Note: This dish is technically very easy, and actually not very time-consuming. It also allows you to do most of the preparation beforehand and then finish the dish with about 10 minutes of cooking right before serving. However, it does require getting the proper order of operations, which is why the instructions are so lengthy. Don't be dissuaded; it's a great dish, and easy to do.
- 30 whole bay scallops scallops (fresh, not frozen--frozen will have absorbed too much water to caramelize).
- 1/2 pound sliced morels, lightly sautéed in butter; or freshly shaved white truffles
- 1-2 T butter
- 2 cups packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1/2 cup packed chervil leaves (if you can't find chervil, you may omit it)
- 1/2 cup packed tarragon leaves
- ~ 1/2 cup water
- 2 sticks butter cut into 1/2" cubes
- Kosher salt to taste
Selecting morels: morels should be firm (surprisingly so, given how delicate they look) and clean-looking. They should not be soggy, falling apart and bug-ridden. It is true that there will be some small bugs, and even (yes, it's true) the occasional maggot. However, this should be the exception not the norm. I mention this because the first time I attempted to prepare morels, I bought them late in the season, and they were crawling with maggots. I remembered reading that there was the occasional maggot and thought it was OK at first. It's not. I ended up throwing away $60 worth of mushrooms. If preparing the morels makes you want to retch, they're probably bad. Trust your gut :)
Cut each morel in half lengthwise. Place them in a bowl of salted water and soak for several hours (at least three). Try to keep the cut side up. Soaking them will get all of the bugs to vacate their shelters and ensure you don't get any more protein than your looking for. About an hour before cooking place the morels on a paper towel in a colander and let them dry out. Slice up the morels and let them continue to dry out on the paper towel and colander.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Throw in all of the herbs at once, and blanch them for 1-2 minutes. Drain them in a strainer, and run cold water over them to stop the cooking (you may also submerge them in an ice bath). Puree all of the herbs in a blender, adding water as necessary to facilitate the blending. Set aside.
Remove tough muscle from the side of the scallops. Pat all dry with a paper towel. Place onto some kind of mesh to allow more liquid to drain. Return scallops to refrigerator.
Finishing the morels (you may do this before or while the scallops are cooking)
Saute the morels in 1 T butter for around 5 minutes. Add salt to taste.
Finishing the "soup" (you may do this while the scallops are cooking, too)
Melt the butter over medium heat. You don't want it to get to hot, so once it's melted, remove from the heat. Whisk in the herb puree. Taste and add salt as needed. You will likely need quite a bit of salt before the flavor starts to come out.
Immediately before you plan to serve the dish cook scallops. Turn the heat to high. Place a small amount of butter (1/2 to 1 Tbsp) into a non-stick frying pan. Melt the butter to bubbling. Add the scallops, ensuring that each has the large round face down, in contact with the pan. Cook on first side until each scallop has noticeable caramelization. If your scallops retained too much water, you will not get the caramelization; in this case cook until mostly cooked through. Once caramelization is achieved, turn the scallops over and caramelize the other side.
Finishing the Dish
Ladle the parsley-tarragon soup into wide, shallow soup bowls. This is a generous amount of sauce for 6 people, and would be fine for 8, too. Place 5 scallops into each bowl in a star formation. Diving the sauteed morels evenly amongst the bowls and place in the center of the star.