TL;DR We look to nature for inspiration for this next dish.
Final Recipe: A seaside inspired seared scallops in a pork-y dashi broth served with squid ink risotto.
Only through frequent traveling have I finally become comfortable eating by myself at restaurants. It can still be a unsettling experience. You think people are judging you. You have to entertain yourself without a TV to watch or a person to make conversation with. But like solo-traveling, it’s a very unique experience. If you take the first step of putting your phone away for the meal, eating alone allows you to truly experience the restaurant (atmosphere, staff) and focus on the food you are eating. It also really gets you thinking.
I was in La Jolla a few months back and heard about George’s at the Cove. It’s an upscale restaurant that has a fantastic view. Food was good, not fully worth the price, but you’re really paying for the view. During my solo-meal, I had a real conversation with my waitress, learned about the restaurant, and satiated my full curiosity of the menu. During the time I was waiting, I stared outside. I stared a lot. Specifically I started at this:
I don’t usually take pictures as I don’t do much sharing on social media, or even with others. I’ll snap to remember a moment, a place, a book, etc. The above picture was what I snapped that evening, because I wanted to remember that moment. I then decided I wanted to recreate that moment: the view, the smell, the taste. Below is a picture of my journal that evening:
Working name: “Cliffside”.
The process for this post is a bit different as the “concept” itself was predetermined being an outside source of inspiration. But we will see how even with a beginning concept, our recipe will evolve during the research and development process and we eventually end up with a better defined Rough Draft.
I started by identifying the main components of this dish and understanding the other influences to draw from. The starting concept has two components: the cliffs and the ocean. I jumped into the research stage and below you can further follow what I learned during this process.
Seafood was my first stop as I knew that to recreate the taste of “Cliffside” I would be using a sea-based meat and wanted to learn as much as possible about it.
When I think of nature and simplicity, I think Japanese Cuisine and so Japanese cuisine was my next point of research. As chicken stock is to French Cuisine, Dashi (a seaweed and fish stock) is to Japanese Cuisine making it an especially important cuisine to understand before attempting to create the ocean element of this dish.
Armed with that knowledge, it has come time to starting putting it together. I broke into my development process starting with the different natural elements I wanted to create. I actually struggled on putting some of this together so I outlined the majority of the thoughts and ideas I came to:
On most dishes the meat is the focal point. On this dish I am trying to create a scene where the parts play together.
I think it would make mosts sense to use a sea based animal to create the base of the cliff. It is either that or I take a more Italian approach and use pasta.
Ceviche would fit well with the sea liquid but would be tougher to make look like a cliff due to the small sizes.
Cooked fish could be easily made into a cliff like structure but I’d hate it to sit in the water after cooked as it would get soggy.
Abalone is something that I have always wanted to try.
I keep thinking about a seafood that would work well in this scenario and I am leaning towards the mollusc family. Normal fish wouldn’t stand well in a thin liquid when cooked, and a raw fish is usually best in small bites due to chewiness and thus wouldn’t make a good cliff. Crustacean meat is stringy. Molluscs like oysters and clams are too small to build a cliff but two options, scallops and abalone, would work well. That’s gonna be our cliff.
Abalone is a tough mollusk and is usually cooked for a long time and then sliced. Scallops can be cooked briefly, seared to develop a crust, but still be soft in the center. Scallops a light flavored and have a sweetness to them which can be nice to create a contrast in the “ground” or toppings of the cliff.
This is going to start off as a Dashi stock. That is the best way to get the flavors of the sea–seaweed and bonito. It is important to keep in mind that we want the color to be blue/green or turquoise. A crisp clear ocean. Therefore it will be important to use traditional dashi vs. powdered as well can control the color better.
The next step is to decide what flavor to layer onto the stock for our sea.
I start to look into good complements of scallops and take a look at The Flavor Bible. Right before I get into looking, I think of how you often see the bacon + scallop combination which gives me a great idea. Layer a porky flavor into the sea. In most recipes, the bacon is wrapped around the scallop, the downside is that the flavor of bacon is really strong and that usually over takes the flavor of the scallop. In our version were gonna still “wrap” the scallop in bacon, but it will be milder and in a liquid form. That along with scallions should do the trick. We’re still sticking close to Japanese ingredients here.
