Sweet corn and fresh scallops regularly spend a couple of weeks together in summer recipes. Why would anyone presume to intrude on that? But garam masala is the understated change of pace that reminds you why the main ingredients are so good rubbing shoulders in the first place, the kind that makes you ask, “What was that? When is it coming back?”
The great Desi* migrations of the 18th and 19th centuries have taken garam masala to the far corners of the English-speaking world from its probable birthplace in northern India in a kind of reverse colonization. Good news. No two versions of this warming mix (“hot spice” in Urdu) of toasted ground spices are the same – how mild or strong, which spices to emphasize, which to exclude, and how much to use in a dish – all are open to debate. Black peppercorns, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, and coriander seeds are the usual participants, but mustard seed, whole cloves, bay leaves, mace, nutmeg and chilies often enter the picture, and the mix we used included dagged phool, a kind of lichen, which was new to me.
The Fork On A Road Garam Masala is subtle. You can see a full list of the ingredients in the photo at the end of this post (along with a link on how to get some if you want to try it yourself). No one would mistake this for curry. It’s more like a warm summer welcome that announces the flavor of scallops and corn, hands you a drink and a fork, and then gets out of the way. Enjoy.
* The peoples of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Seared Scallops with Garam Masala Cream Corn
- 4-5 ears corn
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2-4 scallions, thinly sliced, about 1 cup
- ½-1 Serrano pepper, seeds removed, thinly sliced–use what you like. Some peppers are hotter than others so taste before you add the whole thing
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black or white pepper
- ½ teaspoon garam masala
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 lime, zest removed with a microplane, juiced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 pound scallops
- Basil and/or cilantro for flavor and garnish
- Strip the corn off the cob, taking care to remove any silky strings. You should have 2 cups or so.
- Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a medium saute pan. Add the scallions and Serrano pepper, season with salt and pepper, and cook until just wilted, about 2 minutes.
- Add the corn and garam masala and toss a few times. Add the cream, zest and bay leaf cook until the cream starts to thicken and the corn is shiny and done, 2 -3 minutes. Remove from the heat, set aside and add a few teaspoons of the lime juice. Remove the bay leaf.
- Remove the abductor muscle, or “sneaker” as we call it in the biz, from the scallops. (If you were to be making a sauce that was going to be strained, you could use the sneakers.) Season the scallops with salt and pepper.
- Heat the remaining butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Just before it smokes, add the scallops. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook 30 seconds. Squeeze the remaining lime juice over the scallops and immediately transfer to a plate. You may have to cook them in batches. If so, add the lime juice at the end.
- Serve the scallops on the warm creamy corn and top with torn basil leaves and/or cilantro leaves. In my case I happened to have a variety of micro basil growing in my garden, so I used that.
When I’m at the market, I like to touch, smell and if possible, taste the vegetables before I commit. With COVID-19 that’s no longer possible. No more ripping the tops down on ears of corn before adding them to my bag. If it turns out the kernels aren’t all perfectly intact and aligned it doesn’t matter. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. My job no longer includes seeking out perfect ingredients – it’s just to make something good from what’s in front of me. What a relief! My cooking life is so much easier. It’s only taken me 63 years to get here. Note to self: Remember this once things get rolling again.
I made this dish for Ken and me last week after a visit to the Copley Square Farmer’s Market. I stopped by Suman Shah’s booth to tell her how much I loved her Grandma’s Gold mix that I used in the rhubarb chicken a few weeks ago. She wouldn’t let me leave without a jar of garam masala. I also picked up scallops and corn for dinner.
I had no intention of incorporating garum masala into our meal but after I got home I dipped into Suman’s jar and the aroma compelled me to add a pinch to the cream and corn mix, which was already cooking. Ken was the one who tasted the finished corn and said, “Blog post!” You don’t need much – a couple of pinches gently fills in the flavor cracks with a mildly spicy warmth. I added a little lime for acid balance.
This dish cooks super quickly so be sure you have everything ready to go before you start. A few quartered cherry tomatoes on the side is perfect.