This French dish was featured on a recent episode of Tyler Florence’s “Tyler’s Ultimate” show and is one of the tastiest things I’ve prepared in a while. It was followed by a wonderful dessert of lemon pudding cake which I have previously written about.
I’m sure I could have done a better job on the photography (was experimenting with 100% natural light) as a photo doesn’t do justice to the wonderful flavors that combine from the seared scallops, the rich beurre blanc sauce, and the flaky texture of the puff pastry. The mixed spring vegetables blanched in salty water give wonderful color and some tooth to the dish.
This is the most complicated of the dishes that I’ve written about so far. It’s really several recipes in one dish. There are enough ingredients all along the way that even though there are three distinct parts, I would get all parts prepared first. Have everything chopped, measured, and laid out so it’s ready to go. You’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to put together a more complex dish this way.
We’ll start out by preparing the beurre blanc sauce. This is French white (blanc) butter (beurre) sauce.
Each of these ingredients enriches the flavor of this sauce. It includes 2 shallots, 8 sprigs of thyme, 2 bay leaves, 1/4-1/2 cup of heavy cream, 2 sticks of unsalted butter, 2 tbsp of chopped chives. In Tyler’s recipe the base of this sauce was 2 cups of dry white wine and one cup of white wine vinegar. After reading a number of the comments on the Food Network website it was clear that most people were very unhappy with how much vinegar was in this and how sharp it tasted. So I opted to have three cups of wine rather than the two, substituting an additional cup of chardonnay for the cup of vinegar. It turned out really nicely and unless you’re planning to do this over and over to experiment I would suggest going with all wine. By the way, 3 cups of wine is the contents of exactly one normal wine bottle. So save yourself some measuring time and just pour it all in.
In a medium sauce pan add the shallots, wine, fresh thyme sprigs, and bay leaves.
Bring this to a simmer and reduce the volume by about half. Reducing, if you don’t know, is the process of gently boiling a liquid until some of it evaporates. This is a common technique to concentrate flavors. In this case we’re reducing the wine and infusing it with the good flavors of the shallots, thyme, and bay leaves, leaving a perfect base for the sauce. By boiling the wine, the alcohol is evaporated leaving the rest of the essence of the wine. Go ahead and season the liquid with about a tsp of salt and about the same of pepper.
Once the seasoning is dissolved go ahead and strain the liquid by pouring it through a strainer into another bowl. Then pour the strained liquid back into the sauce pan and place back over a low heat and bring it back to a simmer.
Add the cream to the wine reduction and stir it in with a whisk and let the mixture come back up to almost simmering.
Have the butter chopped up into about six pieces per stick and begin to add the butter a few pieces at a time while you stir or whisk the mixture. Allow the butter to melt and incorporate before adding more.
If you’re going to move on to cooking the rest of the recipe you may want to go ahead and add the chives now (the chopped up green part of the green onion). Otherwise, hold the chives until right before you serve the sauce over the plate.
In Tyler’s episode he started the puff pastry first and I’m not sure quite why. It does not take long to cook, 15 minutes, and it would be nice to have it warm on the plate when you serve it. I dutifully followed the directions and the puff pastry was done and cold long before the rest of the meal. That’s why I’m suggesting you get it ready now. No one in their right mind really makes puff pastry from scratch. It’s hard to do and it’s time consuming. Just buy it out of the freezer case at your local grocery store in a section you may be used to walking by. It’s usually next to the frozen pie crusts.
The tricky thing about puff pastry is that the dough comes frozen and it has a lot of butter in it. You need to have thawed the dough, but it can’t be done while sitting on the counter or the butter will melt. The best thing you can do is to plan ahead and buy the puff pastry frozen and put it in your refrigerator compartment a day before you plan to cook.
In a normal box of dough you will have two sheets that are folded in thirds. You will only need one sheet for this recipe. Lightly flour the surface that you will be working with this dough so that it will live off your board surface easily. Unfold it and you will likely see the dough has some cracks where the folds were. Use your rolling pin to lightly smooth out the cracks. They won’t completely disappear and you don’t need them to.
If you have a round cookie or biscuit cutter that’s great. Otherwise you can use a paring knife to scribe a circle in the dough. The cutters I’m showing here are 4 1/2″ in diameter. The size is not critical though you do want them big enough to take a center position on the plate and provide enough space to accommodate a couple of scallops.
Go ahead and press the cutter all the way through.
If you have a slightly smaller cutter, go ahead and lightly press a mark into the dough. This will later be used as the mark to run a knife through the pastry to take the “lid” off and expose the interior of the puff pastry after it has been cooked
Lift the edge of the puff pastry sheet and peel it away which should expose the four round pastries. If you floured your board it should be easy to lift them off and place them on a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat underneath. If you’re like me and you forgot to flour your board then you have a little bit bigger chore. I used a pancake spatula to gently lift them from the board.
I mention parchment paper or silpat. Silpat is a silicon based mat that can sit in the bottom of a cookie sheet and it provides a wonderful stick free surface. It works great for this type of baking and you may never go back after cooking your next batch of cookies on it. It’s a simple soap and water cleanup and you will never burn anything to the bottom of your baking sheet. Parchment paper works similarly only you just throw away the parchment paper after you’re done. Parchment paper can usually be found in the baking isle of your grocery store. Silpats can be found in almost any cooking store as well as places like “Bed, Bath, and Beyond”.
In a small bowl, beat one egg. With a brush or the back of spoon lightly brush this egg wash over the top of the puff pastries. This will help give the top a nice crispy texture and wonderful golden color.
