Ever go to a restaurant or an event and encounter a dish that you immediately want to recreate in your own kitchen? Where you immediately think, How can I get my hands on the recipe? Indeed, the jackpot in this situation is the one where you can meet the chef and they generously give you the recipe. (If this has ever happened to you, I would love to know!)

In most cases, however, we are faced with our senses conducting culinary detective-work. Your tastebuds go on overdrive, trying to parcel out ingredients and seasonings. Sometimes the menu description helps. And when you return to your kitchen and set upon recreating the dish, if you happen to capture the essence of the dish, it is bliss!

When I attended the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival last November, one of the most memorable dishes from the Grand Dinner was the Seared Scallops with Bonny Doon Vineyard Verjus Beurre Blanc. What impressed me most was the perfect preparation – scallops can be challenging to execute as it is – preparing it perfectly for over 300 guests was absolutely commendable. The sauce was silky and refined, setting off the impeccable sear.

Inspired by this dish, back in my own kitchen, I made Seared Scallops with Sake Braised Fennel & Leeks. The surprise for me was how simple it was to capture the flavors! The sauce can easily be made ahead of time, and with scallops taking little time to sear, it makes for a lovely dish to prepare when entertaining, perfect as an appetizer. Or make a larger serving, grab some crusty bread, and make a meal out of it!

Seared Scallops with Sake Braised Fennel & Leeks

Serves 4.

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 fennel bulb, cut in half, then sliced very thinly crosswise
  • 1 leek, quartered and sliced, white part only
  • 1/8 cup sake* (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 scallops
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

In a heavy skillet, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Sauté fennel and leeks, seasoning with a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir frequently until fennel is transparent. Add sake to the pan, allow alcohol to cook off for about a minute. Add chicken broth and bring sauce to a simmer. Stir in butter, adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

Season scallops lightly with salt and ground pepper. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil. Sear scallops 2-3 minutes per side, about 5 minutes total. Serve over bed of fennel and leeks and drizzle with the sauce.

* Feel free to substitute the sake with your favorite white wine or to omit altogether if that is your preference.

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by Liren Baker on January 7, 2011

60 Responses to “Captured”

  1. Jill Colonna January 8, 2011 @ 3:44 am (#

    These scallops look sensational and I love the sound of the sauce. Thanks for the inspiration for our dinner party tonight!

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:05 pm

      Hi Jill, hope you were able to try these out for your dinner party! I’d love to know how they turned out!

      • Jill Colonna replied: — January 12th, 2011 @ 5:11 am

        In the end my husband reminded me they didn’t like seafood so I was so upset didn’t make them! Perhaps I should have just made them for us and just given the guests the sauce ;-) Definitely making soon and will let you know!

  2. Amy Bakes Everything January 8, 2011 @ 3:46 am (#

    I love scallops, this sounds wonderful with the fennel and leeks! I would totally use sake! Gorgeous photos (as usual)!

  3. Becky January 8, 2011 @ 5:44 am (#

    Your scallops are divine! Coincidentally, we are having scallops wrapped in bacon for an engagement celebration for my son and his fiancee, tonight. I hope that mine turn out as well as yours.

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:06 pm

      Ah, love bacon wrapped scallops! Salty and sweet!

  4. Belinda @zomppa January 8, 2011 @ 6:15 am (#

    Gorgeous scallops!! Nicely done…impressive.

  5. Peggy January 8, 2011 @ 6:33 am (#

    Those scallops sound amazing! And the sear on them is absolutely perfect!

  6. Kori January 8, 2011 @ 6:48 am (#

    Wow, what a decadent dish! Scallops are such a delicious treat, but one I usually save for ordering at restaurants…but now I’ll have to give this a try! They look amazing.

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:07 pm

      I used to reserve scallops for restaurants too, but now love them at home. I remember it taking me a while to get the cooking technique down! It’s easier than I was making it out to be :)

  7. Lauren January 8, 2011 @ 7:10 am (#

    This looks elegant and so delicious! Seared scallops are the best :)

  8. Brian @ A Thought For Food January 8, 2011 @ 7:43 am (#

    I too loved the scallop dish they served at the FoodBuzz Blogger Festival. Love the pairing with fennel here, which tends to be so overlooked.

