Wine With . . . Seared Scallops, Leeks, and Bacon
by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas
Our friends, the culinary writer Joanna Pruess and her husband, restaurant critic Bob Lape, collaborated a few years ago on a book called Seduced by Bacon: Recipes and Lore About America’s Favorite Indulgence. Talk about fun research!
Among the delicious recipes they came up with, one of the most irresistible is a dish with scallops and leeks that turns out to have been the inspiration for the entire book. We like to serve it as an elegant first course, and it always gets raves from guests. We’ve also found that it makes for a terrific, easy-to-prepare main course—whether for the two of us or for a dinner party.
Most of the wines we’ve served with this dish when we’ve made it seem to have been agreeable matches. Yet the preparation includes such a wide variety of flavors that we decided to put this casual observation to the test by tasting a variety of different wines side by side with the scallops. We found that our initial impressions had been right all along, but that different wines pair well for quite different reasons. (See below for specifics.) Your choice may well depend on the mood of the occasion, the season, financial considerations, or just plain personal preference.
SEARED SCALLOPS ON LEEKS WITH BACON AND REDUCED BALSAMIC VINEGAR
Serves 4 as a first course, 2 as a main dish.
¾ cup balsamic vinegar
2 slices bacon
3-4 large leeks, washed, white and light green parts thinly sliced
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves + 4 tiny sprigs for garnish
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 large diver scallops, tendon removed, blotted on paper towels
Pour balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and reduce to 3 tablespoons. Set aside.
Fry bacon in a heavy skillet until crisp, remove, blot on paper towels and chop into small pieces. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of fat in pan and heat over medium-high heat. Add leeks and sauté until tender and beginning to color, 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Add cream and thyme leaves, and reduce over high heat until cream coats leeks, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm.
Heat butter in a small, heavy skillet over high heat. Add scallops and cook until a rich brown on 1 side, about 3 minutes; then turn and cook second side for 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Divide leeks among 2 or 4 small plates. Put 1 or 2 scallops on leeks; drizzle with reduced balsamic vinegar, add crumbled bacon, and garnish each plate with a thyme sprig. Serve at once.
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In addition to being delicious, this is a quite complex dish. The salt and smoke in the bacon, the sweet balsamic reduction, the faintly briny taste from the scallops, and the somewhat herbal note from the leeks make for quite a mélange. When trying various wines with it, we found that different ones echoed or complemented different aspects of the dish. Consequently, there was no single common theme uniting the wines that we thought worked best.
We tried twelve different wines. Those with an overt sweetness (both the Riesling and the Pinot Noir that we are recommending) performed especially well, but then so too did those with a crisp brightness verging on austerity (the Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and unoaked Chardonnay). The divergent styles, though, accentuated quite disparate components and qualities in the dish. Choosing one over the other depends, in the final analysis, on what you want that particular day.