In my excitement for having braved the pig's heart a few weeks back, I sent my blog around to a couple of friends. Friend S, an out of town student who I hadn't seen in an age, came in to town this weekend, so of course I had to invite him over for another culinary experiment. The catch? He's been diagnosed as celiac, so no gluten allowed. After perusing the recipes in my book, I decided on bacon salad, or frisée aux lardons, and coquilles saint-jacques with champagne, that is, sea scallops in champagne sauce. No gluten there, except the optional croutons spread with roquefort that go with the salad. Also, the champagne sauce attracted me as having only half a cup of actual champagne in the sauce... meaning the rest is for drinking (yesssss).
I'd been eyeing the big, fat, meaty sea scallops that they have at whole foods, and pounced on them this morning. All I have to say is MAN those things are pricey. But I looove scallops, so they are oh so worth it for the indulgence. I also went to my favorite pork vendor, Cedarbrook Farms, for their delicious bacon for the salad. One thing to note about this bacon is that I think it's probably true to the way slab bacon probably should taste in a frisée aux lardons--not too salty, not processed, just very porky, meaty and delicious. Husband J claims it tastes like jerky, and I take his word for it, never having had jerky ever. (Am I missing out on this?)
First, I clarified some butter for frying the scallops. Clarified butter is tougher than it looks, in my opinion. You have to first melt the butter to the point where it separates, then scoop out the foam on top, and then pour off the liquid leaving the rest of the solids at the bottom of the pot. I was only moderately successful.
Anyway, the time for dinner drew near on Sunday evening. I started out with the salad. Now, the recipe in the book calls for chicken liver vinaigrette, but alas, my livers were not in tip top shape, and I was a little suspicious about how fatty a liver vinaigrette would be in a (let's repeat) bacon salad. So I made the executive call that a plain vinaigrette would do, and set about making the same one that I made for the salade niçoise (red wine vinegar, olive oil, stirred with a clove of garlic).
Next comes bacon. The recipe called for blanching the bacon by boiling it, and then frying it afterwards. This is a little better than the rillettes, which were all boiled, but I still cast a suspicious eye upon the boiling of bacon.
While the bacon fried, I started on the sauce for the scallops. This involves shallot sauteed in butter, then fish sauce and cream, and reduced by about half to create a thick, fishy, creamy sauce. Full disclosure--I didn't have the time or the ability to make fish stock, but found some frozen stock in the Whole Foods seafood section. Am I going to hell? Probably. But it was pretty tasty and looked house-made if not home-made, so we're just going to go with it for now. The sauce went on to warm while I waited for the guests to arrive. The featured guests tonight were the aforementioned Friend S, and an in-town friend, Friend T, who brought her lovely husband... uh, J.
Anyway, while waiting, I patted the scallops dry and set them out. Aren't they gorgeous?
When the guests arrived, we shared the remaining champagne and some pate, crackers and chips. Then it was time to cook the scallops. I melted the clarified butter, and set the fluffy monsters out in a ring. Three minutes on each side led to a lovely golden color on their tops and bottoms.
Once the scallops were finished and keeping warm on a plate, it was time to finish up the sauce. I deglazed the scallop pan with the champagne, reduced it, then added the cream sauce and a knob of butter. The result was a fragrant fat-infused cream sauce... seriously you could gain weight just by smelling the stuff. It came off the eat, and some lemon juice and chives finished off the whole deal. I served the salad on top of toasts smeared with roquefort, and the scallops in a bowl covered in delicious sauce.
Well it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that this was another huge success. I mean, you can't dole out fatty scallops smothered in cream and butter and have unhappy guests, especially when you gave them the leftover champagne first. Everyone scraped their plates clean--Friend T even asked for (and received) a spoon to lap up the rest of the sauce in her bowl. (The only reason she didn't slurp it up was because we didn't have any straws!) I encourage plate licking, but I suppose dignity got in the way tonight. Maybe next time.
Husband J (my Husband J, not T's) decided that this was hands down the best meal I'd made from the Les Halles Cookbook so far, and he's had them all, so that's quite impressive. I was really pleased with how well the salad and the scallops went together, too, and glad that I'd decided to forego the liver vinaigrette which would have been too much.
Oh, and dessert ended up being a mix of sorbets and gelatos, since I didn't have the time or inclination to make dessert. But the lighter, cold dessert again was a good compliment to the meal, so it all worked out in the end.
Lessons learned: You really just can't go wrong with scallops. Bacon salad tastes just as good with regular vinaigrette, especially when the rest of the meal is a saturated fatfest. Whole Foods fish stock tastes pretty freaking good.
Next week: Happy day... I saw whole snappers at the whole foods. We're having whole roasted fish Basquaise!