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Dec 21, 2010
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Wine With . . . Scallops with Mushrooms

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

In Bordeaux a couple of weeks ago, Chef Gael Benoiste-Pilloire served up a delicious dish of scallops and morel mushrooms that she had created especially to partner with red wines.  The scallops and mushrooms were sublime together, and the whole thing was indeed an exceedingly toothsome match with the Château de la Riviere Fronsac 2005 (you can find this delicious wine for about $22 in select retail shops in the US).  Foolishly, we didn’t think to ask Madame Benoiste-Pilloire for the recipe; but once home we played around with various combinations of ingredients to create a dish that was not quite the same as the one we enjoyed in France, but nonetheless was very tasty.  It too paired well with vin rouge, but it also turned out to be a fine match with vin blanc.

One of the reasons that people tend to think of pouring white wine with seafood is that many seafood dishes have a tendency to taste fishy or metallic when accompanied by reds.  According to Gael Benoiste-Pilloire, this one doesn’t have that problem because of the dense, earthy, and slightly smoky taste of the dried mushrooms.  In our tasting at home, that same pungent flavor is what wines of both color needed to be able to complement in order to provide a winning match.    

Chef Benoiste-Pilloire presented this dish beautifully in scallop shells ringed with puff pastry.  Ours was a somewhat homier presentation, spooned atop rice as a main course, but you certainly can serve it as an elegant appetizer at a dinner party.  The scallops may be poached in the cooking sauce for three or four minutes, or seared in a hot skillet for a couple of minutes on each side.    

Scallops with Mushrooms

Serves four as a first course, two as a main course.

1 ounce dried morels or other mushrooms

1 cup boiling water

1 tablespoon butter

1 shallot, finely minced

1 cup red wine

¾-1 pound sea scallops, preferably dry packed

salt and pepper

¼ cup heavy cream

Rinse the mushrooms quickly under cold water then place them in a bowl and cover with the boiling water.  Let sit for 30 minutes or so to soften (if they are still hard when you need to use them, zap them in the microwave for a minute or so; in any event, they will continue to soften as they simmer in the sauce.)

Heat the butter in a skillet and add the shallots.  Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 3-5 minutes. Meanwhile, place a coffee filter or paper towel in the bottom of a strainer.  Hold the strainer over a bowl to collect the mushroom-soaking liquid and carefully pour in the mushrooms.  Add the strained liquid and mushrooms to the shallots and pour in the wine.  If poaching the scallops add them now.  When they are done, remove to individual serving plates or bowls and cover lightly to keep them warm.  

Raise the heat under the liquid and cook until it is reduced by about half.  Whisk the cream into the sauce and boil for another two minutes or so, or until cooked down slightly.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and ladle the sauce over the scallops.

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While we’re recommending both reds and whites with these scallops in a creamy mushroom sauce, not all the wines we tried were successful partners.  This definitely is a very versatile seafood dish, but versatility does not mean that anything goes.  A powerfully tannic young red seemed coarse and brutish with it, while a delicately-flavored Sauvignon Blanc turned weak and watery.  Overt oak was a turn-off, as was blatant sweetness. By contrast, the wines that performed best were medium to full-bodied, but all fairly soft on the palate.  They had enough depth of flavor to mesh with the mushrooms, but not so much as to overwhelm the scallops.  We did not try any current vintage red Bordeaux with it, but our experience in France suggests that a slightly older red wine, one in which the tannins have had a few years to soften, can be a sumptuous match.          

 

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

 

 

 

Cono Sur, Colchagua Valley (Chile) Pinot Noir “Visión” 2009

(Imported by Vineyard Brands.)

 

  $15

 

Unlike a sappy, sweet (and considerably more expensive) California Pinot Noir we tried, this Chilean meshed beautifully with the dish.  Its earthy undertones echoed those from the mushrooms, while its core of bright cherry-scented fruit complemented the scallops.  

 

 

Farrier, Alexander Valley (California) Semillon/ Sauvignon Blanc “Andiron” 2008

 

 

  $20

 

 

An extremely impressive white blend, this wine offered autumn fruit flavors with a squeeze of citrus, and echoes of dried herbs in the finish.  The Semillon gave it a slightly viscous texture, something that enabled it to hold its own with the earthier elements in the dish, while the Sauvignon provided lift and verve.  We loved the wine, and really enjoyed the match.

 

 

Milbrandt Vineyards, Wahluke Slope (Washington) Merlot “The Estates” 2006

 

 

 

 $25

 

The most powerful red wine we’re recommending, this Merlot nonetheless seemed supple and inviting.  Its primary plum and dark cherry fruit flavors never overwhelmed the scallops, while at the same time its woodsy secondary flavors echoed the mushrooms in the sauce.

 

 

Perrin & Fils, Côtes du Rhône Villages (France) Rouge 2009

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

 

 

 

$16

 

Very, fruity, with a spicy, peppery finish, this young Côtes du Rhône seemed to enliven the dish.  That peppery note meshed well with the mushrooms, while its youthful vitality allowed the scallops to shine.

 

 

Sobon Estate, Amador County (California) Viognier 2009)

 

$15

 

Verging on off-dry, this bright, fruity wine proved successful because it complemented the inherent sweetness of the scallops so well.  And unlike a couple of other sweeter wines we tried, its crisp acidity kept it—and the pairing--in harmonious balance.