Vinegar for clarity.
I wanted to go to the level of detail of creating foam on the cliffs. This a mainly a technical exercise but a few things need to be decided. Foam on cliffs is usually minimal but in dishes when foam is used it usually takes prominent size. We will just accent the scallops with out foam so the foam will have to have a strong flavor for it to come through in a small amount.
What would be also really interesting is to create direction on the plate with the foam. I might be thinking too much into this, but my strategically placing the foam we could display which direction the waves are flowing.
I need my meat to look like a cliff but also taste earthy but fresh. Initial list of possibilities: Squid Ink, Bottargo, Seaweed, Mushrooms, Bonito Flakes, Sansho Pepper, Pepper, All Spice, Salt.
I’m choosing Sansho to stick with a Japanese ingredient, freshness, and the green. Pepper will get our earthiness. Salt for contrast. Bottargo (instead of the usual japanese bonito) for an amazing color on the top as well as flavor.
There isn’t a very complicated preparation to this, instead the is a lot of flavor building and plating. So I decided to also take a first stab at that final plate.
Dashi stock. Start with Konbu. Remove and layer in pork flavor. For this we can really use anything, I think by using something with collagen we can also get some volume along with the flavor, for example ham hocks/trotters (clean well before using and do a paraboil to remove scum). Remove then layer in some mushrooms. Remove and then layer in the scallion greens for flavor and color. Tip: go light with the darker foods as we want to try and retain the color as much as possible–maybe don’t even use the mushrooms. A bit of vinegar and salt.
Butter sear scallops on one side. Salt/pepper. Plate seared side up. Lightly torch the outside that will face the customer for both extra texture and presentation.
Top with Sansho and bottarga. Seaweed optional.
Foam to create direction.
Open ended questions: do we need to add acidity? how can we make the water more water-colored?
Once upon a time, I thought scallops were sliced up circular pieces of one long, elephant trunk-like clam.
…I was really, really wrong. Turns out, what I was picturing is the Geoduck Clam.
Whereas scallops, look like this.
Seafood-related ignorance aside, I really love the scallop. It has the “meatiest” mouth feel of all seafood, and manages to remain light and buttery without ever being heavy. I completely agree with West Coast in that the bacon taste completely overwhelms the scallop in the traditional bacon wrapped scallop, and I look forward to creating “Cliffside” for a different take.
I hit up my favorite Japanese grocery store and made it rain Benjamins. Just kidding, maybe just two Jacksons and a Hamilton. I needed to restock my Japanese pantry staples, and I always like to keep a good amount of seaweed on hand.
Seriously, I love the Japanese grocery. Between the ready-to-eat onigiri, wall of ramen, and the fancy Japanese skincare products (there are 3 steps to this mascara!), I can easily spend hours in there. Maybe we can go on a Japanese grocery tour as a future post?
Anyways I’m getting sidetracked, here is our ingredients breakdown.
Cliff: I thought that 3 scallops and some broth might be a bit lean to serve as a main course. An appetizer, maybe, but a girls gotta eat! Still in the spirit of having a dark cliff, I added a squid-ink risotto to serve as part of the “Cliff” of “Cliffside” to add some heartiness into the dish.
2 Cups Arborio Rice
5 Shiitake Mushrooms
6 Cups Chicken Broth (fish broth could be even better)
1 Tbsp Butter
2 Tbsp Squid Ink
2 Small Shallots
1 Clove Garlic
1 Tsp Black Pepper
8 Fresh Scallops
1 Tbsp Butter
Pinch of Sea Salt
Pinch of Sansho Pepper
Pinch of Ground Black Pepper
Ocean: To create the ocean, first we need to create Dashi, and then infuse it with bacon. Sidenote: I loved writing “infuse it with bacon,” I think more things in life should be infused with bacon.
2 Cups Dried Bonito Flakes
1 Piece Dried Kombu, 8 inches
5 Cups Water
3 Pieces Bacon (regular sized strips)
1 Tsp Dried Hijiki Seaweed
1 Drop Squid Ink
1 Pinch Chopped Scallions, to garnish
I started with making the Dashi, which is the base for traditional Japanese cuisine. First, I cut off an 8 inch long piece of dried Kombu (make sure to not wipe off the white powder, it contains a lot of umami flavor!), cut it a bit with scissors, and placed it into a pot with 5 cups of water.
