Grilled scallops with lemon-chervil gastrique
There is simply nothing in this world that can’t be fixed by listening to the theme of “The Benny Hill Show” sans video. Having run across it this week for the first time in eons, I giggled - chortled even - as the saxophone blurted out the ridiculous and inspirational melodies known to so many, reminding us of simpler times in a long gone age.
Without the nonsensical visual stop-motion of Benny et al running amok in the intro of the show, it is easy to imagine the silliest of scenes in one’s own mind as the song blurts through its short lifespan.
The man himself, Benny Hill that is, was a genius in his heyday. From his eponymous sketch comedy to “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” he entertained as few did in the business.
Sometimes it is the light and playful that brings us down to earth. When we realize that we have been taking ourselves a little too seriously, a small touch of humor, or something just a little afar from the norm, goes a long way.
But what is humor? It is many things to many people to be sure, but ultimately it comes down to looking at things in a different light; perhaps a bit skewed. What comes to mind is a very young Bob Newhart as the air traffic controller (I don’t think I was born yet but we had Bob Newhart LPs around our house in my youth), Spike Jones and “der Fuhrer’s Face” and Tim Conway as the “Old Sheriff”. Yes, I know I’m dating myself. Deal with it.
The fun comedians have in playing with everyday situations and making them a touch different is similar in a way to what we chefs attempt to do with our food. Most of the time our food is just like everyone else’s food. We do our best to make it different, exciting, vibrant et al but in reality we are not truly reinventing the wheel until we start deconstructing the classics or introduce new ingredients to the table.
In class recently the students made yam jelly straight out of our textbook and the only unique ingredient was Agar-agar, a hydrocolloid used since the 17th century in Japan. Despite its culinary antiquity it is fairly new to the American menu, and its ability to gel affords the chef the opportunity to play around a bit.
During class I made an incredibly simple grilled scallop dish and served it on top of some of the yam jam disks, drizzling the dish with a light, sweet and tart lemon-chervil gastrique. A gastrique is a caramel to which vinegar is added (in its most basic sense). It comes to us from the French and there are a great many things that you can do with it. Want to cut butter from your diet? Use a gastrique, which has a mountain of flavor but no fat.
As I plated my little snack, stacking the scallops on some yam jam cutouts, I was pleased at how easy it is for anyone to incorporate this into their cooking (with a little help from their online specialty food supplier, of course).
I took the opportunity to look up, and as I watched the students clean the kitchen for the first of many times this semester, my mind put envisioned them all running around in stop-motion while the “Benny Hill” theme played in my head.
Grilled Scallops,Lemon-Chervil Gastrique
24 ea. large, dry scallops
olive oil, as needed
kosher salt and pepper, as needed
12 ea. Rosemary stalks
1 c. lemon-chervil gastrique (recipe follows)
chervil leaves, as garnish
Heat a grill or cast iron pan (latter if searing instead of grilling)
Dry scallops on a paper towel
Strip the rosemary stalks so that only 1-inch of the plume on the top remains. This will be your skewer. Reserve rosemary stripped for another purpose
Skewer two scallops per rosemary stalk and place on a handy plate
Oil and season the scallops
Grill or sear until the scallops are a little undercooked. Once a scallop is overcooked it is reminiscent of a pencil eraser. But, you know what you like so cook them as you see fit
Remove and keep warm, making sure not to allow them to dry out or cool
Serve on polenta, yam jelly or a base that would complement the flavor of the scallops and drizzle with some of the lemon-chervil gastrique
1/2 c. Granulated sugar
1 tsp. Corn syrup
1/4 c. Lemon juice, with zest
1/2 c. Champagne vinegar
chervil leaves, as needed
Heat the sugar and corn syrup in a pan until the sugar melts. The corn syrup should keep the sugar from crystallizing
Cook the sugar until it starts to turn golden and then slowly add the lemon juice and vinegar
The caramel will probably harden but will melt on the heat. Just give it time
Reduce until it thickens and then remove from heat
Let the sauce cool a touch and then add the chervil as needed