It will come as no surprise to you that I am late with this post. I mean, here it is Monday and it’s up and all that, but a quick check of the calendar belies my appearance of timeliness. See, it’s December. It’s December and this is a sauce recipe I owe you from last month. By my twisted, grasping-for-an-apology way of thinking, though, I ate it in November… so that totally counts, right?
This time around, we’re back to butter. There are a lot of butter based sauces, friends. A lot. This one, a beurre blanc, is a sauce made by reducing white wine with aromatics and sometimes a bit of lemon juice or vinegar, then whisking in an unbelievable amount of butter until the sauce turns into this rich, fluffy, thick, pale yellow ambrosia that belongs draped over every kind of substance imaginable.
Most of these sauces have dubious origin stories. Who wouldn’t want to be responsible for a well-loved buttery emulsion as appropriate to green beans as to seared fish? Cooking lore holds, however, that beurre blanc was created by accident – an unintentional simplification of béarnaise sauce that caught on and became beloved. Julia Child writes about it with the affection you might expect for a sauce that is, in her words, essentially “warm flavored butter.”
This is not Julia Child’s recipe. For ease, and for clarity, I went with Alton Brown’s. Mine is a slight adaptation – I halved the recipe, and I didn’t have the traditional shallot so I simply omitted it. Alton’s sauce uses lemon juice instead of white wine vinegar, which suggests it was meant to go with fish or seafood, and this decided my pairings for me. Lemon and butter sauce? Pass the scallops.
The silkiness of this sauce is perfect with shellfish. I can imagine dipping lush hunks of lobster into it. I can imagine a drizzle over soft-shell crab. I would be more than satisfied with a pool underneath a piece of halibut or cod. But scallops won the day for me. These perfect little cylinders, meaty and mild and almost sweet, develop a perfect crust when you pat them dry, season them aggressively, and sear them golden-brown on top and bottom. When you douse them with sauce, or float them in a puddle of it, the buttery smoothness somehow elevates them even more.
Because I was eating alone, I decided to play with plating a bit more than usual. As I see it, there are many ways to serve this dinner. I tried two options. First, and a bit more everyday, is a lovely heap of parsnip puree, a few scallops nestled atop it, and a small pile of steamed slender green beans alongside. A healthy drizzle of sauce, and you are ready to serve.
To amp up the presentation though, I grabbed a long rectangular dish. A few small bundles of green beans at intervals along the plate, small mounds of puree between them, and a tender scallop balanced on each spoonful of puree. Sauce can be applied to the top of each scallop, or poured around the edges of the plate just before serving.
Seared Scallops with Beurre Blanc and Parsnip Puree
For the parsnip puree:
3-4 large parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2-3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon chives, finely minced
For the beurre blanc:
4 ounces dry white wine
½ tablespoon lemon juice
½ tablespoon heavy cream
6 tablespoons cold, cubed butter
salt to taste
For the scallops:
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to sprinkle
12 large sea scallops, at room temperature
- Place the milk, garlic cloves, and parsnip chunks into a medium pot over medium heat. The moment the milk begins to bubble, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the parsnips are tender, 10-12 minutes.
- Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the butter until melted.
- Blend until very smooth using an immersion blender, a regular blender, or a food processor. Just before serving, fold in the chives.
- While the milk for the parsnips is heating up, make the beurre blanc.
- In a small pot, heat the wine and lemon juice to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the liquid to a bare tablespoon.
- Turn the heat down to medium and add the half tablespoon of cream, which will help stabilize the mixture.
- As soon as the liquid begins to bubble again, turn the heat down as low as it will go and begin adding the butter, one cube at a time, whisking until completely integrated into the liquid before adding the next cube.
- Continue adding the butter, whisking constantly, until it is all integrated. Turn off the heat and continue whisking until the sauce is fully emulsified and has become a fluffy, pale yellow puddle slightly thicker than melted ice cream.
- Stow the finished sauce in a thermos to stay warm while you cook the scallops.
- Unwrap your scallops and pat them dry with a paper towel. If they are wet, they will not sear well. Sprinkle both sides of each scallop with salt and pepper.
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. When it is shimmering in the pan, carefully add the scallops in a single layer, taking care not to let them touch one another. This seems fussy, but it is essential for getting a good sear.
- Once you have placed each scallop, don’t touch them for 2 full minutes. Then, carefully lift one and check the bottom – it should have a deep bronzed crust. If this is the case, flip over each scallop and cook another 2 minutes. If it isn’t deeply bronzed yet, let it cook another 30 seconds before checking again.
- When the scallops are cooked, they should feel slightly springy but resistant, like a firm mattress. Ideally, they should be the palest, palest pink in the center as in my photo above – they will continue to cook while you plate the rest of the meal.
- To serve, arrange as desired with scallops atop or beside the parsnip puree, and the beurre blanc sauce drizzle over the top or puddled on the side. Accompany the dish with steamed green beans or pencil asparagus, if desired.