Thursday, November 13, 2008

Brown butter... worth the calories.

The new season of Bravo's Top Chef started last night, but I am still thinking about seasons from days of yore. Actually, I am thinking about one particular season, with one particular chef, who makes one particular dish that has been on my mind for days. This is because last week I attended a cooking class with a 2007 Top Chef contestant Tre Wilcox. I can now vouch from experience, and not just reality TV hype, that Tre is a good cook. And while he didn't even come close to winning, I wonder if maybe he would have if he had served the judges what we ate, which is brown butter with pomegranates!

I am brand new to the world of brown butter, but after once taste I am willing to shout from the rooftops that brown butter is a beautiful food. The words alone sound beautiful when you say it out loud, with the b noise rolling off the tongue softly and gently. The butter itself sound beautiful during preparation as it cracks and pops in the pan on its way to golden brown. And it smells absolutely intoxicating as it cooks, sort of earthy and toasted, with slight caramel tease of a scent wafting into the nostrils. And brown butter, oh brown butter, the way it tastes is utterly divine. It coats the palette with the rich flavor that butter provides, but the browning gives it a depth, a complexity, and that little something else flavor that you can never pinpoint, but that makes every bite a dream.

The entire menu was delicious, but the pomegranate brown butter remains my favorite. Look at everything we ate:

Seared Sea Scallops and Bacon-Scallion Risotto with Pomegranate Brown Butter
served with Nottingham 2006 Pinot Noir, Central Coast

Grilled Swordfish with Celery 3 Ways and Bernaise Sauce
served with Quarry Road 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand

Lobster BLT with Fresh Avocado
served with Gordo 2007 Monastrell, Spain

Strawberry-Rhubarb Soup with Vanilla Foam and Sweet Basil

Tre spend quite a bit of time talking about his philosophy of food, and the importance of balancing flavor, texture, and the five tastes in cooking. He explained the the addition of both pomegranate juice and lemon juice in the brown butter is vital to keeping the flavor of the dish fresh. When the palate consumes a very rich food, like a butter sauce, fat molecules coat the tongue and can block the full flavor of later bites. By including an acid in the sauce, even in a very small quantity like a teaspoon of lemon, the recipe retains a palate cleansing quality. The small amount of acid will activate the saliva glands in your mouth with each bite, essentially "rinsing" your mouth of the lingering fat molecules as you swallow. When this happens, it primes your tongue to retaste the next bite with maximum taste bud exposure, allowing the flavors to taste as bold, delicious, and memorable as the first bite. This was the kind of insight into cooking that I crave, and eating his dish as he spoke, I was able to recognize the palate cleansing effect in the sauce with eat bite. I guarentee you, this dish NEVER diminished in flavor, and it remains a very memorable meal.

Seared Sea Scallops and Bacon-Scallion Risotto with Pomegranate Brown Butter
by Chef Tre Wilcox

4 oz. unsalted butter
1/4 cup yellow onion diced small
3/4 cup carnanoli rice
5 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp apple smoked bacon - small diced and cooked to a crisp
1/4 cup finely chopped scallion
salt and pepper to taste

Pomegranate Brown Butter:
4 oz. unsalted butter
3 tbsp pomegranate juice
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp pomegranate seeds
salt to taste

Sea Scallops:
6 each U-10 Diver Sea Scallops - muscles removed
Grapeseed oil
salt to taste

For the risotto: Melt butter slowly in heavy bottom stockpot, saute onions over medium high heat for three minutes. Add rice and toast for three to four minutes. Begin adding chicken stock a cup at a time, stirring constantly. After last cup of stock has cooked away, finish risotto with cream, cheese, butter, bacon, and scallion. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
* Note: Tre gave us the hint that it is ok to prep risotto ahead of time by cooking the rice to about 80% doneness, or 4 out of 5 cups stock, then pull and cool on a sheet pan. Right before serving finish with HOT stock, cream, butter, etc. and serve immediately. This way if you are serving for a dinner party (or if you work in a restaurant) you will be able to prep the hard part, and finish fresh for dinner in a few minutes while you sear scallops.

For the Pomegranate Brown Butter: Brown butter over medium high heat. When butter is browned strain through fine mesh strainer to remove milk solids. Cool slightly, then mix with remaining ingredients and season with salt. Keep warm until serving.

For the Scallops: Using hot pan, sear scallops in grape seed oil until cooked to desired temperature. Serve immediately.
* Note: Tre went into detail about his searing technique. He heats the pan and oil until very hot, then places the scallop into the pan to cook for about 1 minute, or until golden and crisp. This becomes his presentation side. He then removes the pan from heat, flips the scallop and lets it rest in the pan until it has reached a warm all the way through. By removing it from direct heat midway through the cooking, you will not overcook the scallop.

Plating: In the bottom of a small bowl, place a spoonful of the risotto. Spoon pomegranate brown butter around the risotto. Top with one seared sea scallop and garnish with a chervil sprig. Serve.

1 comment:

ohmypuddin said...

how much do you think his private dinners run? that's what i want for christmas next year.