TARTE FINE, FONDUE DE POIREAUX, SAINT-JACQUES

Thin Puff Pastry Crust, Topped by Butter Cooked Leeks and Seared Scallops

A dish for when there is no wind...

Leeks and scallops form a winning team, specially when the leeks are cooked with, and in (a lot of) butter. We call this in French a fondue de poireaux, or "leek fondue", probably because the leeks literally melt in butter, and ultimately, in mouth... Funny enough, the association leek/ scallop reminds me of winfsurfing sessions. When I was (much) younger, I was really addicted to this sport, which was the natural continuation of my passion for anything that carries a sail, planing dinghies, coastal cruisers, deep sea racers, multihulls... and therefore windsurfs. Or exactly funboards, i.e. windsurfs the low volume of which is insufficent to support your weight and obliges you to start from the water...  
But what is the connection with leeks and scallops then? There are none in fact, except that, in the 80's, with a group of funboard addicted friends, we used to rent houses or flats in Brittany or Normandy. Those were located directly on a beach exposed to funboard-compatible prevailing winds, so that we just had to "push" our boards in the water from our accommodation. Every week-end, including during the winter, we were gathering there to practice our favorite activity... Except that windsurfing, and furthermore funboarding, is an activity that is highly depending on the wind. No wind, not enough wind, too much wind, wrongly oriented wind... you stay home, or you rig your material for nothing... So you imagine other activities to engage in when Aeolus is not cooperating...
One of those activities was cooking, and furthermore cooking contests, far before Master Chef and other Top Chef were invented. One of my specialties was the ratatouille. But one of the members of our group was living in Saint-Brieuc, in North Brittany, the cradle of scallops (coquille saint-jacques) in France. He regularly brought some of those beauties from home and was cooking them with leeks literally "candied" in butter... With this signature dish, he was always the winner.

Here is a variation of this memorable dish made by my friend Thierry. For 8 servings:

Ingredients:


  • commercial puff pastry (1 package)... or you can make yours 
  • 16 scallops, preferably of the same size
  • around 16 medium size leeks (or 8 big ones)
  • 1 red onion
  • butter, a lot of butter, around 125 g or 4.5 oz
  • 1/2 glass of dry white or white Port
  • 1/2 lemon juice
  • Salt (fleur de sel), piment d'Espelette, pink pepper corns

Recipe:

Preparation of the leeks
  • Clean the leeks as usual, removing the outside leaves (that you can use to make some amuse-bouche with smoked salmon, raw fish, oyster or mussel tartar...) and rinsing then abundantly to eliminate the dirt
  • Chop them finely (2/3 mm wide pieces) and rinse abundantly again
  • Chop the red onion on small pieces
  • Heat around 1 oz of butter at medium low temperature
  • Sauté the onion till they become transluscent
  • Add around 2 oz of butter and when it is melted, add the leeks
  • Season with the salt and piment d'Espelette
  • Simmer at medium low, lid on, and let the leeks absorb the butter, for around 1/2 hour
  • Close to the end, remove the lid and increase the temperature (medium, medium/high) to eliminate the cooking water while checking regularly
  • Put in a strainer and reserve
  • You can prepare the leek fondue in advance. If so, just heat it up gently before plating it 
Preparation of the puff pastry bottom
You just aim at making a thin bottom and it is not a vol-au-vent. This is why commercial puff pastry or quick puff pastry is more than sufficient. A normal commercial package should allow you to make 12 bottoms of 3.5" diameter, so 4 extra ones.
  • Roll the pastry sheets to obtain 4 strips of around 4.5" wide and 9" long
  • In each strip, pre-cut 2 circles of a 4.0" diameter (this will reduce)
  • In a 400F pre-heated oven, bake those bottoms between two plaques and two parchment paper sheet for around 12 minutes. They should be just cooked.
  • If need be, caliber your bottoms with a cookie cutter of 3.5" (for instance). Personally, having pre-cut them at 4", there is practically nothing to do to caliber them at 3.5"
  • Reserve them (you can prepare them in advance)
Preparation of the scallops
  • Rinse the scallops, remove, if any, the tiny and tough muscle on the side of the scallops
  • Cut the scallops in two halves, thick-wise
  • Season the scallops with the salt, piment d'Espelette and the lemon juice, rub the whole and let it rest for 5 minutes
  • In a hot pan, heat up the butter with a tiny bit of olive oil till the butter turns to a "hazelnut" color (beurre noisette)
  • Sear the half scallops on one side for around one minute, till they start to caramelize
  • Reserve the scallops
  • Deglaze the scallop cooking juice with the white wine or the white Port and let reduce it while you assemble the tartes fines.
Assembling the crust, the leeks and the scallops
  • Place the bottoms in a cookie cutter or muffin mold of 3.5" and place them on an oven plaque and parchment paper sheet.
  • Put a layer of leek fondue on top of the crust
  • Place 4 scallop halves on top of the leeks, seared side up
  • Heat up in a 350F preheated oven for 5 minutes
  • Place each tarte fine on a plate, remove the mold* and pour a few drops of the deglazed juice, with some pepper corns and/or chopped chives
* If you don't have enough molds, you can unmold each tarte fine after assembling it, ut handling them will require some extra precautions.

Once again, this is a recipe that is longer to describe than to to realize. And it is delicious. 
By the way, did you guess? There was no wind today!!! 

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