Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pan-Roasted Maine Jumbo Scallops with Morel Mushrooms and Asparagus Purée

This recipe is a small milestone for all of us here in FrenchLaundryAtHome-land: you, me, the ATM machine, the purveyors I'm getting to know better and better each trip to various markets and shops. This recipe is the 25th one I've completed out of 100 recipes in the French Laundry Cookbook. I'm one-quarter of the way through, and in less than four months. My original goal was to do this project over two years, but it looks like I may do it in 12-18 months at this pace. Wow. Who knew?

Let's dive into the Scallops with Morels, because it didn't require a ton of work, but it also wasn't one of my favorites. Don't get me wrong -- it had potential; I just didn't love it.

Here's the mise en place:

A wee bit of backstory. The only place I could find fresh morels was Balducci's, and when I saw the price tag of $59.99/pound (and triple-checking the recipe to confirm I needed a half-pound), I decided to scoot over to Whole Foods where I knew they had dried morels that I could rehydrate and use. I'm not sure if using rehydrated morels was what made this dish kind of "meh" but it could be. I'm sure you'll let me know if you've had a comparative experience with morels, right? Right.

The first thing I did was cut off the bottom third of the asparagus stalks. I then cut off the tips, and kept the stalks since I knew I had to cook and use both:

Next, I cooked and ice-bathed (separately) the tips and stalks. I puréed the stalks in the blender with a little bit of vegetable stock (still using my own stuff -- it's almost gone, keep yer knickers on). I then spread the purée on a tamis to drain the liquid from it:

After 10 minutes, I pressed the purée through the tamis into a saucepan so I could keep it warm until I was ready to plate the dish. Next up? The morels. Since they were already rehydrated, I skipped the step in the cookbook about sautéeing them in stock until they were tender, because rehydrating them made them plenty tender. I chopped them and put them in a sauté pan with a little butter, a few sprigs of thyme and some smashed garlic cloves. After about two minutes, I removed the thyme and garlic and added the shallots. After another minute or two, I added 4T of butter and minced chives, as well as some salt and white pepper. If you're following along with the cookbook, you'll note I did not include the 2T of brunoise. I thought I had turnips and leeks in my crisper, but when I went to take them out of the fridge, the turnip was the consistency of a Nerf ball and the leek was not in great shape at all. So, I skipped that step -- could that have cause the "meh" result? Methinks not, but what the hell do I know? Here's a photo of what the morel mixture looked like in the sauté pan:

I kept this warm, and also melted some butter in a small pan to warm the asparagus tips. Last step was the cook the scallops. The cookbook said to put some canola oil into (Spoonie, I keep typing "INto" - ha!) a frying pan and cook the scallops for 1-2 minutes on each side. I used a nonstick pan instead and only used a half tablespoon of butter. They didn't brown like the recipe suggested they should, but they were cooked the whole way through and slightly golden brown around the edges. And buttery-licious! Here's a shot of the final plating:

I used two scallops per person and made 4 servings instead of 6, since I knew I'd only have four tasters. I had to salt mine at the table because I didn't season the morels enough for my liking. Was this a disaster like the Third-Time's-A-Charm Grape Jellies or the Great Fish-Slicing Failure of 2007? No. It was fine; it just wasn't spectacular. I probably should've done something differently with the morels. I don't often make scallops at home, even though they are so easy to do. So, at least doing this dish reminded me that scallops are a no-brainer when I'm plumb-tuckered out. I probably wouldn't make this dish again, and I honestly don't think I'd oooh and aaah over it at the restaurant, either. The whole package just wasn't my thang.

Up Next: Spotted Skate Wing with Braised Red Cabbage and Mustard Sauce

Brands Used:
Produce and herbs from H-Mart
Forest Mushrooms Morels from Whole Foods
365 organic butter and canola oil
Scallops from Balducci's

Music to Cook By: Lyle Lovett; Joshua Judges Ruth. The song "North Dakota" is one of my favorites. Sigh.


ann said...

I bet fresh morels would have made a big difference, but, wow! what a springy dish!

If anyone ever tries to sell you "false morels" or Gyromitra mushrooms don't go for it. They're cheaper and kind of look like morels, but they can also kill you. Not only that, they're so deadly that even the vapors from cooking them can make you sick. Someone sold them to me once. Thank god I looked them up before I started cooking away. Super scary.

spooneroonie said...

DG, I kept reading INto, so no worries. Hee!

The money shot looks good,but I do like my scallops a wee bit browner than that. And I'm a sucker for asparagus.

I'm eagerly anticipating (oh c'mon when do I not eagerly anticipate food) skate wing because I have no idea what that is.

Ovens2Betsy said...


Fresh morels SHOULD go down in price in the coming weeks (although, like English peas, their season is short). They'll still be spendy, but I've seen them as low as $29/pound at my local Whole Foods. There really is no comparison between fresh and dried morels.


P.S. Although I don't have the French Laundry cookbook I was salivating over your post on the pea soup with truffle oil. I made some last night using homemade chicken stock. Oh my god was it good!

pdxblogmommy said...

