Serves a Crowd

Seared Scallops & Creamy Saffron Beans

December 21, 2020
8 Ratings
Photo by Melina Hammer
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Serves 2
Author Notes

This year has asked a lot of us. Through all the intensity, food has been there to offer more comfort than ever. Since our 2020 holidays will look quite different from any other, I thought to marry a bit of comfort with indulgence for a special end-of-year meal. This dish celebrates simple ingredients, but don’t be fooled: Every mouthful is very much greater than the sum of its parts.

Beans are often relegated to humble sustenance food. When cooked into a tender stew—here infused with fragrant saffron—they and their liquor transform into a thing utterly divine. I used navy beans, but any light, creamy bean works, including cannellini, great northern, cranberry, or cassoulet beans.

Saffron immediately reshapes a dish into a special occasion. The spice is the stigmas of the autumn crocus flower. Each flower produces just three stigmas, and as they are so delicate, they can only be harvested and processed by hand. This is why saffron is pricy; but happily, a very little bit goes a long way.

In this preparation, saffron’s distinctive earthiness adds dimension to both the beans and scallops. Meaty diver scallops are seared in a cast-iron skillet using olive oil and ghee. Basting them in the hot fat as they finish cooking helps seal in a glorious bronzy crust. This texture makes a perfect foil to their otherwise tender, sweet flesh. A handful of fresh herbs is the final flourish, to brighten and unite the dish.

Serve in shallow, wide bowls you can hold in your hands, to warm from the inside and out as you eat. This a worthy meal to celebrate health, tenacity, and appreciation for the simple things.

(This preparation is made to serve two, but scales up easily if you are feeding more people or want extra beans for later.) —Melina Hammer

What You'll Need
  • For the beans
  • 1 cup dried navy beans
  • 3 shallots, peeled, ends trimmed, and sliced into thin rings
  • 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, depending on your penchant for heat
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon good olive oil
  • 1 pinch kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • for the scallops
  • 3 to 5 diver scallops per person, depending on their size
  • 2 teaspoons ghee
  • 1 tablespoon to 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill fronds or parsley, to garnish
  • 1 pinch kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 pinch freshly cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
  1. Soak beans the night before, with enough cold water to submerge by 2 inches, about 2 cups.
  2. Sauté shallots in olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot until translucent and beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Drain beans into a colander, then add into the large pot or Dutch oven. Add the saffron, chili flakes, and paprika, and stir in the beans until combined. Add enough water to cover by 1/2 inch and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover, and cook until tender, about 70 minutes.
  4. Once the beans are tender, season with ½ teaspoon salt. Stir to combine, taste, and add more as needed. This step is best done at the start of the day, where the beans can sit in their liquor for a few hours, soaking in their liquid to enrich the overall texture. This can also be done a day in advance, left to sit at room temperature with the lid ajar.
  5. Arrange scallops on an absorbent paper-lined tray and pat dry. Season with salt and allow to sit at room temperature an hour before cooking.
  6. Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Turn to medium-high once hot, add a tablespoon of oil and swirl to coat. As soon as the oil pulls to pan edges, add half the scallops, keeping space between them to avoid crowding. Cook for a minute, then add half the ghee, dragging it between the scallops using a knife or tongs as it foams.
  7. Sear scallops in two batches, 3 minutes on the first side to develop a golden crust, then turn to the second side and baste with the hot fat, tipping pan towards you to collect spoonfuls and pouring over scallops repeatedly, for about 30 seconds. Scallops are ready when they are bouncy when pressed with the back of a large spoon. Transfer scallops to a plate and repeat with the second batch, adding the remainder of oil and ghee to cook as you did in the first batch.
  8. As the scallops finish cooking, reheat beans if you allowed them to sit, adding any accumulated juices from the scallops plate and stir to incorporate. Ladle beans into shallow bowls and nestle in the scallops. Add a few grinds of freshly cracked pepper, scatter herbs on top, and eat at once.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • dschaffner
  • Melina Hammer
    Melina Hammer
  • Rose Anne DeCristoforo
    Rose Anne DeCristoforo
  • arcane54
Melina is the author of 'A Year at Catbird Cottage' with Ten Speed Press. She grows an heirloom and pollinator garden and forages wild foods at her namesake Hudson Valley getaway, Catbird Cottage. Melina loves serving curated menus for guests from near and far seeking community amidst the hummingbirds, grosbeaks, finches, and the robust flavors of the seasons.

4 Reviews

dschaffner December 24, 2020
Leaving beans out overnight is not a best practice. There is ample evidence that Clostridium perfringens, an organism that will survive cooking, can grow to higher levels in improperly cool beans. See these links to the literature: and
Melina H. December 24, 2020
Thank you for the information! In colder months this is a common practice in my household and I haven’t experienced any issue. Will keep it in mind for future prep.
Rose A. January 2, 2021
This may be why Central Americans never prepare their beans by preceding the process with a soak. European cookbooks have convinced us this is necessary, but their ancestral climate is much cooler. I have been delighted to adopt the universally effective Central American process of tossing some onions and garlic into a pot with water and beans and letting the whole thing simmer away for a few hours before proceeding. No cans w BPA in the lining, no risk of falling asleep without putting the beans to soak, and, now, no risk of bad bacteria sneaking in the side door in the night! We are all creatures of our ancestral past. Climate change may make equatorial foodways the new normal.
arcane54 January 2, 2021
I thought the same and appreciate your research.