On appearance alone, tonight’s dinner could pass as a high-ticket restaurant dish. But in reality, it's nothing more than a pantry meal elevated by a few specialty ingredients. We’re keeping with the season, pairing fresh seafood with a bright, green pilaf inspired by Middle Eastern dolmas. Splurge on the scallops and fresh produce, then rummage through the pantry for the rest of the ingredients. Since the salad is rice-based, it can be prepared ahead of time and left to sit at room temperature while you focus on mastering the scallop sear. Serve the crisp scallops on top of the pilaf with a drizzle of jus and indulge in a welcome respite from the routine weeknight rotation.
1 cup chopped grape leaves (from jar)
2 1/2 pounds large sea scallops
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 cup sugar snap peas
1/2 cup chopped dill leaves
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup chopped dill leaves
1/2 small white onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 small fennel bulb, cored and chopped
1/2 celery stalk, chopped
Fresh tarragon, thyme, and bay leaf
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1/4 cup crumbled feta (optional)
We're assuming you have white or brown rice, extra virgin olive oil, black pepper, kosher salt, dry white wine, chicken stock, and unsalted butter. If not, be sure to add those to your list, too.
1. Cook the rice: Prepare one cup of brown or white rice as instructed on package. While the rice is cooking, place chopped grape leaves in a sieve and rinse under running water to remove excess salt. Squeeze out excess moisture and add to the simmering pot of rice without stirring.
2. Prep the scallops: While the rice is cooking, remove the tough muscle at the side of each scallop. Reserve the muscles and refrigerate the scallops until ready to use.
3. Toast the pine nuts: In a skillet over low heat, toast the nuts for five minutes, turning occasionally until golden and aromatic. Set aside.
4. Finish the pilaf. Once the rice is cooked, stir the pot to distribute the grape leaves. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add sugar snap peas, dill leaves, lemon juice, one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, and black pepper to taste. Cover and set aside.
5. Make the jus: Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small saucespan over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel, and celery. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender but not browned, about 20 minutes. While vegetables are cooking, tie 1 sprig tarragon, 1 sprig thyme, and 1 fresh bay leaf together in cheesecloth. Set aside.
6. Reduce the jus. Reduce the heat to medium low. Add the scallop muscles and cook until they are firm, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons dry white wine and simmer until the pan is almost dry, about 7 minutes. Add 1 cup chicken stock and the herbs tied in cheesecloth. Simmer until the stock has reduced by half. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve, then return it to the pan. Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium heat. Whisk in 1/2 tablespoon of butter, adjusting the seasoning with salt and pepper while keeping the saucepan warm over very low heat.
7. Cook the scallops: Dry the scallops with paper towels. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the peanut oil. Season the scallops with salt and pepper and add them to the skillet (work in batches if cooking all the scallops at once would crowd the pan). Cook the scallops without moving them until they are golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes, then flip them and add 1 tablespoon of butter and a sprig of fresh thyme. Baste with the foaming butter and cook until they are firm outside but just barely warm at the center, about 30 seconds more.
8. Serve. Plate the scallops and pilaf, topping the scallops with a drizzle of the jus and the pilaf with the toasted pine nuts and crumbled feta.
Photos by James Ransom