Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tasty Bites: Seared scallops with a tarragon infused béchamel sauce (Course 2 of our New Years Eve Decadence)

I heart scallops. If they're on a menu and I'm feeling rich, I'm buying them. As such, these babies were a total no-brainer for our New Years feast. Since I also heart French cooking and adore Julia Child's cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking for its precision and reliability, experimenting with a new sauce was an indulgence for both my inner wannabe chef and my palette. Why the sauce a l'estragon (a tarragon infused béchamel)? Simple---I had never made it and there was leftover tarragon from the Emeril Lagasse moules mariniere recipe (see the previous post for course 1 of our New Years Eve Decadence). Done. Who knew tarragon was such a fun herb? Kind of like the more gentle cousin of anise. Note to self: must try more herbs. . .maybe a "fresh herb of the week" series is in order?

Anyhow, Julia Child's sauce recipes are absolutely fantastic and always leave me shamelessly licking the spoon and saucepan. This one is no exception. Served under a few seared scallops and next to the tartness of a grapefruit, arugula and fennel salad, the sauce a l'estragon has just the right amount of savory to compliment the scallops without competing with their tender and simple goodness. Best of all, don't let the swanky French names intimidate you---you do not need a fancy chef hat or a genetic predisposition for culinary talent to whip up a fabulous sauce. You do, however, need to be able to read and follow instructions. A little patience is helpful. Oh, and a love of butter is absolutely necessary.


For the salad:
  • arugula
  • basic vinaigrette (homemade with whichever vinegar you favor is best)
  • grapefruit
  • 1 fennel bulb
For scallops and tarragon infused bechamel sauce :
  • enough scallops for 3/person
  • wooden spoon
  • 2 Tb butter
  • 3 Tb flour
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • wire whip
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 7 Tb minced fresh tarragon
  • 2 Tb miced shallots
  • 1 Tb softened butter
  • 2 Tb EVOO
  1. Mix up a basic vinaigrette (3 parts EVOO to 1 part vinegar).  I usually use balsamic vinegar but used apple vinegar for fun this time---champagne vinegar sure would be festive! Leave the vinaigrette in the bottom of a bowl.  Top with arugula, slices of grapefruit (remove inner peel if possible), and finely chopped fennel.  Set aside to toss right before plating.
  2. Put your sauce hat on and get ready to have your world rocked. . .
  3. The first stage of the sauce is making a basic béchamel (white sauce).  This sauce can be infused with all sorts of goodness (cheese, tomato, curry, etc.) but for the sauce a l'estragon we will will be infusing it with white wine and fresh tarragon.  The making of the actual sauce requires some focused babysitting for about 10 minutes so I strongly recommend not multi-tasking, especially since you will need to do steps 4 and 5 simultaneously.
  4. While working on step 5 (below), bring the 2 cups milk and 1/4 tsp salt to a boil.
  5. Melt 2 Tb butter in saucepan over low heat.  Blend in the 3 Tb flour, stirring slowly with the wooden spoon until it is combined and frothy but not coloring.  You just made a white roux! (This part always makes me feel fancy.)
  6. Remove the roux from the heat and after a few seconds, add the hot milk, beating vigorously with the wire whip until it is combined. Be sure to gather all bits of roux from the edges and bottom of the saucepan.
  7. Set saucepan over high heat and continue stirring until the sauce comes to the boil.  Continue stirring as the sauce boils for one minute.
  8. Remove from heat and and salt and pepper to taste.  Pat yourself on the back as you taste your homemade béchamel .  So yummy, right?  You made that.  Pat pat.
  9. Get another small saucepan going with the white wine, shallots, and 4 Tb of the tarragon. Boil gently for 10 minutes until the combination is reduced to 3 tablespoons. (This will smell torturously delicious.)
  10. Strain the herb essence you just created into the béchamel, stirring and allowing to simmer for 2-3 minutes.
  11. Remove from heat and just before plating, stir in the remaining 3 Tb tarragon and the softened butter.
  12. Warm a skillet over high heat and add the 2 Tb EVOO.  Salt and pepper your scallops on both sides. Once the oil starts to smoke, sear your scallops (making sure they don't touch) for 1-1 1/2 minutes on each side.  Overcooking a scallop is a crime to the wallet and palette so watch them like you would your jewels.  They are done when they are golden brown on the sear and slightly translucent on the inside.  
  13. Toss your arugula salad and plate the yumminess however your heart desires (I served the scallops on a generous dollop of the sauce with the salad on the side). Enjoy!
Extra Tipsy: 
Depending on how many people you are feeding, you may not use all of the sauce. Do not throw it away!  Send it to me. . .just kidding. Save what's left and mix it in with some pasta and fresh veggies tomorrow for two days and two ways of sauce a l'estragon!

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