Follow the directions on your puff pastry box, but it’s likely that you’ll cook these on 350 for about 15 minutes. I am not a precise cook when it comes to time because the world is different. Learn to use your eyes and nose to tell you if it’s ready and act on your instincts. If it looks good it probably is.
This next picture is the mis en place for the main dish. We have about 1 lb of large scallops, some crimini mushrooms, frozen green peas, and flat leaf parsley. Tyler’s recipe called for chanterelle wild mushrooms, but my store didn’t have those. So I’m using crimini mushrooms instead. The carrots are baby carrots. They are sweeter and work at a scale that is more appropriate for this dish than one of the big cracked foot long jobby’s you can get in the store. It’s best if you can get baby carrots with the greens still on.
First rinse and then thoroughly dry the scallops. They tend to hold water and I wish I had taken the time to let them dry even more than towel drying. The reason for this is that they do give up water as they cook and if you are sauteing them in a good amount of olive oil there can be a lot of splatter. They drier you can get the scallops the less they will splatter and perhaps more important is the fact that they will sear nicely and give you much better color without over cooking.
Once they’re good and dry then season them with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper.
Put your saute pan on medium heat and let it heat up. One trick for keeping a saute pan from sticking to the food is to get the pan hot first and then add the cold oil and let it come up to nearly smoking point temperature. My engineering background tells me that what is happening here is that the micro fractures in the surface of the metal pan open up and expand as it is heated. Then the oil can get into those fissures and provide a more thorough coating on the pan making it less likely to stick. If you have trouble with food sticking even if you’re cooking with oil, make sure you remember “Hot pan, cold oil”.
Often times you can literally see the scallop cook from the bottom up. It will go from a light translucent color to more solid white and you’ll begin to see the browning occur around the edge where the oil is touching. Watch them carefully and flip the scallop before it cooks half way through. You may only spend 2-3 minutes per side. Don’t be tempted to over cook them because a scallop can get very chewy if over cooked while it will be a very pleasing sweet meat if not over cooked.
When you have finished with the scallops take them out of the pan with tongs and place them on a plate with a paper towel underneath.
Now, without cleaning the pan, add your chopped mushrooms to the pan, adding more oil first and letting it heat up if it looks particularly dry. This is one thing that the French really perfected…using the scrapings in the bottom of the pan (they call it fond) to help flavor a sauce. The fond or scrapings in the bottom of the pan can have some of the most concentrated flavors in your dish and you certainly don’t want to scrub that down the drain until after your meal is done.
Saute the mushrooms until they are nearly cooked and turn off the heat to make sure they don’t over cook.
It’s now on to the spring vegetables. This is another place where I differed with Tyler’s recipe on timing. The recipe calls for blanching the vegetables which means that you place them for a very short period of time in boiling salty water. Because this is a very fast I disagree with his recommendation to do this much earlier on as it just give more time for the vegetables to lose their color and texture. So I would suggest you do the vegetables at this time.
In a large flat pan, bring about 1/2″ of water up to a boil and add about 1 tbsp of salt to the water. I start with the carrots. As you can see from the picture, I have left a little bit of the green on. For the ones that have a really long string point on them I would cut it back so it didn’t look like a carrot whisker. When the water is boiling throw the carrots into the shallow water and stir them around a little to make sure they are all covered. A carrot will turn a much brighter orange when it is being blanched like this right up until the point that you’ve over cooked it. Personally I will err on the side of under cooking. You can use a little wooden skewer or even the point of a paring knife to test how tender the carrot is. Take them out of the bath right before you think they are to your liking because the heat they retain will continue to cook them. Transfer them to a bowl and quickly run cold water over them to quench the cooking process. Drain and set aside.
Do the same thing with the frozen peas. Because the peas have much less mass they will cook much more quickly. You may want to drain the peas through a strainer within about 30 seconds of them hitting the hot salty water. They will have a wonderful green color. Again, run cold water over them immediately to stop the cooking. Both vegetables will be added back to the pan in order to rewarm them and all the ingredients prior to the final plating. Quenching them under the cold water will freeze the cooking and color right where you pulled them out of the pan.
Okay, we’re into the final stretch now. In the pan that is holding the mushrooms, rewarm it under low heat. Place the scallops into the pan over the mushrooms. Then place the carrots around the pan and pour the peas in last to begin warming.
While the saute pan is finishing the final warming, cut the lids off the puff pastry and arrange one per plate
Let your creative food stylings take over from here. Place a scallop or two in the puff pastry and around the plate. Arrange some carrots and peas over the whole plate. With a large spoon, place a few spoonfuls of the beurre blanc sauce over the whole plate and garnish with a little chopped parsley over the top. Stand back and admire for a couple of seconds and promptly bolt for the table with all the plates.
The beurre blanc sauce soaking into the puff pastry really brings back some memories of great French meals. The sweet scallops and crisply blanched spring vegetables add an array of earthy and ocean tastes and texture to this wonderful dish.
What did I learn:
- This is a reasonably complex recipe. I would put it at a 6 on a 1-10 scale where I don’t usually even attempt things like 9’s and 10’s.
- Get all of your ingredients ready to go first for all three portions of the dish. The more prepared you can be will improve the feeling of how difficult this recipe is and it will very much help with the timing and making everything come together in a coordinated fashion.
- Puff pastry cooks quickly. Know that it takes about 15 minutes. Get it cut and ready on a baking sheet and the oven warmed up. Then you can time it more closely to get a nice hot steaming puff pastry to serve on the plate.
- Using all chardonnay instead of part white wine vinegar was a good move. The sauce was wonderful and it did not need the extra tartness that the vinegar would have imparted.
Let me know how it goes for you.