Vitaly Paley is an immensely gifted chef with a cooking vision from many different viewpoints. His training comes from high-end kitchens of France and New York in the 1980’s and 1990’s, while he has helped pioneer the hyper-local focused Pacific Northwest regional cuisine since moving across the country to Portland, Oregon, opening his now iconic Paley’s Place.
Over dinner at the charming Victorian in the city’s Northwest Alphabet District, you certainly get a sense of the classical background with textbook veal osso bucco, a consummate egg yolk crowned steak tartare, and a unique new meets old classic French tripleheader combining the not familiar together escargots, bone marrow, and sauce Bordélaise. On the other 2013 hipper side, Paley makes a burger that every new gastropub aspires to replicate, and he gladly brings elements of the local forests and fields into a spring pickled green strawberry salad with crispy sweetbreads, and a confit of local spring vegetables joining the halibut a la plancha on a white bean purée accented by a piquillo pepper coulis.
That’s not haute cuisine. That’s Paley’s cuisine.
What about scallops with a blood orange gastrique? It’s not necessarily envelope-pushing or a clear-cut haute cuisine or Pacific Northwest standard. Instead, think of this as a unique adaptation of duck à l’orange, evolved in many directions.
Just because there aren’t Oregon blueberries or Copper River salmon doesn’t mean this isn’t a terrific Pacific Northwest recipe. Paley’s scallops and gastrique idea should be your go-to scallops recipe. During my December 2012 dinner at Paley’s Place, the Maine Diver scallops a la plancha in an elegant, yet light sage beurre blanc, with roasted spaghetti squash, cauliflower, and fingerling potatoes were one of the highlights outside of the lights out steak tartare and burger that could serve as flagship dishes for Portland in culinary competitions.
The scallops were perfectly caramelized to a bronze glazed surface, while buttery without being cold in the center. It’s the same texture sensation for an idyllic scallop to that of the delicate miso marinated black cod popping up on menus everywhere.
Post returning from Portland, I was scavenging for scallops recipes, and stumbled upon this version that just so happened to be from the Northwest’s scallops maestro.
A gastrique is a thicker sweet and sour sauce, blending the duo of caramelized sugar and vinegar in equal parts usually. Paley lowers the sherry vinegar total in this recipe, however, raising the acidity from the blood oranges (much less sweet than traditional oranges). Make sure that after the boiling with the chicken broth the sauce truly does coat the spoon, almost a syrupy consistency. This took me roughly 25 minutes of boiling on medium heat. Since scallops are terrible absorbers of sauce, the stickier the sauce, the better.
Meanwhile for the scallops, caramelizing is always a daunting task, but so rewarding when done well. Paley’s tips of rinsing the scallops, drying them, and having an extremely hot pan are essential. Barely a minute per side and the scallops achieve the perfect crisp exterior and seared center without being tartare.
The blood orange theme continues with a lovely blood orange salad mixed with fresh parsley, fresh mint, fresh tarragon, and a generous pour of olive oil. Don’t skimp on the mint, it’s particularly delightful when it lingers on the scallops. Brussels sprouts gets caramelized in the hot pan prior to the scallops. Make sure to keep them warm in the oven while waiting. I personally like marinading them in honey, soy sauce, and liquid smoke for an interesting dimension to bites not coated on the plate with the gastrique. Fresh crunchy-sweet baguette is a terrific supporting cast member for absorbing the sauce, or mashed parnisps or sweet potatoes to add a homey touch.
Ultimately as with all scallops recipes, it comes down to caramelizing the scallops. It just takes practice. And more practice. With the deft touch of an experienced chef, a scorching hot skillet, a fresh, bright salad, and a seductive gastrique, you too can be a scallops master.