Maple Cayenne Scallops with Granny Smith Home Fries
The Foodie Joust is a monthly competition that has been called the Iron Chef of the foodie blogs. It's designed for fun, not stress -- there are three ingredients to be used, but there is a month to come up with ideas and enjoy what everyone comes up with. There are also three categories of prizes: Best Overall, Best Picture, and Most Original. It's one of the kindest and friendliest competitions out there, so it is a great place for cooks of all levels and any specialty to join in!
There are prizes of aprons and coffee mugs, but my favorite prize is the duty of the winner for Best Overall: they get to choose the three ingredients for the next Joust.
This month's Jousting ingredients are: Apples Maple Syrup Cayenne Pepper
I came up with seared scallops marinaded and glazed with maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, and cayenne pepper. I wasn't sure if cider vinegar counted as apples, so I made a side-dish of savory "home fries" made with granny smith apples, along with bacon and videlia onions.
I've lived in the South slightly more than the North. The idea of home fries -- potatoes diced into small cubes, pan-fried with onions and bacon -- hits a comfort-food note with me. When I was thinking of a savory-yet-complimentary side dish to a maple-glazed scallop, I thought in French for some reason (I only speak food French, and badly at that). Potato: pomme de terre, or roughly translated: "ground apples". So, what if I substituted a hearty apple for potatoes in home fries. Would it be too sweet? What if I kept plenty of salt and black pepper? What if I used sweet onions, and what influence would the bacon have? Bacon does go well with apples... well, pretty much anything, really.
It was one of those experimental things, and I pretty much grasped immediately that it would be really good (being a little hungry helps conceptualize the flavors), but Christey's raised eyebrows when I explained the idea did make me think that it might be a weird concept.
The scallops didn't need as much explaining. French and Asian cooking use the concept of vinegar and some sort of sugar -- a gastrique in France, sweet-and-sour in many Asian regions. Cider vinegar was strong enough to compete with the assertive maple, and as a light seared glaze, it wouldn't overpower a nice, meaty scallop.
I started with the glaze/marinade for the scallops. 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, and a 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, with maybe a teaspoon of kosher salt.
I peeled a granny smith apple, cored and diced it into roughly 1/2 inch cubes. I tossed them in cold water and squirted the juice from half a lemon in to keep the apples from browning.
While the apples were held off in the water, I cut two strips of bacon into thin strips, and cooked them over medium heat until they were mostly cooked. I drained them on paper towels until they would be finished later.
I diced half a videlia (or sweet) onion and sweated over medium heat in some olive oil, then cooked until they were about to brown. I added the bacon at that point, and heated to sizzling again.
When the bacon was starting to cook some more, I took out the granny smith cubes and dried them on paper towels. I added them to the onions and bacon, and turned the heat up another notch or two. I wanted the apples to cook through, and then just start to brown a bit on the faces. Once they had cooked through, this took a bit of attention, flipping the home fries a lot to get even browning.
When they were just starting to brown, I added about 1/2 tsp kosher salt, and several turns of my pepper mill for a good coating of ground black pepper. Once browned, I took the pan off the heat and kept it off to the side while I seared the scallops -- which would only take about 5 minutes.
I drained the marinade into a small pan and heated it just until simmering in a saucepan for a sauce.
A larger pan was heated on medium high, then when a drop of water skittered on the surface, I added a couple tablespoons of olive oil. I let the remaining marinade drip off the scallops, then placed them in the hot pan. Maybe 2 minutes of searing, then I flipped them and seared the other side. The final scallop was milky white up both sides toward the center, with a tiny strip of translucent white -- the carryover heat cooked that as I took the pan off the heat and assembled the plate.
Plating was a couple scallops, drizzled in the simmering marinade/glaze, with apple home fries as a side, and a couple nice apple slices as garnish.
Recipe: Scallops 1/4 cup maple syrup 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar 1/2 tsp cayenne 1 tsp kosher salt
Granny Smith "Home Fries" 1 Granny Smith Apple 1/2 Videlia (sweet) onion 2 slices bacon kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
Deconstrution: This meal/appetizer was a great example of technique over recipe. Very simple ingredients, no laundry list of this and that. Every ingredient spoke for itself in the right proportion. There was very little cayenne at the start of a scallop, and by the time the second scallop was eaten, there was a pleasant warmth on the tongue. There was a great maple...aroma, or maybe bouquet...more than taste, and the vinegar helped cut the sweetness, and, like a true gastrique, the sweetness helped cut the acid in the vinegar. Originally, I intended to use a couple sprigs of thyme, and I just plain forgot as I was cooking. I could see how the thyme would have helped the gastrique and given a greeny smokiness, but at the same time, since I forgot it, it was a pleasure to experience each flavor as it popped.
The "home fries" were everything I had hoped. Christey's raised eyebrows continued to rise as she ate them, and she made me promise I would mention how she doubted the concept, but then ate every bite. All I can say is, bacon always helps.