Editor's note: This post was written by Marion Boyd, wife of Blue Kitchen blogger Terry Boyd.
A few weeks back, I had to go to New York City on business. It was two days of intense meetings that actually turned out to be productive and valuable. At the end of the first day, we all went to dinner together. Someone in the New York office chose the venue, in part because it was near the office: Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain. I thought great, another giant midtown eating hall. But you know? It was terrific. Everything was delicious. Everything was interesting. The room was handsome, and the waitstaff was knowledgeable and invested. I had a ball. It was a delightful evening with great colleagues, really a treat.
What did I have? Skate with smoked chile butter, served with a small tomato salad heaped on a circle of crispy hominy.
When I got home, I said to Terry, I had this terrific dinner at Bar Americain, and he said, well, we have the cookbook, and he held up "Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain Cookbook" and said, see? And when I went through it, I found the recipe, as well as recipes for lots of other things my colleagues had enjoyed.
Kudos to Bobby Flay for this cookbook, by the way, which does a great job making popular recipes from his restaurant easily accessible to home cooks – not only things you can make at home, but when you are done, the taste is right. Bravo.
The first time I made this dish, notably, we could not get skate anywhere, not for weeks. I decided to try it with scallops, which is the version here and which worked out very well. You could also try other very simple white-fleshed fish – halibut, hake, tilapia. Absolutely try it with skate filet when you can find it – the sweet lobster-like flavor really suits the smoky buttery sauce, just as scallops’ sweet density suits it.
The most fussy part of the original recipe was actually the crispy hominy circle. Instead of going in that direction, I made a simple corn bread. The recipe for that is below, but please use whatever quick cornbread recipe you like best. The most surprising part of this is the spicy, smoky sauce, which is a gorgeous orangey red, but from the peppers – there’s no tomato in it.
You are probably thinking that this dish looks like it is terribly busy and has too many working parts. It sort of does, because it is actually three recipes: the scallops, the tomato salad, and the cornbread. Hey – go for it. The individual parts are not hard to make, it comes together rapidly, it has an elegant look, it brings many great American elements – chipotles, cornbread, tomatoes – together into something new (great thinking, Bobby Flay!), and all together this is just plain delicious.
And when you make this, you may find yourselves returning to the working parts, such as the tomato salad recipe, again and again. It is so simple and so fresh and lively.
I recommend making the various parts of this meal in this order:
1. Make the chipotle butter (this bit can be done the day before).
2. An hour before you plan to serve, begin making the cornbread
3. Prep the scallops while the cornbread is baking
4. Take the cornbread out of the oven
5. Make the tomato salad
6. Cook the scallops
Scallops with smoky chipotle butter, tomato salad and cornbread
For the scallops and smoky chipotle butter
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon puréed canned chipotle peppers in adobo (See Kitchen Notes)
1 tablespoon honey
12 sea scallops (about 1 pound)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons chipotle butter
3/4 cup white wine [editor's note: may substitute cooking wine]
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
Make the chipotle butter: Let the butter come to room temperature. Blend it with the puréed chipotles and honey. You can try a wand or a mini blender, but I just did this by hand. Cover and store in the fridge until time to cook the scallops. You can do this a day ahead.
Cook the scallops: 1. Remove the tough “foot” on each scallop. Rinse scallops carefully under cold running water to remove any grit. Mix some flour, salt and pepper on a plate. Dredge the scallops in it, just coating the flat ends.
2. Heat the olive oil to medium high in a large nonstick sauté pan. Sauté the scallops for two minutes on each side. Transfer to a warm plate, tent with foil, and hold in a warm oven. (If you just made the cornbread, the oven will still be plenty warm.)
3. Add the white wine to the pan and boil until it is reduced by half. Turn off the heat and whisk in the chilled chipotle butter, a bit at a time, until it is emulsified and smooth. This happens pretty quickly. Add the lemon juice, capers and fresh chopped tarragon all at once and whisk a little more. Add salt and pepper if you wish – be cautious, the chipotles may be bringing enough salt.
Assemble the dish: Arrange 3 scallops on each plate, drizzle with the sauce, then add a square of warm cornbread and an artful arrangement of the tomato salad. Serve.
For the cornbread
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups yellow cornmeal
6 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Rub an 8 by 8-inch glass baking dish with the butter, then leave any unused butter in the pan and slide it into the hot oven for 10 minutes.
2. Whisk together all the dry ingredients. Add the olive oil and buttermilk and stir together. Take the pan out of the oven, scrape the batter into it, smooth out the top, and return to the oven. Bake for about 25 minutes – it is done when a tester or knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Set aside and cover with a clean dish cloth while you prepare the scallops. Serve it warm.
For the tomato salad
1-1/2 cups – 2 cups grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons thinly sliced shallot
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh finely chopped tarragon
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
Just before you start to cook the scallops, combine all these ingredients in a bowl. Let sit at room temperature to meld together while you cook the scallops.
Puréed chipotles. I puréed an entire can of chipotles in adobo in a food processor, saved out a tablespoon for this recipe, and froze the rest in batches for future use. The brand we like these days is Embasa. In some markets, you may be able to find already puréed chipotles.
Other fish options. Besides scallops or skate, this can also be made with halibut, tilapia, cod or other white–fleshed fish.
Can’t get fresh tarragon? Try fresh basil. Don’t use dried herbs for this recipe – it needs the brightness of fresh herbs.
What kind of honey? Something light is best – we used Chicago Rooftop Honey, a hyper-local brand. Basic clover honey would do fine.
What to do with the leftover cornbread? Stuff a chicken; nuke it and have it with jam and scrambled eggs for breakfast the next day; use stale cornbread crumbs to top a gratin, or toast them and scatter on top of a pasta dish.