February 26, 2010
I like to take a certain ingredient and showcase it in different ways depending on the season or mood that I'm in. The other night I wanted to show off the versatility of scallops by making a winter preparation as well as a summer dish. I found these beautiful, fresh sea scallops at my local fish monger that smelled clean and had a pinkish-orange hue to them. Try to avoid buying scallops that are previously frozen because they'll create all sorts of problems for you if you're searing them or making ceviche.
I had plenty of time in the kitchen so I concentrated on the tiny details in order to make the presentation look as appealing as possible. You eat with your eyes first and then with your stomach…but the food still has to taste good. I get very annoyed when I'm served a plate in a restaurant where the food is stacked two feet high and has all sorts of bells and whistles on it only to reveal that the actual food taste like garbage.
When it comes down to it though, we are very visual people, and eye catching food is appealing food. Look at the recent popularity of the Food Network and culinary reality shows over the years. People love food, they love looking at food, and they love looking at celebrity chefs that make the food. Food porn has officially swept the nation. I can't get on an airplane without buying the latest copy of Gourmet, or Bon Appetit because the huge, close up of the sticky short ribs on the cover made my stomach rumble. People even buy cookbooks to look at the pictures with no intention of ever searing a piece of tuna or blanching a vegetable.
Americans know what foie gras and a perfectly poached egg look like but most of them have never tasted it. I admit, I have fallen into the abyss of food porn myself, and I love for my food to look appealing; but my food still tastes great (or else my friends are just being nice).
For my summer preparation, I made a quick ceviche, which is a Peruvian dish that is never actually cooked. There are millions of variations of ceviche but in its simplest state, it is raw seafood that is “cooked”, or marinated in citrus juice. The acid in the citrus changes the enzymes in the protein and gives it the flavor, texture, and consistency of cooked seafood or shellfish….magic! Now depending on where in Latin America you go, there are all sorts of other components of ceviche.
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I chose to stick to the basics, and marinated the scallops (which I sliced thin, so that more surface area would hit the citrus and would be done quicker) in fresh lime juice, with diced jalapenos, fresh cilantro, sliced red onion, salt and pepper.
This is a classic combination that tastes great because all of the flavors play nicely together. After about 20 minutes in the marinade, you slowly see the transparent scallops firm up and become white. The refreshing pop of the citrus juice wakes you up and the subtle heat stimulates your palate; a perfect snack on a warm summer day (I must have thought I was still in Florida). For my winter preparation, I made a puree of celery root for my seared scallop to rest on. Celery root is the ugly vegetable that you usually walk by and grimace at in the supermarket; it looks like a dirty softball that your dog buried under the shrubs in the backyard three years ago.
Don't judge a book by its cover. Once all of the skin is peeled off, the white inside has a distinct flavor that is extremely memorable yet subtle. I diced the root up and boiled it in milk until it was soft.
I then transferred everything to the blender and pureed everything until it was silky smooth. After I removed the foot from the scallop (the foot helps the muscle attached itself to the shell and it has to be discarded), I seared it in a screaming hot pan to achieve a beautiful, caramelized crust that protects the delicate center. I plated the seared scallop atop the silky, celery root puree and sprinkled it with some red quinoa. I also garnished the shellfish with a wedge of pink grapefruit to balance out the rich, earthy flavors and to add some acidity to the dish. Because I had two, very different dishes, I needed to choose a versatile wine that had some qualities that would enhance each side of my plate.
I chose the 2007 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc from California. The wine is named after an alien aircraft that looked like a giant white cigar, that was seen flying over France's Chateneuf du Pape region. Sure enough, the wine is a blend of white grapes from that region of France. A mix of Grenache Blanc, and Roussanne make this interesting white scratch your head. It's medium bodied and has hints of tropical fruit and banana on the nose. On the palate, it's slightly creamy until the finish kicks in with bursts of pineapple that seems to linger forever. It was very pleasant with both dishes but I preferred it with the seared scallop. The vibrant, bleach-blonde colored juice in the wine glass was visually appealing and made me want another glass.