently is not a recent invention; Jean-Georges Vongerichten's signature dish at his flagship Jean Georges, right here in NYC, features scallops with roasted cauliflower and caper-raisin sauce. Admittedly, I don't get to Jean Georges very often (I would love to be a regular, but I've dined there only once), so I ended up traveling nearly 1000 miles to try this combination. Maybe one of these days I'll get to Jean Georges again, and if I do I will definitely try his version. For now, though, I'll enjoy my home-kitchen creation.

Pan-Seared Sea Scallops
Sea scallops (3 to 6 per person, depending on size)
1 Tbsp XVOO
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Dry the scallops by patting them with a paper towel, and sprinkle them with salt and pepper on both sides.
  • Heat the butter and olive oil in a cast-iron (or heavy-bottomed stainless steel) pan over medium-high heat. When butter stops foaming, add scallops and cook for about 2 minutes per side, until they are caramelized and cooked to desired doneness (I like mine medium-rare: still translucent in the center).

Cauliflower Puree
yield: about 3-1/2 cups, serves 4 to 6

1 medium cauliflower, base and leaves removed, and cut into florets (about 3 cups)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup milk, scalded
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg (I grated it on a microplane)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Steam the cauliflower florets for 10 to 12 minutes, until tender when pierced with a knife (alternatively, blanch the cauliflower for 1 to 2 minutes in boiling water).
  • Transfer cauliflower to a food processor. Add butter, hot milk, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt and pepper, and blend. I wanted a very smooth and creamy puree, so I blended it for 2 to 3 minutes; for a more chunky mixture, 30 seconds to 1 minute should do.
  • Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if needed, and serve. If made ahead, the puree can be reheated on the stove top, stirring often, until heated through.  

Sauteed Greens
serves 4 to 6

1 to 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp finely chopped spring garlic (looks like scallions but with purplish bottoms; regular garlic or shallots can be substituted)
1 bunch (5 to 6 cups) dark leafy greens of your choice (great with broccoli rabe, or purple kale as pictured above; spinach, green kale, or collards would also be good), rinsed well and chopped coarsely
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Heat olive oil in a pot or deep saute pan over medium heat. Add spring garlic and saute for a minute, stirring.
  • Add greens in big handfuls, along with a pinch each of salt and pepper, stirring well. When greens are wilted, add a splash (2 to 3 Tbsp) of water, cover pot, and steam for about 10 minutes, until greens are tender. Season with additional salt and pepper, if desired.

Caper-Raisin Emulsion
yield: about 1/2 cup, serves 4 to 6 (i like to double the recipe just in case - the leftover sauce is delicious stirred into steamed grains)

1 Tbsp capers
1 Tbsp raisins (black or golden)
2 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Black pepper, to taste
  • Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend for 2 to 3 minutes until very smooth, and season to taste with pepper. If sauce is too thick, it can be thinned with a little more lemon juice or water.
I plated the dish in the Peasant Bistro style: a big dollop of cauliflower puree with the sauteed greens arranged on top, then placed a few scallops over the greens, and drizzled it all with the caper-raisin emulsion.

Note: updated 2/13/12 with yields for each component of the dish.


  1. What a grand combination of flavors. This is definitely new to me but I can taste it and crave it. I'd also love the pickled vegetables with the buttermilk dressing and a crack at the arugula salad.

  2. That is the horror of traveling for me. I always wonder if I will find something suitable (not good or really good, just suitable) to eat. To find something really good...well that is an amazing and wonderful thing of beauty.

  3. I really like the idea of the caper-raisin emulsion. Can't wait to try it. Scallops I eat often and when I was once on the South Beach Diet, they did a cauliflower puree (supposedly in place of mashed potatoes) so I knew all about that. It's a great combo!
    I do go to NYC often to visit my daughter and have been to Jean Georges, so hope to go again soon and try this dish there.

  4. The caper-raisin emulsion sounds so interesting. I imagine it's a burst of flavors!!! Capers and raisins (together with olives and pine-nuts) are a traditional Sicilian combination. LOVE the idea.
    Amelia from www.ztastylife.com

  5. Hello Nancy!
    Brussels calling!

    Ooooh,...waw,..I am truly stunned by this flavoured & georgous tasty dish!! I so love scallops but rarely cook them at home!!

    This is going to change!!

    A really beautiful plate of divine tastes beautifully combined in here!

  6. Fabulous post---there are many very good restaurants in Atlanta, and it looks like you had some amazing dishes. Gorgeous scallops, but what got me was the mason jar of veggies and buttermilk dressing.

    Being a former northerner, I too found collards (and mustards, and other bitter greens) a revelation

  7. Thanks for the comments!

    Claudia, yes I would love to go back to Atlanta just for those pickled veggies and buttermilk dressing. Heavenly!

    Amuse-Bouche, that is always my top concern when traveling, too. I'm always well-stocked for the flight, but once my rations run out I hate being at the mercy of wherever I happen to be!

    Barbara, of course, makes sense that the South Beach diet would include cauliflower puree. Can't believe it's taken me so long to try it.

    Amelia, yes the caper-raisin-lemon combination is very Sicilian! I could put that sauce on just about anything.

    Hi Sophie - thanks! I don't cook fish at home much, either, and trying to change that too.

    Nancy - thanks! That mason jar was definitely the culinary highlight of the trip. If you're in Atlanta sometime I highly recommend Abattoir; great food and a lovely space.

  8. I'm going to prepare this, but the ingredient amounts never state the yield. How many is the broccoli & emulsion for?

  9. How much is the cauliflower and emulsion for? 2 people? 4 people?


  10. howdy, risk ninja -
    the cauliflower puree and caper raisin emulsion will feed 4 to 6 people, depending on serving size. the yields are ~ 3-1/2 cups for the puree and ~ 1/2 cup for the emulsion. you might want to make a double batch of the emulsion just to be safe (i'm a saucy eater so i always make extra) - the leftover emulsion is really tasty stirred into some steamed quinoa or brown rice!

    thanks for pointing out the omissions, i'm going to update the post with yields for these. :)