My dear readers, I have quite the treat for you today. You may remember me waxing poetic about my sailing trip this summer, but what I may not have mentioned is how that trip included my friend JJ Proville – a fantastic chef hailing out of Brooklyn – and how his daily meals made our trip even more heavenly. Well, I’ve convinced him to begin a recipe series here on coco+kelley that I hope will inspire you to get adventurous and ambitious with some cooking this season! Enjoy!
Red and orange leaves scatter the ground in Union Square. It’s another fine Autumn morning in New York City and I’m poking around the stalls at the farmers’ market, looking for fun dish garnishes and beautiful greens. Amid a cluster of wooden crates I encounter old, familiar friends of the season: big bulbs of cauliflower, their size thoroughly intimidating the shoppers hurrying past them.
I’m not sure if these passers-by took the time to consider that cauliflower is in peak season. Or the versatility of cauliflower, superb as golden, pan-fried florets or maybe pickled yellow in turmeric. But what I did know, was that the weather predicted for later that day was chilly and wet, and that all I could think of was transforming the cauliflower into a rich, soul-restoring potage.
The first technique that makes this recipe special is the making of brown butter to add in the finishing stages of the soup. Brown butter happens when butter is gently heated until the milk solids start caramelizing. You’ll want to stir it frequently and yank the pot off the heat when the butter turns a nutty, light brown color. At that stage it has released the sweetest of tantalizing aroma and flavor. It’s a challenge to find a vegetable or protein that isn’t enhanced by a last minute glaze of brown butter, and finishing a soup this way is no exception.
The garnish of seared scallops is fancy, but worth the extra expense. In Brooklyn I opted for local Atlantic bay scallops, which are the small, sweet nuggets that can be sauteed by the handful for about two minutes over high heat and hot oil. In the Pacific Northwest and other places, the scallops will likely be of the larger variety. These should be seared, spread out in a pan, again in a shallow film of hot, smoking oil, preferably grapeseed, with its high heat and neutral flavor.
The last step is the act of straining the soup through a fine meshed sieve before plating and garnishing. Home cooks usually omit this step, but just take the five minutes to do it. You’ll obtain a silkier, far more pleasing and refined result. Remember that tip and apply it to future soups and sauces.
Continue reading for the full recipe and tips from JJ…
Cauliflower Soup with Scallops and Brown Butter
Time: 1-1.5 hours
For the Soup:
- 1/2 lb butter
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups diced white onion
- 1 cup sliced leek whites
- 2 shallots, sliced thinly
- 3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
- 2 stalks lemongrass
- 1/ bunch thyme
- 1 head cauliflower, stem removed, florets roughly chopped
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 quarts milk
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- Kosher salt
- White Pepper
For the Scallops:
- 30-40 bay scallops or 16 sea scallops
- Grapeseed Oil
To Assemble and Serve:
- Fennel fronds or microgreens
- Maldon Sea Salt
For the Brown Butter:
In a small pot, gently heat the butter until it stops bubbling and begins to turn from yellow to light brown. Remove from heat and strain through a fine meshed sieve into a small bowl. Reserve warm.
For the Soup:
In a large pot over medium heat, add olive oil. When oil is smoking, add onions, leeks, and garlic. Add a pinch of salt and stir frequently, avoiding any browning whatsoever. Peel the outer layer of the lemongrass. Using a heavy object, smash and bruise the lemongrass stalk until middle is split. Add the lemongrass and thyme. When vegetables are translucent, add the cauliflower. Cook, stirring frequently until the cauliflower begins to soften. Add heavy cream and milk to barely cover the cauliflower. Cook until cauliflower is very soft. Remove thyme and lemongrass. Transfer mixture to blender in batches and blend, adding milk to thin out to desired consistency. To each blending batch, add about 3 tablespoons of brown butter. Strain the blended soup through a fine meshed sieve into another pot. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Reserve warm.
For the Scallops:
In a pan, heat grapeseed oil to smoking point. Season scallops and add to the pan, making sure to develop a crust on the bottom of the scallop. Flip the scallop and continue cooking on the other side. Remove scallops from pan and drain on paper towels. Slice scallops as desired and reserve warm.
To Assemble and Serve:
Heat the soup to desired temperature. Place the soup in a bowl. Top with scallops, fennel fronds, and sprinkle with Maldon sea salt. Optionally add a drizzle of brown butter over the top.
Since butter is purely for seasoning in this recipe you really want to use the best butter you can find. The self-respecting cook with soul has two choices here: a lovingly-made, local farmstead butter, or the most expensive French AOC butter at the local upscale grocery. AOC stands for appellation d’origine contrôlée, merely an official French designation meaning that the product is certified to be made “the old way” and live up to it’s reputation. So that six dollar log of Normandy butter slowly melting in your tote bag is the real deal – made as those clog-wearing nuns always made it – from the milk of sedated French cows grazing among the foggy orchards on salty, seaside grass. You get the point – it’s all about the butter elevating the cauliflower.
Whether your scallops are small or large, make sure you’ve salt and peppered both sides before you sear, so they can develop a crust. They won’t need to cook much, so keep a close eye on them and flip with a small spoon or spatula when the first seared side is golden brown. Let the other side cook for about 15 seconds and transfer the scallops to a paper towel and leave them alone for a minute or two. Now you can trim them down to bite-size by slicing right though them. How long do they really need to cook? Consider that really fresh ones can be eaten completely raw, so really it is up to you. I say the less, the better.