Seared sea scallops with pickled winter vegetables and citrus
I recently encountered crosnes (sometimes called Chinese artichokes) at the winter farmers market in downtown Portland. Groundwork Organics grows this tuberous winter vegetable, which appears foreign and exotic within the familiar array of vegetables that grow our northern climate. Their creamy, pearl-like color and stacked, circular composition make each small tuber strikingly similar to a tiny string of beads. But that didn't stop me from popping one in my mouth and beginning to imagine possible pairings for this delightfully crunchy vegetable. Then, I headed straight to Money Bowl, my favorite cart for Sichuan food at the market, and asked the chef how the vegetable is prepared in her native China. "Pickled, blanched quickly and eaten like a crudité, or stir fried," she replied.
On that particular semi-sunny winter day, the acidic quality of something pickled appealed. And the crunchy texture and nutty flavor of the crosnes combined with sweet sea scallops lingered in my mind as the perfect union. Kumquats grown in hoop houses in the southern Willamette Valley were placed strategically next to the crosnes in the stall at Groundworks, causing me to consider adding citrus to the pickled vegetables. They ended up striking just the right note.
I use this pickling liquid with all kinds of vegetables; it's especially good with fennel, red onions and carrots.
Make 4 servings
2 cups rice wine vinegar
3/4 cup mirin, or add 1/2 cup sugar to the vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
2 cups (4 ounces) crosnes (You could substitute cauliflower cut into smaller pieces.)
1 medium-size carrot, peeled and thinly sliced in rounds
1 medium-size shallot, thinly sliced
1 small knob (about 1-1/2 inches) fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
16 kumquats, ends trimmed and thinly sliced
To make the pickling liquid, add the vinegar, mirin (or sugar). salt, chile flakes and fennel seeds to a non-reactive pan and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow it to simmer 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and taste the liquid; it should be nicely balanced between sweet, sour and salty. Adjust the ingredients if necessary to suit your preference. Bring the liquid back to a simmer.
Meanwhile, wash the crosnes well (you might need to scrub them lightly) and cut them in half lengthwise. Place the crosnes, carrot slices, shallot and ginger in the pickling liquid and simmer for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, add the kumquats and remove the pan from the heat. Cool at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
12 large sea scallops, or four 3-ounce pieces firm white fish such as halibut or cod
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel.
Heat the oil in heavy-bottomed stainless steel or cast iron pan. Just before the oil begins to smoke, season the scallops with salt.
Carefully place the scallops in the pan and begin to brown them on one side, turning down the heat to medium high. The scallops will begin to brown slowly. Try not to move them as you want to cook them on one side only, which will allow you to achieve a golden brown color with nice texture without overcooking them on the inside. Remove the scallops from the pan to a plate lined with a paper towel.
To serve, use a slotted spoon to place some of the room temperature pickled vegetables on four plates. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and some freshly ground black pepper. Arrange three scallops on top of the vegetables on each plate and serve immediately.