Pan Seared Scallops with Pea Puree. Inspired by a Medieval Recipe
My recipe for Pan Seared Scallops with Pea Puree was inspired by a recipe from the 1495 manuscript Viander de Taillevent. The recipe, le grave d'escrevisses, called for cooking shellfish (crawfish, oysters, mussels, lobster, and scallops to name a few) and served it with a pea puree. The pea puree was thickened with ground almonds and seasoned with vinegar and spices.
In medieval times, fish was a general name used for anything that was not a land living animal. Fish included, obviously… fish, but it also included the not-so-obvious like shellfish, whales, porpoises, seabirds, certain geese, and beavers.
Seafood was the primary diet in coastal villages, but it also was an appropriate alternative to meat on fast days throughout the land. In the areas that were boardering the Atlantic or the Baltic Sea, herring and cod were major contributors to the economy. At the time, it was the most commonly traded commodity by the German Hanseatic League (confederation of merchant guilds). Kippers, which was made from splitting a herring that was either pickled or smoked, could be found as far away as Constantinople. The coastal villages had an abundance of shellfish, like mussels, crabs, cockles, and scallops, where the interior villages and towns consumed fresh water fish like trout, pike, perch, and carp. The wealthy, no matter where they hung their hat, consumed fish like turbot, John-dory, skate and sole, while the lower classes ate the lesser quality pike, and perch.
I created this recipe using items that would have been available during the time (though... mascarpone is a bit of a stretch, but cream based options were available). While you are serving this simple, easy and delicious dish, you can share your knowledge of this recipe and ingredients with your guests. Won't you sound so smart. Enjoy.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
2 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 cup sweet peas
2 tablespoons grated cheese, we used pecorino
½ cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons mascarpone
Salt and pepper, to taste
6-8 large scallops, I like U10 or any large “dry” scallops. Dry packed means that the scallops are not artificially enlarged with water (or worse… chemicals). If you are spending the money on fresh seafood, spend it wisely.
Unsalted butter and olive oil for searing
Cook the Puree
In a saucepan, heat the butter on medium heat, until melted.
Add the garlic, mint and stir. This will be deliciously aromatic.
Once the garlic softens, not browns, add the peas and chicken stock.
After a few short minutes, the peas will be warm and soft, now it is time to add the cheese. Stir quickly, and remove from the heat.
Using a hand mixture, or blender, mix the ingredients until smooth. Add the puree back into the pan and set the heat to medium low.
Stir in the mascarpone and remove from heat once it has been incorporated into the puree.
Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside
Cook the Scallops
Pat the scallops dry, and remove any remaining muscles with your fingers.
Season the scallops with a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
Prepare the pan, which should be big enough to fit all your scallops comfortably.
Set the heat to medium high, and give the pan a nice swirl of olive oil. Place the scallops on the hot pan. The secret with searing scallops is…. Leave them alone! 3-4 minutes each side will allow for nicely browned scallops.
This is optional… but a delicious technique. Once you flip the scallops over to cook the other side, add a few pats of cold, unsalted butter. This gives the scallops a nice finish and golden color to the serving side. You can also, at the time of adding butter, consider incorporating a fresh herb or spice. My favorite spice with scallops is ground coriander.
Place the scallops on a plate, buttered side up, with the pea puree. You can serve the scallops on the puree or serve over. Your preference. We placed the scallops on the puree, with a bit of mint sprinkled on top.