Updated: Aug 5, 2022
Hardly a summer dish, but a delicious preparation of scallops borrowed from the classical French repertoire by way of the CAYUGA LOUNGE.
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I love sea scallops. Whether grilled, sautéed, or poached, they are for Andrea and me a decadent, wine-friendly shellfish treat– more cost-effective than lobster, richer than shrimp, and more sophisticated than either clams or mussels. We’ve taken Chef Astor’s old-school version– inexplicably a year-round favorite at the CAYUGA LOUNGE– and modernized it just a little for current culinary sensibilities by eliminating the flour and breadcrumbs, lightening the sauce, and putting a nice little scorch on the components BEFORE the final broiling. The Shiitake mushrooms– just plain unavailable in the CAYUGA LOUNGE’s heyday– are a crowning touch. We’ve also avoided such frou-frou-isms as curry powder and instead we’ve hewn closely to the original spirit of this dish, its Gaullic origins, and its finest Continental-American manifestations.
We dare surmise that Chef Astor himself would approve of this version.
This recipe makes either 2-3 generous entrees or 4-6 similarly generous appetizer portions. Feel free to multiply (or divide) this recipe accordingly. As for equipment, you’ll need oven-proof ceramic ramekins for individual servings (see photo) and a half-sheet pan or something similar for broiling.
¾ lb (or more) of FRESH (never frozen) DRY PACK Sea Scallops (“Dry Pack” means no added sodium tripolyphosphate, which is a downright horrible thing to do to seafood. Also, please resist the temptation to make this dish with BAY scallops… aside from the fabulous and infuriatingly short-seasoned Peconics and Nantuckets, bay scallops are essentially cat food.)
½ lb. or so of Fresh White Mushrooms, De-stemmed
¼ lb. or so of Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms, De-stemmed
ONE 6 oz. package of Fresh Baby Spinach
ONE Large or TWO Medium Shallots, Finely Minced (~¾ cup)
ONE Stalk of Celery, Finely Minced (~½ cup)
ONE Glass of White Wine (whatever you’re enjoying w/ this meal is perfect)
A Splash of (Genuine) Amontillado Sherry (use no other, please)
ONE Lemon (for zest and juice, in that order)
½ Pint Heavy Cream (Make sure it doesn’t have chemical additives; a lot of cream does.)
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (NOT the crap in the green can… live a little and spring for the real thing.)
FINELY Hand-shredded Gruyère (not COARSELY shredded, which gets gooey and stringy when broiled. Best to purchase a solid chunk and grate this yourself.)
Unsalted Clarified Butter (or NOT clarified if you’ve ignored our earlier purchasing advice.)
Chopped Fresh Tarragon for Garnish (Optional)
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Sauté the spinach in clarified butter until nicely wilted, and then set aside.
Sauté the white mushrooms until they are lightly scorched, then add sherry and cook a little longer as the liquid evaporates. Set aside.
Sauté the Shiitake mushrooms until lightly scorched, and set aside.
Using the Shiitake pan, add butter and GENTLY scorch each side of the scallops and then set aside. They should be abou ⅔ to ¾ cooked, lightly scorched but still soft. They will finish cooking under the broiler.
Add just enough clarified butter to this Shiitake/Scallop pan to sauté the shallots until soft and translucent. Add celery and cook a little longer. Then add white wine and deglaze the pan. Using a microplane zester (my favorite kitchen tool EVER) add the zest of about half the lemon as the wine reduces. Then add a squeeze of lemon juice and continue cooking until liquid is almost gone. Add cream and reduce.
When thickened nicely, remove from heat and whisk in Parmigiano-Reggiano, ¼ cup or more to taste. The finished sauce should be thick and rich and yet nicely lightened by the lemon. Adjust flavors as needed (salt, pepper, lemon.) You may add some chopped fresh tarragon if desired.
Set oven to high broil.
Toss scallops and a matching quantity of WHITE mushrooms in the sauce, then portion into the ramekins. Do the same with reasonable amounts of the spinach and Shiitakes, adding them to the ramekins as if topping a pizza. Portion the remainder of the sauce atop the individual servings, then top with enough finely shredded Gruyére to nicely gratinee. Place ramekins on the sheet pan and insert beneath the broiler, watching carefully to avoid burning. The sauce will begin to bubble as the Gruyère melts and begins to brown. Remove from oven and serve.
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“Reasonable amounts” means that you don’t need to use all the mushrooms or spinach that you’ve cooked, and that your judgment comes into play. If you like mushrooms enough to make this dish, you’ll enjoy whatever you don’t use here in your next omelet or beside a steak. Same with the spinach.
This is a GREAT white wine dish, a perfect companion to an expensive and full-bodied Chardonnay… OR, if you like sharp contrasts, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or dry Riesling.