Eric Akis: Scallops make for luxury mashup

Eric Akis

Mashed potatoes go great with roast beef, chicken and meatloaf. But this comforting dish also pairs well with seafood, especially plump scallops.

Today, I have combined the two to create a rich and wonderful dinner for two.

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I started the process by making a sumptuous sauce for the scallops. Mushrooms and shallots were sautéed until tender, then white wine and tarragon were added.

The wine was reduced, altering its acidic composition. That ensured it would not curdle when the sauce’s next ingredient, whipping cream, was added.

When the cream comes to a simmer, the sauce is removed from the heat, covered and set aside until needed for the scallops.

The next step was to make the mashed potatoes, flavoured with garlic and tangy buttermilk, which complemented the taste of the potatoes and the scallops.

To cook the potatoes, first cut them into roughly even-sized pieces, cover with a generous amount of cold water, simmer until quite tender, then drain well.

Don’t cut the potatoes into different sizes or the smaller pieces will overcook and start to fall apart before the larger pieces are done, creating a cloudy mess in the pot.

Always thoroughly mash the potatoes when very hot and before mixing in other ingredients.

If you let them sit and/or try to mash them with other ingredients, especially cold dairy products, the potatoes will cool and become difficult to mash lump-free.

When they’re mashed, cover the potatoes and keep them warm in a 200 F oven until the scallops are ready.

I used large East Coast sea scallops, which you can buy at some grocery and seafood stores, fresh, frozen or thawed from frozen.

One pound will be about 10 to 20 scallops. Fresh scallops should look bright and firm and have a sweet, briny aroma, not a fishy one.

The 12 fresh scallops I used in my recipe, priced at $6.95 per 100 grams, cost just under $27 — not inexpensive, for sure, but as a once-in-a-while seafood treat, they seem worth it to me.

Whether you use fresh or thawed frozen scallops for the recipe, pat them dry with paper towel before cooking them, as excess moisture will cause them to steam rather than sear.

Scallops, even large ones, only take a few minutes to cook. When cooked, they’ll feel slightly firm, but still have a little give in the centre.

When overcooked, the scallops will feel very firm, be shrunken and become unappealingly chewy in texture.

When the scallops are cooked, lift them out of the skillet and set on a plate. The sauce is poured into the skillet and returned to a simmer.

The scallops are then returned to the skillet and warmed a short while, until they’re ready to serve with the mashed potatoes.

I like to accompany the saucy scallops and potatoes with a green vegetable, such as steamed or charred broccoli florets or broccolini.

Seared Scallops on Mashed Potatoes with Creamy Mushroom Sauce

Large scallops are seared, set in a rich sauce and served on a bed of lovely mashed potatoes.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: About 15 minutes

Makes: Two servings

1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp Tbsp butter (divided)

6 small to medium brown mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 Tbsp minced shallot

1/4 cup white wine

1/4 tsp dried, or 1 tsp chopped fresh, tarragon, or to taste (see Eric options)

2/3 cup whipping cream

10 to 12 large East Coast scallops, gently patted dry (about 320 to 380 grams)

• salt and white pepper, to taste

1 tsp olive oil

• mashed potatoes for two (see recipe below)

To make sauce, place 2 tsp of the butter in a small pot and set over medium to medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and shallots and cook until tender, about five minutes.

Add wine and tarragon and bring to a simmer. Reduce wine to about 1 Tbsp.

Add the whipping cream and bring to a simmer. Now remove this sauce from the heat, cover and set it aside for now.

Season scallops with salt and pepper. Place the remaining 1 Tbsp butter and oil in a large non-stick skillet set over medium-high. When butter is melted and no longer foaming, add the scallops to the skillet and cook one to two minutes on each side, or until just cooked through. Transfer scallops to a plate.

Pour the sauce into the skillet. Also pour any juices that are on the plate you set the scallops on into the skillet. Bring sauce to a simmer and cook until it lightly thickens. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Set scallops back in the skillet and heat them in the sauce two minutes.

To serve, mound mashed potatoes on each of two heated dinner plates. Divide and top potatoes with scallops and sauce, and enjoy.

Eric’s options: Instead of tarragon, try an equal amount of dried or fresh chopped dill in this recipe.

Buttermilk Garlic Mashed Potatoes for Two

Potatoes, simmered and flavoured with sliced garlic, mashed, then accented with melted butter and tangy buttermilk become a fine side dish to serve with creamy, saucy scallops.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 18 to 20 minutes

Makes: Two servings

1 1/4 lbs russet or yellow-flesh potatoes, peeled and quartered

• salt and white pepper, to taste

2 to 3 large garlic cloves, sliced

1 Tbsp butter, melted (see Note)

1/4 cup warm buttermilk

1 to 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Place potatoes and garlic in a small to medium pot and cover with a generous amount of cold water. Set pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat until water is just simmering (small bubbles should just break on the surface).

Simmer potatoes until very tender, about 18 to 20 minutes.

Drain potatoes well, then use a potato masher to thoroughly mash them.

Vigorously beat in the butter and buttermilk. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper; mix in the parsley, if using.

Note: You can melt the butter and warm the buttermilk together in a bowl in the microwave or in a small pot on the stove.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series.

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