NOTE: Anthony Bourdain took his own life Friday. This column was written before that news was released. We mourn the loss to his family and to the millions of people he touched, including many of us in this small province. The positive influence of the time he spent here will not soon be forgotten.
Why are we so surprised every time the world wakes up and sees that we can cook and that our food is good? Our culinary reputation has certainly enjoyed a boost over the past few weeks — maybe this time we'll believe it ourselves.
First Mr. Anthony Bourdain graces us with his globally recognizable swagger then one of our very own is declared the country’s Top Chef.
Congratulations Ross Larkin for your cool smarts under pressure. Soak up the spotlight and thanks for sharing it with us ordinary cooks — it’s easy to forget that we know a thing or two down here about serving up a bit of grub.
Scallops Seared in Brown Butter
One day, when I’m alone in the kitchen and feeling brave, I’ll try Top Chef’s scallops and sea urchin in dashi. Today, however, I have people to please so I’m falling back on a surefire winner.
After investing in one of the ocean’s most expensive and delicate bounties, overcooking would be a tragedy. For the tenderest bite the middle of a scallop should still be the tiniest bit quivery, not completely white.
Don’t forget to remove that chewy little morsel attached to the side of each scallop. It’s not wasteful when you can’t get your teeth through it.
These can be even more dressed up if you take a moment to score the tops. With a sharp knife, make four or five slices in each direction to form a crosshatch pattern. The depth of the cuts should be about the same as the size of the little squares. The flesh flares out a little in the heat and holds onto a bit more of the delicious brown butter.
Unsalted butter has less moisture and works a bit better but salted is fine, too—just don’t forget to reduce the finishing salt.
Serve these just as they are or on a bed of grilled sweet corn for an interesting contrast of taste and texture.
As a first course or party picks allow three scallops per person. The really small ones aren’t the best option for this cooking method.
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
12 medium to large fresh scallops
½ tsp. coarse finishing or sea salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Heat the butter in a frying pan until it bubbles up and sizzles. When all the moisture evaporates the noise will stop and the butter will start to brown. Just as it hits the colour of caramel add the vegetable oil. Allow it to get shimmering hot.
Dry scallops with a paper towel and lay them carefully in the brown fat, crosshatched side down if you’ve decided to do that. Cook 1 minute and check—they should be golden and firm. Turn them once and let the other sides brown. Remove from the pan and serve at once.
Almost the chef’s downfall on TV, this became a triumph the second time cooked. How it was accomplished in an hour I’ll never know, but I’m not a chef and I don’t mind a leisurely afternoon puttering around the kitchen when the result is this delicious and luxurious.
The trick to this one, besides patience, is depth of flavour from using good stock. Whenever I cook fish I throw bones, heads and trimmings in a freezer bag so I can make a homemade stock from time to time. It is resoundingly superior to bottled clam juice, which is about the only substitute, but if it’s just not going to happen for you use half clam juice and half low-sodium chicken broth. If you are a saver of scraps don’t mix salmon, mackerel or herring—the oily fish—with white fish and shellfish because the flavour is overpowering. If I don’t have anything left in the freezer I’ll put shrimp on my menu and salvage the shells especially for this dish.
By far the best ingredient, however, is lobster shell. Discard the eyes, the stomach sac behind the eyes and the antennae. Everything else goes in the pot.
If you have a female the roe is a bonus, and always use the green tomalley. In this recipe it all gets mixed into the silky soup and not even the pickiest eater will complain.
Bisque by its nature is rich and creamy so you don’t need large servings. I would allow less than a cup per person and just a couple of ounces of meat, making this an elegant but somewhat thrifty choice for your next fancy get together. This amount makes 8 servings at least.
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter (not margarine)
1 large onion, diced
3 or 4 celery stalks, chopped (with any leaves attached)
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 tbsp. tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. each cayenne pepper and ground coriander
½ tsp. white pepper
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 handful fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, (stalks only—reserve the leaves for later)
2 fresh or 4 dry bay leaves
8 cups fish stock (or clam juice and chicken broth)
1 cup dry white wine
2 cooked lobsters, meat removed and reserved
1/2 cup whipping cream, optional
1/4 cup good quality dry sherry
1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven and add butter. Fry onion, celery and carrot until soft and starting to brown. Stir in tomato paste and cook until it is dark in colour and starting to stick to the pot. Add garlic and continue to fry just until fragrant. Stir in paprika, cayenne, coriander and white pepper. Add thyme, parsley stalks, bay leaves, fish stock and wine.
Remove the best lobster meat from the shells and set it aside. Break up the shells as much as you can — I’m not above using a hammer.
Stir lobster shells and scraps from breaking them down to the soup pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 1 hour. Remove lobster shells, herb stalks and bay leaves and puree the remainder. Pass through a sieve and discard any solids but not before you’ve pushed and squeezed every gram of goodness out of them.
Return liquid to pot and stir in whipping cream, sherry and nutmeg. Heat through but do not boil. Coarsely chop reserved lobster meat and parsley leaves and stir into pot just before serving. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary. Serve with lemon wedges on the side.
Cynthia Stone is an information manager and writer in St. John’s. E-mail questions to her at email@example.com.