Let me mention a few recent milestones in my life. Our 19th wedding anniversary. The 1-year anniversary of my SCAD heart attack. My 100th post on this site. Our son surprising us by calling in and taking care of the dinner check when my husband and I were having a wonderful meal at Butter this past Friday to celebrate our over 20 years together. Each one of these milestones make me want to hire a skywriter and blaze words across the heavens like GRATITUDE, HUMILITY, JOY, WONDER, PRIDE, LOVE followed by quote I love about perseverance from Winston Churchill: IF YOU ARE GOING THROUGH HELL, KEEP GOING!
In lieu of skywriting, I’ll just state here that I’m grateful, humbled, happy, in awe and filled with love as a result of these life-markers and proud as hell of myself for being the kind of person who survives, perseveres, gets down, but then gets up again. And I’m so proud of my son, who has persevered on his own tough path to become a remarkable young man capable of such a loving, generous gesture.
Now, enough “schmaltz”—(literally: chicken fat in Yiddish also but a euphemism my mother often used for sticky sentimentality. “Too schmaltzy!” she’d yell at the screen when watching some saccharine romantic comedy or tv show, and I’m cut from the same cloth when it comes to cheesey romanticism.)—on to the scallops. The scallops I had at Butter. I had to force myself not to lick the plate when I was done. It was my favorite that evening, though the crab cakes, the lamb sausage pasta, the foie gras and sweetbreads they sent out “compliments of the chef,” (my husband told them, when he made the reservation, that I was a Chopped contestant, and that Butter’s executive chef Alex Guarnaschelli was one of my judges), the ginger-carraway glazed carrots and the hand-cut potato fries along with a stunning pot au creme with blueberries to end the meal were all delicious. But it was the scallops that sent me home knowing I had to figure out how to make these, because I was going to want them again. Very soon.
I focused on the corn, because even though the perfectly seasoned and seared scallops were, well, perfectly seasoned and seared, that part was no-brainer. Scallops, done well, take a little salt and pepper, a good heavy pan, screaming hot, some high-heat veg oil and about 4 minutes. The corn, in my opinion, the star of the dish, so incredibly layered with flavor, was going to take a little more thought and technique to pull off.
The first place I looked in my quest to duplicate this dish, was online in the restaurant’s menu. The dish was listed as “Dry Diver Sea Scallops, Roasted Corn Nage, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Sage”. A nage is a reinforced broth that is then reduced down to concentrate it’s flavor. I made mine by taking about 3 cups of homemade chicken stock (already rich in chicken, carrots, celery, onions, bay leaf, parsley, leeks) and reinforcing it with the corn cobs, mushroom stems and some fresh thyme from my weedy and out-of control herb garden.
After about 25 minutes of reducing, I was left with about a cup of rich, complex, sweet and savory corn broth. I strained it through a sieve and gave a few of the cobs to my dogs (outside with those!), who don’t care that they aren’t meat bones—they are just ecstatic to have something to chew on and growl at each other over. Next, the mushrooms.
You might notice right away that these are not chanterelles. I decided to use shitakes because the were a) available in my local market, while chanterelles were not and b) a lot less expensive than chanterelles, even if they had been available and c) I love them even more than chanterelles, which I find a bit over-rated and too subtle for my mushroom-loving palate. I knew shitakes would deliver a palate pleasing punch of umami.
I sauteed the mushrooms in butter, continually deglazing the pan with a little of the corn broth as I went along. Then added the raw corn and the rest of the broth and reduced the liquid further until it was almost completely gone, but still coated the corn and mushrooms in all its concentrated flavor fantastic-ness. Oh, and I then finished with a little butter, in case there wasn’t enough delicious-ness.
