Monday, September 21, 2009

Scallops in Orange Saffron Aioli

By now everyone knows that I'm not a huge fish fan (and if you don't, check out this post), but I do love other kinds of seafood - prawns, lobster, calamari and scallops are all favorites of mine. Fortunately, Jhan loves them too. If they weren't so expensive, we'd eat them a lot more often.

Scallops in Orange Saffron Aioli

I wish these were fresh scallops, but I'm not even sure where you would get them in town. I am sure, however, that we couldn't afford them if we did find them. These were frozen scallops we found at Costco that we managed to talk ourselves into buying...
"Ooo, frozen scallops! Yum!"
"We can't afford those!"
"This is probably the only way we'll ever eat scallops at home."
"Well, I suppose we could cook something for the blog with them."
"Only if you want to. They'd look very nice, I'm sure."
The scallops were divine (if stone cold from sitting there while I took pictures of them), but the orange saffron aioli was maybe perhaps possibly just a tiny bit less than the best thing I've ever eaten. Truth be told, it was very odd and reminded me a bit of latex paint - but only in the best possible way (if that's possible). It wasn't bad per se, but it was definitely too mayonnaisey for me, and it didn't seem to do a thing for the scallops. Fortunately, Jhan concurs, or else I'd have to sing the praises of this beautiful but odd sauce.

Scallops in Orange Saffron Aioli

The Food (Jhan)

I was so excited that we were having scallops for dinner and I wanted to find just the right recipe. I went through our shelves of cookbooks, moved on to our stacks of food magazines, and finally ended up on the Internet looking for a recipe that just said "amazingly delicious" to me.

I finally found it - or so I thought.

If you think about it, basic scallops are pretty easy: make sure they are dry, that the pan is sizzling hot, and don't overcook them. For me, it's the sauce and other fixings that make scallops truly amazing. So I found what I thought was the "perfect" recipe on the Food Network site: sea scallops with saffron aioli.

From experience I know that their recipes have been tested and are fairly reliable, so I went right to work preparing the side dishes to have everything ready just as the scallops finished their short sear. I prepared the aoili exactly according to directions, without changing anything... and it looked beautiful with that golden sunrise yellow color from the saffron and the orange juice.

Well... the scallops were great, perfectly cooked, sweet, nice crust, tender. But the aioli was not so hot! It wasn't terrible, but neither the flavor of the saffron nor the the flavor of the orange juice really came through it was just a mayonaisy sauce. Too bad, because the saffron really colored the sauce nicely. A pretty dish with good scallops, but not a recipe I care to share. I'd recommend that the next time you cook scallops you pan sear them and add a nice white wine, butter and herb sauce and just enjoy that "taste of the sea".

Scallops in Orange Saffron Aioli

The Plating
This is one of the few dishes that I have been able to really visualize in advance. I knew I wanted two scallops in the center of a small plate, surrounded by sauce. Something green for a garnish, and done. Period.

And that's exactly how it turned out: sauce spooned into the dish, large scallop stacked on a small scallop, a bit of orange zest grated on top, and then a few sprigs of chive (painstakingly selected) delicately placed on top. I was as happy with how this came out as I possibly could be.

The Lighting and Photography

Scallops in Orange Saffron Aioli LightingI really wanted to try and duplicate (as close as I could) a relatively soft window lighting. So I went with three flashes to make as large a lit area as I could, based on the assumption that a big part of the softness of window light is the size of the opening that the light is coming through.

I pointed two lights at the white sheet hanging from the wall, and aimed one flash through a reflector. To add a bit of fill I used a piece of white foam core to the right of the food, and a copy of a book of my photographs (Five Assignments - it won an Honorable Mention in the Photography.Book.Now competition) that happened to have a white cover to the left of the food.

Amazingly, I was very happy with the results! The light was very high key overall, but showed a lot of detail in the scallops along with some nice highlights off the scallops, the sauce and the plate.

Scallops in Orange Saffron Aioli

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