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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

So Simple, So Delicious—Scallops to Begin Your Holiday Feast!

This is the time of year when I feel like I’m a doctor on call. The other day at a lesson with my computer guru, the teacher only wanted to talk about eggnog. During my Christmas cooking class last week, the Q and A lasted so long that the course ended late. At the supermarket, friends greet me with questions about the roasts and birds they’ve chosen for their holiday menus, and as December 25th approaches, there will be urgent emails and frantic phone calls. Everyone seems to want recipes (or should I say prescriptions!) for dishes that are extra special yet failsafe.   

Roasted Scallops with Tarragon Mustard Butter delivers on both fronts. The shellfish are arranged in individual scallop shells, dotted with a flavorful butter, and then roasted for about 12 minutes. A garnish of golden toasted bread crumbs adds color and texture. Both the butter and bread crumbs can be prepared a day ahead so there’s no last-minute stress. These succulent scallops floating in pools of melted herbed butter would make a showstopper beginning for a Christmas or a New Year’s Eve dinner.

If you have any questions about the recipe or about holiday entertaining, I’m “on call.” Just send me a note via “comments” on this post, and I’ll answer as soon as I can!

Roasted Scallops with Tarragon Mustard Butter

Tarragon Mustard Butter
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened   
3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon, plus 6 sprigs for garnish
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard  
2 teaspoons tarragon vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed (See cooking tip.)
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt and several grinds of black pepper

1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs (See cooking tip.)
18 large sea scallops about 1 ounce each, side muscles removed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 scallop shells, crème brûlée dishes, or 1/2 cup ramekins

For Tarragon Mustard Butter, in a medium bowl mix together the butter, chopped tarragon, mustard, vinegar, fennel seeds, salt and pepper until well blended. (The butter can be prepared 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature until softened before using.) Makes about 1/2 cup.

For scallops, heat oil in a medium, heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the bread crumbs, and cook, stirring constantly until they are crisp and golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from them from the skillet and place on a plate. (Bread crumbs can be prepared 3 hours ahead; cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature.)

To roast scallops, arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Use about 1/2 teaspoon of the Tarragon Mustard Butter to coat each of the scallop shells (or dishes). Pat scallops dry and place 3 scallops in the center of each shell. Dot the scallops in each shell generously in the crevices and on the tops with a generous tablespoon of the butter. Salt and pepper scallops. 

Roast until scallops are opaque and cooked through and butter has melted, 11 to 12 minutes. After 6 minutes, use a spoon to baste the scallops with some of the melted butter in their shells.

Remove and sprinkle each serving with some bread crumbs. Garnish with a tarragon sprig. Serves 6.
Cooking tip: To crush fennel seeds, place in a self-sealing bag and pound with a meat pounder or rolling pin, or use a mortar and pestle. Or, use a small spice grinder and ground the seeds coarsely.
Cooking tip: Use a good quality peasant loaf with crusts removed. Cut the bread into chunks and place them in a food processor. Pulse just until you have coarse crumbs.

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