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:08 pm

      I am so enamored with fennel, I clearly have been cooking with it a lot lately, it seems. But it really does make sense with scallops!

  9. Jen (A Girl and Her Carrot) January 8, 2011 @ 9:04 am (#

    Your photo just makes me want a bite of the succulent little scallop! I will definitely make this recipe! Healthy and Delicious all in one! SOLD.

  10. Jean January 8, 2011 @ 11:15 am (#

    Liren, thanks for this wonderful reminder that I love scallops. They used to be a part of my regular rotation but I don’t know what happened. Love, love the flavor combinations in this dish and you know what? I’m not that fond of fennel when I prepare it. Cooked by someone else and I really like it. I’m sure this would be a winner with me.

    Enjoy your daughter’s birthday weekend!

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:09 pm

      How funny! Do you really like fennel when prepared for someone else? Maybe the next time we see each other, I’ll have to make something fennel for you :)

  11. foodwanderings January 8, 2011 @ 11:59 am (#

    Although I cannot eat scallops I can imagine the succulent tender taste. I also appreciate the refinement and achieving the perfect caramelization the way you succeeded Liren! Great job as always!! Shulie

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:11 pm

      Thank you so much, Shulie!

  12. Joan Nova January 8, 2011 @ 1:32 pm (#

    I just drooled remembering the Festival dish and your version with sake looks quite inspired. Great job, Liren.

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:12 pm

      Hi Joan! That festival really was fun, wasn’t it? So glad we had the chance to meet then!

  13. Sara @CaffeIna January 8, 2011 @ 3:50 pm (#

    I remember them! Although I could not eat them (can’t eat scallops) I remember everybody praising them. Great job in making this dish. I would have no idea where to start from

  14. justcooknyc January 8, 2011 @ 4:06 pm (#

    i get really excited when i see scallop dishes on the menu, but my problem is that when i make them at home, they never get that same kind of sear like yours. i just can’t get the hang of it.

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:14 pm

      I used to have trouble with scallops too. My biggest fault used to be overcrowding the pan or overcooking them. Hope you get to try them again soon!

  15. She's Cookin' January 8, 2011 @ 5:51 pm (#

    Very impressive and perfectly executed in your kitchen! Seared scallops are one of my go-to elegant but quick dinners – next time I’ll add fennel to my leeks – great flavor combination.

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:15 pm

      So glad you approve! I just love scallops, too, I really need to enjoy them more often!

  16. Jackie January 8, 2011 @ 6:21 pm (#

    I LOVE scallops. Love, love, love. This is a fantastic recipe which I’m sure I’ll be digging into soon! I do this too, by the way, try to recreate dishes I’ve tried in restaurants: usually a fail, but a great excuse to keep going back to eat it ;)

    Jax x

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:16 pm

      I love your idea of recipe research, Jackie!

  17. fooddreamer January 9, 2011 @ 4:18 am (#

    This is so lovely, I really missed out not going to the foodbuzz festival! I didn’t taste the original, of course, but going by the pictures here, you nailed the recipe!

  18. Angela@spinachtiger January 9, 2011 @ 7:15 am (#

    That was a good dish and I think you did great capture. I do indeed ask the chef for his recipes and sometimes they are very generous and are flattered.

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:17 pm

      How generous of them to share their recipes with you! I have had some graciously write the ingredients without proportions – even that is so exciting!

  19. Magic of Spice January 9, 2011 @ 6:58 pm (#

    That looks perfectly wonderful…I love these flavors :)

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  21. Monet January 9, 2011 @ 9:16 pm (#

    I so enjoy being able to hit a restaurant recipe on the spot. It looks like you did a great job with these scallops! This would such an elegant entree at a dinner party. I always overcook my scallops though. I need to take a lesson from you, it seems! Thank you for sharing, my dear. I hope you have a good Monday. Let the week begin!

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:19 pm

      Hi Monet, I hope your week is going well. Yes, overcooking used to be one of my biggest mistakes with scallops. I used to be worried that they would be raw! But really, it doesn’t take too long to cook!

