|Steamed Scallops in Walnut Sauce served with Country Bread
Very few ingredients and the straightforward steaming technique exemplify the beautiful simplicity of this dish. Pepin’s steamed scallops on spinach with walnut sauce can be found in Essential Pepin where he showcased more than 700 of his all-time favorite recipes over many decades of cooking and teaching. The book is like an encyclopedia full of morsels of fantastic recipes, from the simplest to the most elaborate. For now, I’ll focus on the simple ones.
On the ingredient list, there are less than five (not counting salt and pepper) in this recipe. They are: scallops, spinach and walnuts, as reflected in the title, plus olive oil and lemon. It doesn’t get more streamlined than that — as far as ingredients go.
Scallop and walnut are two of mystery ingredients. I would need to find at least one more ingredient to satisfy the IHCC mystery box challenge for this week. I hope it is not considered cheating by serving country bread, freshly baked out of my oven, with this dish. There is yeast, naturally, in bread. I used natural levain, built from a sourdough starter, and not the commercial yeast, for the country bread. Met the three-ingredient challenge! See how other IHCC participants reveal their challenges, visit here.
For this dish to work, scallops, the star ingredient, have to be super fresh and handled delicately. I bought only four firm pieces of sea scallop, respecting my pocket book and making sure they were of the best quality. Steaming is something I have a great deal of successes in my kitchen. Can’t take all the credit for that; I have to admit. I may have taken an easy way out since I get plenty of help from a trusty combi-steam oven.
The steam oven setting for scallops is 195°F/ 90°C for five minutes. Push a few buttons; the oven does its magic. The machine is an engineering marvel. Utterly magical. It has never disappointed me. True to be told, I had my share of bad and inconsistent results from searing scallops on the stovetop. So when I uncovered Pepin’s recipe of steamed scallops, I knew it’d get me closer to the dream dish.
The steamed scallop came out of the oven with a clean, unadulterated and sweet flavor. Not quite like a raw scallop sashimi. But it was the closest to that priced fresh taste from a cooked scallop than any I’ve eaten for a long time. I’m convinced steaming is the way to go, probably the best way to extract and enjoy the delicate sweetness and liveliness of fresh scallops. Thank you, Jacques Pepin.
The rest of the ingredients may seem like sideshows after the scallops. Now I think about it: may be I should have dipped the scallops in wasabi and light soy sauce, like eating sushi. Next time!
In addition to spinach, I used a blend of tender baby kale, chard and spinach I had on hand. Cooked them over high heat in a large saucepan with some olive oil for about 2 minutes or until wilted. Pepin arranged the scallops on top of the spinach and steamed them for another 3 minutes. Instead, I put the cooked spinach mix on the serving plates and prepared the scallops separately in the combi-steam oven.
The walnuts were placed in boiling water to soften. Pepin explained that boiling walnuts makes them taste like fresh walnuts. Green walnuts are more delicate and fruity than the mature nuts we commonly find in the markets. They work in the sense that you are getting pure delicate flavor, nothing to overpower the scallops. In my view, a crunchy element is missing in this dish. What about roasting the walnuts for a few minutes until crispy after boiling them? A twice-cooked walnuts, if you will. Or add some croutons!
- 8 walnut halves, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
For the sauce: Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the walnuts. Bring the water back to a boil, and continue boiling for 30 seconds. Drain. Combine walnuts with the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and set aside. To serve, drizzle the sauce on the scallops.