UNUSUAL TECHNIQUES: SCALLOPS STEAMED ABOVE CITRUS AND HERB SALT

Scallops and vegetables simply steamed above a bed of citrus and herb flavored salt


Four shades of scallop

Scallop is a fantastic seafood, and let’s be honest, I am totally crazy about it. But it is true that there are not that many ways to cook it*. This is due to the fact any excessive cooking would transform the scallop in a tasteless piece of rubber. In fact, I see 4 methods, but I may forget one or two: 
  1. First of all, when the product allows it, raw, in tartar, carpaccio, ceviche… after a variable time of marinade. 
  2. The most common way, seared in hot olive oil or clarified butter, which is what I call the flip-flap method, 60 to 90 seconds maximum on each side. To be noted that the technique of searing them on a stone belongs to this "shade" 
  3. Poached, 3 to 5 minutes depending on the size, in a flavorful broth, 
  4. Steamed, above a liquid, a broth… 
* By “scallop”, I exclude the bay scallop and I refer to the white adductor muscle, out of its shell, which is generally the most common way to find scallops in the US. This is just a pity because almost everything is edible in the scallops: the muscle, the roe cooked with the muscle and bringing its brightness to the picture (it is named corail [coral] in French in reference to the bright orange color of this gland in the European scallops), and even its mantle that can be cooked with shallots and white wine.

If you except the first method (i.e. raw, but it requires ultra-fresh products), I find that steaming is the method that respects the most the “tasture” (taste + texture) of the product. But the truth is that, even if you use a flavorful broth, the scallop remains rather blend. This is why I enthusiastically adopted the method of a French chef, Jean-Marie Baudic, located in Brittany, in Saint-Brieuc exactly, the cradle of the Coquille Saint-Jacques (scallop) in France.

It is to be noted that this technique could be used to steam fish (monkfish medallion or cod fillet for instance), open shellfish (clams, mussels…), or even to cook meat like chicken (I haven't tried it yet, but I will and report).

I serve the scallops with vegetables steamed the same way, and mimicking the chef Baudic (you don’t modify a winning team), I serve the whole on spinach and watercress or cilantro cream. 

Ingredients (for 4 people, adaptable)

  • 6 scallops 
  • 1 big golden beet, peeled, and cut in 4 discs of around 1 cm thick (the trimmings will make excellent purée or coulis… if you don’t eat them raw while cooking… my case!!!)
  • 2 purple potatoes, boiled for 5 minutes, peeled, and cut in 4 discs of around 1 cm thick 
  • 2 watermelon radishes, peeled, and cut in 4 discs of around 1 cm thick 
  • 2 small turnips (or 1 big), peeled, and cut in 4 discs of around 1 cm thick 
  • Coarse sea salt (1-2 cups, depending on the pan you use) 
  • 1 lemon, cut in small segments (and/or lime and/or another citrus) 
  • Thyme, bay leaves, rosemary, fennel seeds (for instance) 
  • Fennel and celeriac greens (here) 
  • 3 handfuls of spinach and 1 handful of cilantro (including the stems) 
  • ½ cup of half and half or whole milk 
  • Salt, pepper or Espelette 

Recipe

Preparation of the citrus salt: 
  • Put a good quantity of coarse sea salt in the bottom of a pan, so that it covers the whole surface on 4-5 millimeters, 
  • Add the lemon segments, 
  • Add some herbs (thyme, bay leaf, rosemary, but also, like picture here, fennel and celeriac greens) and spices (fennel seeds here, but also cardamom, cloves in the recipe with the squash croissants) or whatever you have at your disposal or you long for, 
  • Let this marinate, for at least six hours (the longer, the better: Baudic marinates his… 6 days!) in the pan, with a cling wrap on top and the lid on. 
Steaming the vegetables, then the scallop:
Pour the green coulis in a plate, place the steamed scallops and the vegetables. Spread some pink pepper corns and chopped cilantro all over the plate, or tasted squash seeds if you side it with squash, or follow your inspiration.

  • After those six hours… or days, humidify the marinated citrus salt with a 1/2 glass of water... or better, white wine! 
  • Cut two circles in a cooking parchment of the same diameter as the pan and place it on your salt (it normally works with only one circle, but I had once a bad surprise -too salty- with a bad quality porous parchment and this is why I recommend doubling it, this won’t change at all the flavoring process, 
  • Heat the pan (medium low, burner on 3/4) 
  • Dispose the vegetables, on top of the parchment paper, 
  • Cook (steam) the vegetables, lid on, for 20 to 30 minutes (depending on their sizes and varieties), still on medium low (3-4). Just test their cooking regularly: When they are tender but still a bit firm, it is time to invite the scallops to the steaming party, 
  • Optional: Before steaming the scallops on the citrus salt, grill them or sear them rapidly, 30 seconds maximum, to “mark” them on one side, 
  • Place the -seared or not seared- scallops on the parchment (if seared, seared side up), put a lid on the pan, and let steam on medium (burner on 5) for around 4/5 minutes. The scallops while steaming will absorb all the flavors exhaled by the citrus/spice salt… Just delicious.
Preparing the “green” coulis:

This “green” coulis is made with spinach, associated with watercress (I love the pepperiness it brought to it), with an herb (here cilantro, but it could be chervil, parsley…), a spice (I made it once with Szechuan pepper, sublime), or with any other green (I never tested it, but it will probably work well with fennel greens) 
  • Blanch the spinach for 3 minutes and plunge them immediately in iced water, 
  • Squeeze the spinach to eliminate water, 
  • Put the spinach in a high speed blender, with 2 ice cubes to keep it cold, the cilantro (in this case), and the milk, plus salt and pepper, 
  • Blend till obtaining a creamy texture (around 1 minute) 
  • Reserve and gently heat up before serving. 
Of course, other vegetables could be used. For instance, the picture on the right features the scallops with croissant of acorn squash... featuring the scallop coral gland!  They are spread with tasted squash seeds.

What a firework of colors, of flavors, of savors!!!

Merci Jean-Marie Baudic

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