You can choose to add less water for a more intense flavor, or more water for a weaker taste, personal preferences.
After bringing the pot to a quick boil, I simmer the Kombu for 10 minutes, and fished it out with a pair of tongs. Look how much it grew!
Then, I added 2 cups of dried bonito flakes into the still hot pot, and simmer it for another 10 minutes along with a strip of bacon. It felt a little like cooking shabu shabu.
I tasted the broth, and the bacon flavor was barely detectable. Nonsense. I added 2 more pieces of bacon and simmered for another 10 minutes. Here is the untold secret to recipe development, trial and error!
After deeming the broth sufficiently baconed (can this be a verb now?), I strained the broth through a cheesecloth. The color looks good for dashi, but not nearly oceany-enough for our purposes.
To create a more ocean-colored broth, I added a teaspoon of dried hijiki seaweed, and left it to soak for 20 minutes.
The hijiki turned the broth greenish, but it still wasn’t dark enough for me.
So I took the slightest dab of squid ink and dissolved it into the broth. A dab about the size of the head of a chopstick.
That might have overdone it, but that looks like the color of the ocean, at least here on the East Coast!
First, in a large stock pot, I heated 6 cups of chicken stock and kept it on a low simmer. I also dissolved 2 tablespoons of squid ink into the liquid. Becareful, it could get messy.
Then, I roughly chopped 2 small shallots and a clove of garlic, and sweated it in a pan with 1 tablespoon of butter.
After the shallot turned translucent, I added the 2 cups of risotto rice, and stirred it around to toast and coat with oil.
Then begins the laborious process of adding hot stock into the rice one ladle at a time, letting the rice slowly absorb the broth, cook, and expand. Sit tight kids, this takes a while. This is the perfect opportunity to bribe your roommate/husband/child with dinner in exchange for stirring the risotto pot for an hour.
Since I’ve outsourced my risotto labor, now I turn my focus to the scallops.
First I rinse them, then dab them dry. Then I toss the scallops with salt, sansho pepper, and regular black pepper.
Since I’ve never had sansho pepper before, I tasted it by itself. Sansho peopper tasts similar to the Sichuan peppercorn, with a stronger hint of citrus. It numbs my tongue a bit, which might take away from the delicate flavor of the scallops. I think a better substitution here would be ground white pepper.
Next, I heat a tablespoon of butter on a skillet. Make sure you are not using a non-stick pan, or else you won’t get that delicious golden char! I sear my scallops on one side only for 3 and a half minutes on a medium fire. It’s not an exact science, so check on your scallops to see how much time they need.
To create the feel of the ocean and for additional texture, I used scissors to cut small pieces out of the boiled kombu we used for Dashi.
Then, I used tongs to place the scallops, sear side up, onto the plate.
The risotto by now has taken on the texture of a pot of (delicious) tar. Each grain of rice is gleaming with the slick shine of re-condensed squid ink. To get the risotto to form some sort of structure, I took a 1/2 cup measuring cup and packed it with the risotto, shaping it into a disc.
I used a spoon to add the bacon-infused Dashi, along with some hijiki seaweed.
I cut some tiny morsels of scallions for garnish, and added a tiny more dash of sansho pepper onto the scallops.
Ta-daaaa! Mmm…I feel like I’m at the cliffside already. (Final picture not shown)
East Coast – Overall, the dish captured the natural sense that I got out of West Coast’s photo – the clean salty ocean smell, the green/blue/gray color scheme, and the use of ocean-related ingredients all played well together here.
- Never give up! Trial and error is the name of the recipe development game. If one piece of bacon doesn’t work, add more.
- Some ingredients may work thematically, but not tactically. The spicy and tingly sansho pepper here was a bit much for the delicate scallops.
- I like the scent of the broth and its resemblance to the ocean, but kind of don’t like how the rest of the dish is sitting on it. Perhaps this is a matter of plating, one of those dishes with a special area for sauces might work better.
- We’re getting better on our photography
- Final plating came pretty close; I think we would need to continue to revise the “ocean” element maybe adding some volume and color
- Addition of the rice makes sense but I felt like it overtook the balance of the dish
- Agreed with special plating, that’s an area that we can leave on the burner for now