Monday, January 11, 2010

Scallops With Lychees and Champagne (Who Knew?)

“Louise! I just made these scallops that were absolutely SPECTACULAR!” my dad said to me by way of greeting on the phone. “The sauce is to die for! It’s so easy but you can’t even believe how good it is. I’ve already made it three times this week, and I’m sending you the recipe because you HAVE to try this!”

After making this dish myself twice in less than 24 hours and devouring it enthusiastically, I might add, I would be remiss if I I didn't pass this recipe on to you. Tonight’s magical combination of Scallops with Lychees and Champagne Sauce (who knew?!) is courtesy of Ming Tsai by way of my dad who has been cooking up a storm these past few months. Dad was on sabbatical this fall, having a well-deserved break from teaching cello lessons and music history classes as well as conducting his university orchestra. While I know he’s been working on various music-related projects during his time off, I think he truly has relished this opportunity to hone his cooking skills!

My mom was always the cook in our family when I was growing up, and I loved being her little helper from an early age. But whenever Dad would make the occasional foray into the kitchen, he’d throw himself into it wholeheartedly, whipping up killer omelets or a fabulous seafood salad for us. I have this clear memory of him being very focused and precise in his prep work but then growing incredibly enthusiastic once the actual cooking was underway. It always reminded me of a musician practicing daily scales in order to build a good technical foundation so that the real music-making happens effortlessly. It’s the same thing in cooking, for once the ingredients are prepped and the building blocks are in place, then the real fun can begin.

Recent phone chats with my dad focus much less on Beethoven and Shostakovich than they used to. Now we’re much more likely to devote a good portion of our conversation to discussing the merits of All-Clad cookware and the importance of having really excellent knives. Instead of talking about what music we’re excited about or what new recordings we’ve discovered, he and I usually spend a disproportionate amount of time waxing enthusiastically about the new recipes we’ve each tried in our respective kitchens.

Dad has been working his way through his ever-growing cookbook collection in these past months, spoiling Mom with beautifully cooked dinners night after night. I think they’re going to be in for a big shock when they both begin their new semester of teaching soon, drastically reducing Dad’s free time for elaborate cooking! But in order to ease the transition back to school, it’s fortunate that he has a recipe like this beautiful scallop-and-lychee one in his repertoire. Not only is it simple and quick to prepare, it’s oh-so-very-satisfying and even downright luxurious. What’s not to love about that?

One Year Ago: Chorizo and Clam Stew

Adapted very slightly from a recipe by Ming Tsai from "Simply Ming: East Meets West"

I’ve made just a few tweaks to the original recipe, amping up the curry powder in the coating for the scallops and adjusting the quantities to make a little more sauce than the original recipe yields. I love the way the curry heat contrasts beautifully with the sweetness of the lychees and the creaminess of the scallops. As for the champagne, this is not the occasion to use your Dom Perignon or whatever vintage bottle you’ve been cellaring for years. Choose a relatively inexpensive but nice sparkling wine that tastes good to you, one that you’ll enjoy drinking but won’t mind giving up a cup of it for the sauce.

For the scallops:
¼ cup lychee syrup, from canned lychees
½ cup rice flour or cornstarch (you want a very light-textured coating for the scallops)
1 teaspoon hot curry powder (you can use mild, if you prefer)
12 large scallops, rinsed and patted dry
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
canola oil or other neutral vegetable oil, for cooking

For the sauce:
3 shallots, minced
1/3 cup diced canned lychees
1 cup Champagne or other sparkling wine
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons freshly snipped chives, cut into ½-inch lengths

Pour the lychee syrup in a small dish. Combine the rice flour and curry powder on a plate.

Season the scallops on both sides with salt and pepper. Dip them into the lychee syrup, then into the curried flour mixture to coat both sides of each scallop.

Lightly coat a large sauté pan with canola oil and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, sear the scallops until browned on both sides, about 1-½ minutes per side. (You will probably have to cook the scallops in two batches, so add more oil to the pan for the second batch as needed.) Transfer the cooked scallops to a plate while you prepare the sauce.

In the same sauté pan, add the minced shallots and lychees. Season with salt and pepper, and cook for 2 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Stir in the champagne and continue to cook until the liquid has reduced by 75%. Whisk in the butter and taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as necessary.

Divide the scallops between four warmed plates. Spoon the lychee-champagne sauce over the scallops and garnish with the chives. Serves 4.

If I may just state the obvious, the recipe only calls for a cup of champagne, leaving you free to enjoy the rest of the bottle. Cheers!


hannah said...

i am enthusiastically looking forward to TRYING the challenge is finding good scallops in iowa, i am ever hopeful...thank you darling! xxxxxxx

louise said...

Thank you! I'm sure you'll be able to find decent scallops SOMEWHERE in the state of Iowa. I'll make these for you the next time you come to New York. Or the next time you're hitting a Trader Joe's in Chicago or Minneapolis, fill a freezer cooler with a few packages of the TJ's frozen Japanese scallops. My dad has been stocking up on those frozen scallops so he can make this dish on short notice any time!

Caroline said...


Why should I be surprised that you're a genius in the kitchen too? You have such good ideas! I'm going to try this and other delicious sounding concoctions.

Thank you for posting!

David's woman, Laila/Ellie's Ma

louise said...

Thanks Caroline, I'm glad you found me here! I hope you have fun with these recipes, and I'm always eager to hear how they turn out in my friends' kitchens as well.

Anonymous said...

I think the recipe sounds wonderful but I don't like curry. What can I use instead?