Friday, December 31, 2010

0 Recipe #225: Ring In the New Year with Pan-Seared Scallops in a Caviar-Champagne Sauce

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This regal dish will have you ringing in the new year in style. What was it that Robin Leach used to say on "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous" back in the mid 80's? "Champagne wishes and caviar dreams" or something like that? Well, this recipe might come close. :) In any event, it certainly sounds like a nice way to ring in the new year, eh?! Heck, if there's ever a time to luxuriate and enjoy the finer things in life, even if it's just one special time a year, the start of a new year would certainly be the time. :)

In reality, while this dish might sound extravagant, it's actually quite affordable. First, there are several decent varieties of caviar available on the market today that won't break the bank. This is particularly the case with some of the well-received American varieties, which are surprisingly well-priced. Try a nice American caviar like a hackelback, salmon, paddlefish, American sturgeon, or Black Bowfin, for instance. A lot of chain grocery stores sell a small tin (usually red or black lumpfish or salmon "caviar") for only a few bucks.

And, if you want to semi-splurge on a nice bottle of Champagne, you can even find a 375 ml bottle of Perrier-Jouët "Grand Brut" Champagne for about $12-15 or so. (Compare that to $50 for a 750 ml bottle.) If you consider that you are dividing that up amongst four people for a small flute each with a bit left over to be used as an ingredient for their dinner, that actually works out quite well.

Also, if you have a local seafood market, or access to a good Asian market, you can usually find good quality scallops for a decent price. Plus, it'll feel good knowing that you can all still enjoy yourselves thoroughly without having to cry into your pocketbook the day after. :) A New Year's Day hangover can be bad enough, so let's not add insult to injury, shall we?! ;)

So, make your guests (& yourself!) feel special with this extra-special dish. A little flair (yes, all 15 pieces - lol) and a little care goes a long way. Time to start the New Year off with a "pop." Of a Champagne cork, that is. :)

Pan-Seared Scallops in a Caviar-Champagne Sauce

Sauce Ingredients (Beurre Blanc):
1 Tbsp. (1/8 stick) unsalted, chilled butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 Tbsp. unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/4 c. Champagne or other dry, good-quality, sparkling white wine
1/8 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1/16  tsp. (a pinch) Dijon mustard (liquid, not powdered form)
1/2 tsp. fresh tarragon, finely minced
3/4 tsp. fresh Tuscan Blue rosemary leaves, finely minced* 
1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 Tbsp. fresh, Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely minced
1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. lite, nondairy creamer
1/2 tsp. reduced-fat/lite sour cream
1/16 tsp. (a pinch) salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Sauté Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 large, fresh bay leaf
2 Tbsp. shallots, peeled & minced (about 1 small shallot)
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & minced (about 2 large cloves)
1/2 c. fennel (bulb only), finely diced into 3/8" squares
1/2 c. (about 2 oz.) shiitake or cremini mushrooms, well-washed & sliced (about 3 large mushrooms)**
1/8 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 c. (or more) Champagne or other dry, good-quality, sparkling white wine
1/2 lb. large, fresh sea scallops (preferably diver-caught), cleaned/debris removed (about 8-10 large scallops)
1 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)
1 Tbsp. caviar
1 Tbsp. fresh chives, minced

Directions: Make the beurre blanc: Melt butter in a large (12-13") & very deep nonstick sauté pan over low heat and then stir in flour to form a roux. Next, turn up heat to medium, & immediately deglaze with Champagne & chicken broth, stirring occasionally. Then add Dijon mustard, & fresh herbs -- minus the parsley -- and reduce volume by half, turning the heat to low when it begins to bubble. Cook until thickened. Remove from heat & set aside. Let cool for a minute or two, then stir in parsley, lemon juice, creamer & sour cream. Season with salt & pepper, stir well to combine, & then transfer sauce to a medium-sized bowl, scooping out the remaining sauce with a heat-proof spatula. Thoroughly wash out pan & set aside.

Sauté the vegetables: In the same sauté pan, heat olive oil on low heat & then add bay leaf, shallots, garlic, & fennel. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add fennel & cook for 3 minutes, or until tender. Next, add mushrooms & quickly season with salt & pepper to reduce moisture. (Season from a distance above to ensure even distribution). Cook mushrooms until slightly golden brown around the edges, about 3-5 minutes. Turn up heat to medium & immediately deglaze with 1/2 c. Champagne, reducing the liquid's volume by half. Push vegetables to the outer edges of the pan to make room for the scallops & avoid crowding the pan.

Sear the scallops: Pat scallops dry with a paper towel & gently place into pan, turn up heat to medium, & cook until lightly seared (i.e., golden brown), about 3-4 minutes per side. Use a large, flat, slotted spatula to flip them over. If the level of the liquid starts to get too low, add more Champagne as necessary to avoid burning ingredients. (Champagne will sizzle when added to the pan, & will actually help brown the shallots, provided that you don't add too much at any one time.) Remove from heat & discard bay leaf.

Assemble the dishUsing the same slotted spatula, transfer 4-5 scallops to each plate, placing each serving of fennel & mushrooms around outer edges of the scallops. Be sure to scrape out the fond from the bottom & sides of the pan, using a heat-proof spatula. If beurre blanc has become too cold after you're done sautéing the scallops, reheat the sauce in the microwave for 1 minute to warm slightly. Pour 2-3 Tbsp. beurre blanc over each portion, & let cool for 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle each plate with 1/2 Tbsp. Parmigiano-Reggiano, if desired. Next, top each portion with a 1/2 tablespoonful of caviar, placing a small bit on top of each scallop. (You can also gently mix in the caviar to the cooled sauce if you prefer.) Garnish with a 1/2 Tbsp. chives per person & serve immediately, atop a bed of asparagus or spinach. Serve with a side of rice or couscous & a glass of Champagne. :-D

Bon Appétit!

Yield: 2 servings, with serving size of 4 scallops per person and 2-3 tablespoons of sauce.

Chef's Notes: In this dish, you will get the chance to master the classic technique of making beurre blanc, if you haven't already done so. It's actually a fairly easy procedure to do. In French, beurre blanc literally translates into the description, "white butter."

Tuscan Blue Rosemary
Please note that this version of the French-inspired sauce is a bit different than the standard "lemon-butter-crème fraîche" variety, as it's comprised of not only lemon & butter, but also Champagne, caviar, various fresh herbs, a dab of Dijon mustard, lite sour cream (a replacement for the crème fraîche), & a bit of lite, nondairy creamer (instead of cream!). All of these ingredients add body & balance to the dish.

Please be aware that caviar should only be added to the sauce after it's been removed from the heat. Otherwise, the outer sacs of the roe will harden & it won't taste too good. Heat ruins the texture of caviar & alters its flavor. Also, if you're using paddlefish caviar, do not combine it directly with lemon juice as this can ruin the taste.

*This recipe calls for Tuscan Blue rosemary, which has larger, wider leaves & a much milder flavor than the more commonly sold Rosmarinus officinalis (common rosemary). Its delicate essence goes perfectly with the fresh, crisp flavors of fennel and tarragon. The Champagne provides a beautiful, delicate finish to the scallops in this dish. The sauce in this recipe can of course be used to top other seafood dishes; it goes particularly well with shrimp, crab, or salmon.

**I like to use the entire mushroom, first cutting off the tips of the stems & then slicing the mushrooms into small strips. I then cut off the stems, & if they're very large, I'll slice them in half & toss them in along with the mushroom caps.

Alternate Serving Suggestion: If you prefer, reserve the fronds from the fennel & use them for garnish instead of the chives.

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