Let’s have a history lesson. A history lesson that starts with Seared Scallops with Sorrel Cream – actually it ends with Seared Scallops with Sorrel Cream from my very own kitchen. The real lesson starts in a restaurant kitchen in Roane, France.
In the 1960s the American culinary world was abuzz with the suddenly “discovered” beauty of classical French cuisine. It was brought to our attention by the commendable talents of Julia Child. Her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking changed the way North American home cooks like my mother began to look at food.
However, just as Ms. Child was introducing Americans to classical French cooking; classical French cooking itself was being challenged in of all places – France!
Brothers Jean and Pierre Troisgros began quietly transforming modern French cooking in their Michelin starred restaurant in Roane. Until this time the classic Escoiffer school of thought had ruled French cuisine. Period. There were no other contenders. However, that was about to change. Whether they set out to do it or not, these guys introduced France to a style of cooking that would soon be dubbed “la nouvelle cuisine”. To change something as ingrained in a culture as classical French cooking is an unmentionable feat – especially in France.
Suddenly the hard and fast rules and century long traditions of classical French cooking cracked open just enough to make room for a new style. A style that could best be called spare. I’m not saying these chefs chose to forgo butter and cream (or meat and potatoes). In fact they continued to use classical French components in their cooking. However, they did change the way food was plated and arranged. The emphasis they placed on one ingredient over another altered the way the French saw their national heritage.
Eric Cottat Sancerre 2013
Pairs well with cold shellfish, warm scallops, white fish, grilled salmon
One of the dishes that defined the changing culinary times was Salmon with Sorrel Cream. Stepping away from the Escoiffer tradition, the Troisgros brothers chose not to poach their salmon, but to quickly pan-fry it in a practically dry pan. If that were not scandalous enough, the sauce was not given top of the plate prominence. Instead of spooning a lovely cream sauce over a succulent slice of salmon, these guys placed the salmon on top of the sauce – dry and unadorned. I hope you’re shocked. Because, it simply wasn’t done that way!
Seared Scallops with Sorrel Cream
Which brings me to today. I made these Seared Scallops with Sorrel Cream in honor of the pioneering spirit of the Troisgros brothers. Looking at the dish today, my scallops may not seem like such a revelation. In fact the creamy sauce and unusual use of sorrel may seem more quaint than nouvelle. Because now, just as then, changes are afoot in the culinary world. Globalization and fusion are joining forces with healthier lifestyles. Culinary sensibilities are being challenged once again. Not only are sauces not given top of the plate prominence – they’re often left off the plate entirely.
I don’t know what the future of cooking may bring. However, as with anything, it’s hard to know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been. I’d like to think that simple dishes like these Seared Scallops with Sorrel Cream will remind us of our culinary past as well as our future. GREG
Seared Scallops with Sorrel Cream