  22. Cakewhiz January 9, 2011 @ 11:42 pm (#

    That photograph of scallops is gorgeous!
    Btw, I love all the desserts in your blog….they all look mouth-watering :)

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:19 pm

      Why thank you! I’m so glad you dropped by and are enjoying it!

  23. norma January 10, 2011 @ 11:15 am (#

    Brough back such great memeories. Dish is exceptional.

  24. shannon a. January 10, 2011 @ 11:59 am (#

    Love the Scallops!! Congrats on being chosen for Foodbuzz Top 9!!!

  25. lisaiscooking January 10, 2011 @ 12:02 pm (#

    Your scallops look seared to perfection, and the sake in the sauce sounds fantastic!

  26. Cristina January 10, 2011 @ 12:36 pm (#

    Beautiful dish, Liren. The scallops are delicate and perfectly caramelized…I bet the texture was amazing! Congrats on the Top 9 today! :)

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:20 pm

      Thanks Cristina! The scallops were just what I was hoping for, I was so excited, as you can imagine :)

  27. Chef Dennis January 10, 2011 @ 1:20 pm (#

    hi Liren

    those were excellent scallops at the festival! Yours look every bit as good if not better! I love scallops! Sake sounds like a great alternative!


    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:21 pm

      Chef Dennis, I have to say, the sake worked very nicely here. Plus it was perfect since I didn’t feel like opening a new bottle of wine (shh, don’t tell anyone I was feeling lazy!).

  28. Tonya - What's On My Plate January 10, 2011 @ 6:32 pm (#

    I’m going through a bit of a scallop phase right now. I’ve been making them in a more French style but I’m loving the idea of searing them and pairing with the sake-braised vegetables. Lovely.

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:22 pm

      Thank you, Tonya – French style scallops sound wonderful – I love them in so many ways!

  29. Debi(Table Talk) January 10, 2011 @ 7:41 pm (#

    Gorgeous caramelization on the scallops!
    I know exactly what you mean about tasting something in a restaurant and wanting to recreate this dish at home. Those plans work best while the flavors are still fresh in your mind.

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:23 pm

      Very very true – I often forget the nuances of a dish if I wait too long!

  30. Hyosun Ro January 11, 2011 @ 8:25 am (#

    Gorgeous sear on the scallops! The sauce sounds really good too. Mirin (flavored rice wine) might work here too.

  31. Paula - bell'alimento January 11, 2011 @ 2:00 pm (#

    I adore scallops and these flavors are just incredible, I can taste it. I agree, it’s so much fun coming home and recreating a recipe that grabs you!

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:24 pm

      Thanks Paula! I’ve been thinking about those mushrooms that we had at the Pom dinner — wonder if Rachael or you ever got around to cooking them up at home?

  32. Cheryl January 11, 2011 @ 7:08 pm (#

    Love scallops and I never cook them at have inspired me !! I will try your recipe for sure!!

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:24 pm

      Oh good, Cheryl! Let me know how you like it :)

  33. Jun Belen January 11, 2011 @ 8:03 pm (#

    I could taste the fennel and the leeks just by looking at your photograph, Liren. I usually sear my scallops in butter and serve it with crusty bread. I’d have to try it with the fennel and leeks. Thank you for sharing!

    • Liren replied: — January 11th, 2011 @ 11:25 pm

      Mmm, buttery scallops and bread. Simple and satisfying!

  34. A Canadian Foodie January 14, 2011 @ 11:27 am (#

    Liren – if a dish is that memorable, one must make it! This looks stunning…. just the caramelization alone has me licking my lips. I love the presentation. Simple. Yum!

  35. Stephanie @ Per l'Amore del Cibo January 14, 2011 @ 12:50 pm (#

    I think I could eat the fennel and leeks by themselves…they look and sound so delicious! Your scallops look amazing, perfectly browned!

  36. Amelia from Z Tasty Life January 14, 2011 @ 1:16 pm (#

    fennel and sea food is a match made in heaven! these scallops look perfectly seared.

  37. Lia Miller March 8, 2011 @ 6:12 am (#

    This is a must try!! Thanks so much for sharing!!

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