Betsy..."spendy"?!? Are you a PacNWer too? That's such a Portland thing to say... :-)

DG, I think the scallops would have been better off in the all-clad stainless with the full on butter. They'd get kind of golden brown and slightly crisp and, at least in that final shot there, look a bit more appetizing.

I also think the fresh morels would have made the taste a little more earthy and whole for you and less "meh" though I don't fault you in the least for getting the dried ones. I'd-a done the same damn thing at $59.99/pound.

Still, you can't love them all. For instance, those grape jellies still give me the willies just thinking about them.


Sally Forth said...

I'm sorry this was a "meh" dish for you. Fresh morels are addictive. I'm interested to see what you think of the skate recipe. When I can get fresh skate this is the recipe I follow.

Ovens2Betsy said...


You got me -- I'm a Seattleite!


corycm said...

Hmm. I may have to give this one a shot myself. Around my neck of the woods we have morels all over the place. I just have to drive out and pick a bag or two. The down side being really fresh seafood is nigh impossible to get here in the middle of the country (and what we do get is pretty limited), so it may be a wash. I'll report back if the fresh morels make a big difference.

Unrelated note: Did you buy your tamis locally or order it? I'm having a bear of a time finding one.

Terry B said...

I'm surprised the scallops didn't call for a little something else in the cooking--some herbs or spices or brandy or anything. Scallops so readily take on other flavors. This might have elevated the dish for you.

Regarding the skate wing, I don't know the recipe, but I hope it calls for fillets. Otherwise, the little bones and cartilage can be a real pain when you eat it. That said, we just made some fillets with the classic brown butter and capers--simple, fast and incredible.

Diner Girl said...

Ann -- I know about those poisonous mushrooms. Yikes.

Spoonie -- I read "INto" all the time and it's starting to piss me off. ;)

Betsy -- that's good to know re: morels. Maybe I'll try this again with fresh ones. I had such high hopes for it.

Sally -- send me some skatewing!

Corycm -- send me some morels!

Terry -- I love scallops, and they were fine with just a little butter. I would do them in a stainless pan next time, though.

CTGramma said...

DG, did the cookbook say what size asparagi to use? It's hard to tell from your photo, but they look a little thick. I much prefer the young asparagus to the grown-up, full-size ones. Every little detail makes a difference in these complicated recipes. Brava to you just for attempting them.

Larry said...

I'm just getting a chance to catch up. (the skate thing was great-I wanna try it)
I agree with a previous post- Fresh Morels!! Also, don't scrimp on the butter. A nice brown crust on the scallops is essential. But I feel the turnip and leek brunois is a seemingly minor step which can change the whole dish. Sort of like a mirepoix. That could have been the tipping point into "meh".

I'm really loving reading this blog. Your writing is always fun and funny. And the pics are great. This is my most forwarded link to friends. Ok, Tony Bourdain is a close second. I Hate Food Network as well.

Barzelay said...

Scallops should be cooked in a nonstick pan, but you have to preheat the pan as hot as it gets. Then add the butter, leaving the burner on high, and wait until it stops foaming. Then add the scallops directly on top of the melted butter and DO NOT TOUCH THEM until 1-2 minutes have passed. You can't move them until that side is done. Then pick each one up with tongs wait a second for the butter to settle in again, then put it back down onto the butter on the other side of the scallop. Again, don't touch it until the second side is done, another 1-2 minutes. Then they're done. They will be brown.

Anonymous said...

The key to browning scallops is to makre sure they are as dry as possible before putting them in the pan. If there is moisture on them, that will act as a heat break at 212 degrees. Think back to this middle school science experiment: you can boil water in a paper cup because the water prevents the temperature of the cup from going over 212 degrees. once the water is gone, the cup will burn. Since browning happens closer to 300 degrees, you want as must water off the surface as possible.

chefzadd said...

you should not omit details and make so many short cuts in a keller recipie and then be surprised that it is not amazing. so much of cooking relies on split second timing, solid technique and quality of ingredients. Plainly, what makes Keller is Keller. Please do not be offended by this as I am happy to see you trying these intimidating recipies at home. You should get an A just for effort and enthusiasm. Keep it up I wish more people would educate themselves on cuisine. Pardon my spelling, I am a chef not an author. Which reminds me , Have you thought of trying Bourrdaine?

The Overworked Barista said...

As a resident of akron ohio for a good three quarters of my short life, I must say I have never EVER watched paint dry.

I did however poke a snail with a stick as it crawled from one end of our street to the other. But that was a very productive day...

G said...

I've mad this same recipe. You need a dry pack, or "day boat" scallops and a non stick pan.

Most scallops you can buy are wet packed, and often treated with phosphate. Look at the tray they're sitting in and you'll see a milky white liquid. This causes the scallops to maintain moisture.

Without a non stick pan and dry scallops, you end up with a steamed scallop, instead of a pan seared scallop. Steamed scallops aren't bad, but pan seared are quite diferent. Big difference in flavor, and texture.

Of course...you'll pay a premium for them.