And it was so good. I cook for the blog during the day, to take advantage of the natural light that pours into my kitchen and the solitude I have with my husband at work and my daughter at school. Usually, whatever I cook, I’ll carefully wrap it up and save it for dinner when we can all enjoy it together. Not today. The call of the unmami was too strong. By the time I plated the dish, Lily was sitting at the kitchen table doing her homework. The light was fading, a hint of autumn already evident in the dipping sun’s angle in the sky. I snapped this last picture of the plate then sat down and attacked it. Even my daughter, who almost never eats seafood, asked for a bite and with the revelation that perfectly cooked scallops are and the complexity of the corn nage and mushrooms and sage (with a few fried sage leaves as an edible, incredible garnish) she went bite for bite with me until it was gone. It took about 3 minutes, while I told her all about the broth, and explained what umami was. Then she said, “Literally, I could lick that plate. I’m serious.”
Another milestone. I shared my passion for food, for cooking as a craft, as an expression of my creativity and love, with my daughter…and she savored it as much as I did.
- prep time: 20 minutes
- cook time: 45 minutes
- yield: Serves 2
Diver Scallops with Corn Nage, Shitake Mushrooms and Sage
adapted from a dish at Butter, Exeutive Chef, Alex Guarnaschelli
3-4 large Diver Scallops, cleaned per person
6 ears sweet corn, shucked and kernels removed (about 3 cups of kernels) Reserve corn cobs for broth.
3 cups of low-sodium, organic chicken stock
2 fresh thyme sprigs
12-15 large fresh Shitake mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced thinly (remove stems, wash any dirt off them and reserve for stock)
1 teaspoon thinly sliced fresh sage
3 T unsalted butter
2-3 T high heat vegetable oil (canola, grapeseed)
6-8 whole sage leaves for frying/garnish
finely ground sea salt, or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Remove and discard any exterior muscle from the scallops. Place scallops on a plate lined with paper towel. Take another paper towel and blot the tops of the scallops dry. Cover with dry paper towel and hold in the refrigerator until ready to cook.
Place stock in medium sauce pan over medium heat. Break the reserved corn cobs in two, if necessary, and add as many to the pan as will fit and still be submerged in the stock. Add thyme and mushroom stems. Bring to a boil then simmer briskly for 20-25 minutes or until the stock is reduced to 1/3 it’s volume. Strain liquid through a fine sieve and reserve.
Place large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 T of butter. When butter is melted add mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Saute mushrooms until softened and releasing moisture. The mushrooms may stick to the pan a bit, or the “glaze” on the bottom of the pan may begin to brown. If this happens, add a little of the corn broth to deglaze the pan and continue to saute the mushrooms until all the liquid evaporates. Add the raw corn, sliced sage and the rest of the broth, and stir to combine and coat the corn. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, stirring occassionally until the liquid is almost completely reduced. The mixture should remain moist, but there should not be a puddle of broth remaining. Remove from heat and add 1 T of butter and gently stir corn/mushroom mixture until butter is melted and incorporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and hold.
Place a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Remove the scallops from the fridge and season the top side liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper. When the pan is hot (about 3 minutes), add vegetable oil. When the oil is shimmering, place the scallops, seasoned side down, on to the hot pan. Depending on the size of the pan, and the number of scallops you are making, you may want to cook them in two batches. When searing, it is important not to crowd the pan, because too many scallops, too close together, will cause a build up of moisture that will result in the scallops “steaming” in their own juices instead of being able to make the dry contract with the hot pan and oil that is needed for caramelization. There should be a good inch to inch and a half between scallops. Once placed in the pan, do not move them or peak at the cooking surface for a good solid two minutes or until the sides of the scallop begin to show caramelization and the scallops easily release from the pan when you try to turn them (use a metal spatula, an offset spatual or a fish spatula to do this, so you can slide under the scallop without damaging it. It is not advisable to use tongs to turn them.) You can reduce heat at this point, season the surface of the scallop that is facing up, then flip them. Cook briefly on this side, around a minute, then remove the scallops, one by one, to a waiting dish. Add a little more oil to the pan, crank the heat up. When the oil is shimmering, then flash fry the remaining sage leaves (10 seconds or so), then remove them from the oil and place them on a piece of paper towel.
Divide the corn/mushroom mixture between two warm serving plates. Divide the scallops between each dish, placing them over the corn mixture. Garnish with the fried sage. Serve.