Cook on a Whim: Spanish Sparkling Saffron Scallops

These scallops are the perfect, elegant and romantic dish to make for your Valentine this year. I let my love for alliteration run wild with this recipe — also, my love for scallops. I gave these a Spanish flair with a saffron cream sauce.

Do you ever cook with saffron? Yes, it’s expensive, but the reason for its hefty price tag is that it is the dried stamens, stigmata and styles of a specific type of crocus flower; due to its delicate nature, it must be hand-harvested. Can you imagine?

The good news is: it will last in your spice drawer for a very long time and a little goes a long way for adding both color and flavor to recipes. The first time I tasted saffron, years and years ago, was in a Spanish seafood soup. I still remember that delicious broth. It is slightly floral (not surprisingly) and it pairs beautifully with seafood, so pairing it with scallops was a no-brainer.

Scallops have been a favorite of mine since I was a little girl. If I saw scallops on a menu, I would beg to order them. Now I just make them myself when the craving strikes. When I’m shopping for scallops, I always buy them frozen and I always make sure there is only one ingredient: scallops.

The chance of coming across fresh-from-the-ocean scallops in D.C., Maryland or Virginia is slim, so if you’re buying them at a fish counter, they most likely have been thawed. I prefer thawing them myself. However you buy them, make sure they don’t have any additives. Sometimes they are filled with preservatives and other additives to retain their color. Besides just being scary, these additives will leach out during cooking and prevent you from getting a good sear. Best to avoid them all around.

This dish comes together in no time and is just so elegant and so, so delicious. Pair it with some good crusty bread for mopping up the sauce — and maybe a fresh salad — and you have the perfect romantic dinner. Extra brownie points for enjoying it in front of the fireplace with your sweetie and a couple glasses of bubbly. May I suggest the Cava?

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Spanish Sparkling Saffron Scallops


  • A hot pan and dry scallops are a must for a good sear. I line a plate with paper towels, lay my scallops on top, then add another layer of paper towels on top and let them sit for a few minutes.
  • Don’t be afraid of a HOT skillet. Let it get nice and hot for a few minutes before you add the oil and butter. Then let the oil and butter get sizzly and just a little brown before you add the scallops. You want them to sear, not steam. It might get loud and smoky, but it will be worth it!
  • Feel free to use any white wine here. I used sparkling just for fun — and alliteration — specifically Cava, to stick with the Spanish theme (also, because my dad was a big fan of Cava). It’s widely available and surprisingly inexpensive.
  • If scallops aren’t your favorite, feel free to use shrimp or any other seafood of your choice. Chicken cutlets would be really good too, and almost as quick to cook, but they would ruin the alliteration, I’m afraid.


For the scallops:

1 pound of scallops (about 20 scallops), thawed and patted dry

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons oil (I use olive oil)

Salt and pepper (it’s hard to give a measurement here, because I just pinch and sprinkle the salt and grind the pepper right onto the scallops — just give them an even, light seasoning)

For the sauce:

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 cup heavy cream

½ cup sparkling wine

A pinch of saffron threads, about ½ teaspoon

¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

A few springs of fresh thyme, plus more for garnish


Season scallops with a light sprinkling of salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a large skillet — cast iron if you have it — over medium-high heat. Add butter and oil. Let melt and foam until butter begins to brown.

Add scallops in a single layer. Let scallops sit for 3 minutes without touching them. After 3 minutes, flip scallops and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, until they are just cooked through.

Remove scallops to a plate, reduce heat to medium and add garlic to skillet. Stir garlic for about 30 seconds, then add wine. Scrape the bottom of the pan as the wine reduces, making sure to get all the yummy brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

Once wine reduces for about 2 minutes, add cream, thyme sprigs, salt, pepper, smoked paprika and saffron threads.

Allow this mixture to reduce over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the saffron releases its beautiful color and the sauce thickens to your liking. This should take about 5 to 7 minutes.

At this point you can either add your scallops back to the pan or spoon some sauce onto a plate and serve the scallops on top. Garnish with fresh thyme leaves if desired, and enjoy!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *