Claire’s Bay Scallops with Saffron and Leeks from The Hermit of ChappaquiddickSteven Raichlen
“Claire excused herself to bring the scallops to the table. Now this strange man, with his second-hand clothes and rough manners, was telling her with great accuracy how he imagined she made the dish. He ate slowly, she noticed, with single-minded focus and pleasure. He seemed not only to taste, but think about each bite. He pronounced the scallops delectable and praised the cleverness of the conceit behind the dish: the Provencale rusticity of tomatoes and leeks elevated by the unexpected refinement of crème fraiche and vermouth.”
– From Chapter 12, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” in Steven Raichlen’s novel The Hermit of Chappaquiddick
Claire’s Bay Scallops with Saffron and Leeks from The Hermit of Chappaquiddick
- Yield: Serves 4 to 6
- Equipment: 1 10-inch cast iron skillet or ovenproof baking dish, buttered
- 2 pounds genuine bay scallops (from Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket)
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 pound leeks (see note below)
- 3 tablespoons salted butter
- 1 cup peeled, seeded, diced tomatoes (see note)
- 1/3 cup dry white vermouth
- 1/3 cup crème fraiche or heavy cream
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup dried bread crumbs (preferably brioche crumbs)
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Step 2: Soak the saffron in a small bowl with 2 teaspoons of warm water for 10 minutes. Trim and wash the leeks (see note below). Thinly slice the white parts crosswise.
Step 3: Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a cast iron skillet or saute pan. Cook the leeks over medium heat until very soft and tender, 6 to 10 minutes, stirring often. Do not let brown. (You may need to lower the heat as the leeks cook.) The leeks should lose half their volume.
Step 4: Increase the heat to high and stir in the tomatoes. Cook until the tomato liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes, stirring often. Stir in the vermouth and boil until it’s reduced to 2 tablespoons. Stir in the saffron with its soaking liquid and crème fraiche. Reduce the heat and gently simmer the mixture until the crème fraiche is absorbed and the mixture is creamy and flavorful, 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste: The mixture should be highly seasoned. If using a saute pan, spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
Step 5: Remove and discard the small crescent-shaped muscle on the side of each bay scallop. (Pull it off with your fingers—it’s tougher than the rest of the scallop.) Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Arrange the scallops on top of the tomato-leek mixture.
Step 6: Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the scallops. Dot the top with the remaining butter. Bake the scallops until the bread crumbs are sizzling and browned, the scallops are cooked through (but just barely), and the tomato leek mixture is bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve at once.
To trim and wash a leek, cut the furry root off the bottom and cut off and discard the dark green leaves. Peel off the outside leaves. The part you use is the pale greenish white center. Cut each leek almost in half lengthwise, leaving the halves attached at the last inch of the base. Rotate the leeks 90 degrees and cut almost in half lengthwise again. Fill a bowl with cold water and plunge the leek up and down in the water to remove all the sand and grit. (Leeks are very sandy.)