Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Scallop/Bacon Nuptuals

* If you are looking for a brief account of course #1 at the Valentines Day Food Night... look elsewhere. I have edited, re-edited, paired down, and deleted all I can. This is what's left. Maybe I'll post the "Directors Cut" of this post in the future, for those of you that just can't get enough of my ramblings.

Studies show, if you are reading this there is roughly an 81% chance you know who the bearded fellow pictured here is. That, of course, is Kevin Gillespie, contestant on the recently completed Season 6 of the wildly successful Bravo TV series "Top Chef". Kevin is your typical MIT scholarship-turner-downer-to-instead-attend-culinary-school. So, he clearly is genius material, and I do mean that literally. Furthering his case for Culinary Jedi status was the "Escargot Quickfire Challenge".

In a Quickfire Challenge, contestants have a brief period of time (in this case it was 45 minutes) to create a foodgasm-inducing dish for a celebrity chef (in this case it was uber-chef Daniel Boulud) The contestants were instructed to "Make a winning dish, using snails as the main protein". So what does Kevin do? He makes BACON JAM. I repeat; Bacon. Jam. He makes Jam... with Bacon in it. And of course he still has time to russle up some snails and other stuff in under 45 minutes. I can barely boil water on my stove in 45 minutes, let alone make bacon jam and snails. So the next time you are trying to dig that Smuckers* garbage that is only 43% fruit and 57% partially hydrogenated xanthan gum fructose red dye #40 out of that sticky-ickey glass jar, know that if you have bacon... and stock (obviously)... you could be spooning some baconey goodness onto your english muffin instead of that ridiculous smuckers.

* See what word you are left with when you take the "m" out of "Smuckers"? Yeah. I'm just sayin'.

But enough preamble... let's dive into Food Night's first course...

bacon jam, stock reduction, citrus, maldon, cilantro, chile sauce

Can you turn on your oven and push "start" on your blender? Then you can make bacon jam. Look, it's just hanging out in the oven, practically cooking itself.... all you need to do is apply heat and stir.

Since I had it in my head that I wanted to recreate Kevin's bacon jam, and scallops with bacon are a frequently matched pair*, I thought I'd try to raise the bar a little on the usual "bacon wrapped scallop".

* You'll often see scallops wrapped in bacon skewered up and pre-packaged at your grocery store. Only problem is... it is near impossible to cook both the bacon and the scallop properly simultaneously. And frequently the grocery store will sell you inferior wet packed scallops** this way. Do yourself a favor; if you want to join some bacon and scallop in culinary matrimony, make this bacon jam and go to Coastal for your scallops (and for ALL your seafood needs for that matter). Food Night Truth #1; make your own stock. Food Night Truth #2; buy your seafood from a trusted source, that gets fresh product daily.

** Scallops that are without any additives are called "dry packed" while scallops that are treated with sodium tripolyphosphate (STP) are called "wet packed". STP causes the scallops to look "nice" and white, and to absorb moisture prior to the freezing process. More moisture means they weigh more, and thereby cost you more (only you are paying for water, not scallop). And the excess moisture in these wet scallops makes them literally IMPOSSIBLE to sear properly. Moisture + High heat = Steam = No Caremlization = Rubbery Seafood = Bad times. So please. Get your seafood from a
reputible source. And no - Coastal Seafoods does not contribute monetarily to Food Night. Quite the opposite, actually.

ANYWAY. Let's get on with the method...

Bacon Jam a la Kevin Gillespie

  • 1 cup bacon (roughly 8oz), cut into 1'' pieces (get the good bacon from your butcher, please, not the prepackaged stuff packed with preservatives)
  • 1/4 cup yellow onions, julienned
  • 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 cups chicken stock*
  • 1 tablespoon honey

* If you don't have any stock because you are waiting for me to post on how to make it, use water instead. Do NOT use anything that came out of a can or a box. But you knew that already.

Render bacon in heavy saute pan (cast iron works great) in 500 degree oven until crisp. Pull from oven, remove bacon, and saute onion in remaining bacon fat until onions are golden. Return bacon to pan, and add brown sugar, stirring to coat.

Add 1 cup stock. Stir, scraping up all browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Return to oven. Reduce until thick, and nearly dry.

Repeat with another cup of stock.

Add remaining cup stock, season with salt/pepper, and pour contents into blender. Process to fairly smooth.

Pour contents back into pan, stir in honey. Put pan back into oven, stir frequently until deep brick red color is attained. Remove from oven, swirl in butter.

Now that you have your Bacon Jam, you are ready to join said Jam, and a dry packed scallop, in blissful culinary matrimony. That process starts by searing the bejezuz out of the scallop, as follows...

Use a pan* like the one pictured above and add a film of high heat oil (peanut, grapeseed) while pan is still cold. Get the pan rip-roarin' hot, and only when pan is screamin' hot, add the scallop(s). Sear for maybe a minute, some browning will happen, the pan will hiss, and smoke, and you will want to poke/prod the scallop but DO NOT under any circumstances poke and/or prod your scallop. Leave it alone, you don't want to mess up the matrimony do you?! Didn't think so. After a minute or so, add a knob of butter to the pan (and garlic clove(s) with skin on, and thyme sprigs if you want, but you MUST add butter). Tip the pan, and spoon the melted butter oil over the scallop for another 30ish seconds, things should be noticeably brown around the scallop by now, but you haven't poked or prodded the scallop, have you. Remove scallop(s) from pan and invert onto paper towel (so browned side is up) when browned to your liking. Bang. Done. The End. How easy was that?!**

* You'll notice this pan is NOT a non-stick pan. Non-stick pans have many uses. Searing a scallop is not one of them. Nor is searing anything, for that matter.

** Answer; very easy! Please, if you haven't already, try it. It's not rocket science. Buy a good scallop. Sear the living daylights out of it. And revel in your accomplishment.

Note you did not turn the scallop over in the pan either. And if you have a bunch of scallops to sear (like we did at Food Night), work in batches, don't overcrowd the pan, and change the oil/fat between batches. The keys here are the proper pan, and making sure it is hot as the sun. And yes; I exaggerate. Again. But only slightly. That pan has got to be mega-hot.

The finished dish actually involved TWO kinds of scallops. When buying the sea scallops, I snagged some Nantucket Bay scallops* since Coastal had them on hand, and proceeded to sear them as above (except in a fraction of the time since they are a fraction of the size of sea scallops). You can see the finished product below... the bacon jam on the left, the supremes of grapefruit and blood orange on the right...

* These little guys (and gals. At least, I assume there are guy and gal scallops right? If there is an ichthyologist reading this... maybe he can enlighten us... Dad.......) are the candy of the seafood world. They are so sweet I think you could sear them just by THINKING of putting them in a hot pan. They are a seasonal product, available only November t0 March or there abouts... so get them while you can. There are four on the plate below...

The dish probably didn't need the reduced stock (which was kind of hidden under the citrus). But what was key to melding the flavors was Maldon salt. It functions as garnish, texture and flavor enhancer. Great stuff the Maldon.

And there you have it. Scallops & Bacon. Food Night style.

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