Ah, the perfect reduction. Something every chef (or enthusiastic home cook) aspires to create. Alas, a proper reduction has once again eluded me in this, the latest installment of the Fearless Cook.
By the description alone, prepare to be impressed: pan-seared scallops with a pomegranate-lager (attempted) reduction, whipped butternut squash, and sautéed Swiss chard with garlic. All in all, an ambitious meal, and if I do say so myself, quite successful. It might’ve been perfect, if not for that darn reduction! Read on.
Here’s what I used:
½ lb. large sea scallops (it came out to 4 scallops)
1 T. olive oil
2 tsp. butter
salt and pepper
1 bunch red Swiss chard
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. olive oil
¼ c. chopped fresh basil
dash hot pepper flakes
salt and pepper
2 packages (about 1 ½ lbs.) pre-peeled and –chopped butternut squash chunks
1/2 c. whipping cream
2-3 T. butter
3-4 T. dark brown sugar
1 bottle Stella Artois lager
1 bottle Pom Wonderful Pomegranate-Blueberry juice (I all but about 1/3 cup of the juice)
1 T. minced ginger (from a jar)
2-3 T. apricot preserves
2-3 T. honey
Seeds/flesh of one fresh pomegranate
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the squash chunks in a baking dish and sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon, and a little salt. Place in the oven to bake for about 45 minutes to an hour, until they're soft enough to mash with a fork.
Pour a Stella Artois (or another lager) and the Pom juice into a medium saucepan and begin to bring to a boil. Add the ginger, honey, and apricot preserves (or you could use jam or regular jelly, any kind you like), and a little salt.
While the sauce is heating, halve a pomegranate and scoop the seeds out into the sauce. Halfway through doing this, I realized that the bitter white flesh was going in with my seeds, and we don't want that - so a better way to do it is break the pomegranate into small chunks, and remove the seeds onto a cutting board so you can see and pick out the white parts. Then just dump the seeds in. Bring to a boil and let it reduce as long as you can. The ideal "reduction" consistency would be something a little thinner than honey, but that takes FOREVER. My suace was thin, but still tasty. More on that later.
STEP 4: Mince garlic, chop basil, and chop chard into small pieces.
STEP 5: In a skillet heated to medium, sautee chard, garlic, and basil. Add some salt and pepper, and a dash of hot pepper flakes if you want. Cook until it's wilted, but not mushy, about 5-6 minutes.
When the squash is soft, take it out of the oven and scoop it into a mixing bowl. Begin to mash it with a fork, mixing in the brown sugar and cinnamon, which will have gotten liquidy and bubbly in the oven. Put in about 2 T. butter and about 1/4 cup of whipping cream. Continue to mash.
Always take hot things out of the oven while wearing a ridiculously cute oven mitt, like this one, from Anthropologie. (Thanks, Leigh! You're the best!)
Add the remaining 1/4 c. of cream, and using an electric mixer, beat the squash on low until they're smooth and creamy, like whipped potatoes.
In a skillet, heat olive oil and butter for scallops. The heat should be very high, since we want to sear them. There will be a little smoke. Which, in my kitchen, inevitably sets off the fire alarm every time. Place the scallops in the pan, and sprinkle salt and pepper on top. Sear for about 2 minutes, not moving the scallops in the pan. Flip them over with tongs and sear on the other side for the same amount of time.
Around this time, take the Pomegranate sauce off the heat and stir in a pat of butter, and then just let it sit there for a few minutes. It will get a little thicker from just sitting.
My scallops were really thick, so I had to finish them in the oven. It was already heated to 400 degrees, so I just stuck them in there for about 5-7 minutes, until they looked white and opaque all the way through.
Place the squash in a mound on a plate, put the chard on the side, and place the scallops sort of leaning on the squash. Put a little sauce on the scallops. Serve!
My only judge for this meal was Ross (you know, the live-in boyfriend who is arguably the luckiest guy EVER to have a cooking-obsessed girlfriend). I can always rely on him to be brutally honest. He was skeptical about the sauce, so I gave it to him on the side.
ROSS SAYS: Wow, the scallops are awesome. And the squash is incredible. The chard is really intense if you take a big bite of it. The sauce is pretty good.
Hey, not a bad review.
MY VOTE ON MY DISH:
I'm gonna go with 8 stars today. You know, I've got to say, the whipped squash was probably my single favorite dish I've ever made. I mean, it was really good! More evidence that if you add butter and cream to ANYTHING, it will be delicious. The chard was interesting - I might've been a bit liberal with the red pepper flakes (as I tend to be). The scallops were nice - I think I'm finally getting the hang of not overcooking shellfish (and meat in general). The sauce had good flavor, but the pomegranate seeds were a bit much - they were sort of too crunchy to complement the delicate scallops.
NOTES: Next time, I'd make the sauce the same way, only omit the actual pomegranate and just go for the juice. And as for the whole reduction thing - if you have hours and hours to slave in the kitchen, by all means, make a proper reduction. But if you're a normal person who likes to do other things, maybe just skip it. You can always cheat by starting with less liquid (which is probably what I should've done).
TOTAL TIME TO MAKE: About an hour and a half.
The cable was out this weekend (booo, Comcast!), so we were forced to pick from our limited collection of DVD's. We attempted to watch "the greatest movie of all time," Citizen Kane.
ROSS' VOTE ON CITIZEN KANE: This is so boring.
I have to agree. Give me The Devil Wears Prada any day.
Thanks for reading! See you next week with another fearless journey in the kitchen.