Grilled Scallops and Fennel with Balsamic Reduction
Lets face it. There is a certain gleam of excitement in a restaurant dish presented at the table artfully drizzled with thin lines of sauce delicately highlighting the colors of any course, from appetizer to dessert.
The concept in using a Balsamic Reduction, just one of many type sauces presented in this style is simply to accentuate the dish with subtle touches of rich flavor intensity, and the drizzle, well, always provides for a little added plate interest.
Making Balsamic Reduction is not difficult, only requiring a bit of patient tending, and from there, adding a few nice drizzles to any special dish simply requires a good plastic squirt bottle, and well, perhaps a bit of self control not to go overboard. At serving time, you just hold your squirt bottle over the plate a good twelve inches away to achieve thinner lines, circles, or whatever design you imagine for your specialty of the day.
Balsamic Reduction can be stored in the refrigerator once prepared, any extra lends any number of possibilities from salads to poultry or meat dishes, even on a bowl of fresh strawberries, or dipping with dense cookies.
A general guideline for preparation is to simply reduce your Balsamic Vinegar in a saucepan pan to half of its original amount, and from there, continuing to cook the thickened liquid on low heat, carefully stirring to the desired thickness.
Here, cooking on very low heat, I have used half of a 17 fluid ounce (503 ml) bottle of Balsamic Vinegar in a heavy saucepan, stirring frequently and paying attention to the consistency as it reduced. The Balsamic needs to be just thick enough to squirt, any further, and you will achieve an almost caramelized state that would be difficult to pour or drizzle into your design.
A small amount of the condensed, sweet, mellowed flavor of the Balsamic Reduction, goes a long way flavoring your dish. It’s helpful to be sure and clean the cooking pan and utensils right away after the sauce is finished to avoid caramelized hardening in the pan. Using very, very low heat on my own range took about twenty minutes to bring the reduction to desired consistency.
Now, onto the Fennel, cut the top, including the delicate leaves resembling dill off of the fennel bulb. You want to keep the pieces intact so do not cut off the bottom of the fennel.
Cut the fennel bulb in half, then quarter, then into eighths. Toss the fennel in olive oil, salt, and pepper and grill using either direct or indirect heat for grilling. Using direct heat on the grill initially will provide for the lovely grill marks followed by indirect heat that will cook fennel to a crisp tender consistency, about twenty minutes to a half hour.
Though scallops are not typically sold in their shells in the US, sometimes they do come with a side muscle attached, a little white thing attached to the whole, these may simply be removed before proceeding in the preparation.
The essential key to preparing great scallops is being sure they are completely dry before either grilling or pan searing, otherwise these delicate creatures will stew in their own liquid.
Using paper towels to pat dry each mollusk before cooking makes the task quick and easy and mostly assures a nicely crusted outer side. Before putting scallops on the grill, brush very lightly with olive oil to prevent sticking on outdoor grill grates. Grill scallops until cooked through, approximately three to five minutes each side, depending on the size and thickness of the scallops and the heat of your grill.
With plates ready for assembly, you can drizzle your platters just beforehand. You can even secretly enjoy creating your own childlike canvas before wowing your guests, with a gleam of excitement, finished off with a white plastic squirt bottle, just keep in mind, a small amount goes a long way, Balsamic Reduction, with Grilled Scallops and Fennel.
Grilled Scallops and Fennel with Balsamic Reduction
wooden spoon for stirring reduction
pastry brush for brushing scallops with olive oil
plastic squirt bottle designed for food use
small funnel for pouring reduction into plastic bottle
grill trays for scallops and fennel if desired
- For the Balsamic Reduction:
- 7 1/2-8 ounces Balsamic vinegar
- a pinch or two each, coarse kosher salt and cracked black pepper
- For the Scallops and Fennel:
- 20 scallops (5 per person) white muscle removed from the side, patted very dry before cooking
- 1 fennel bulb, cut into 1/8 size pieces, tossed in olive oil, sprinkled with coarse kosher salt and pepper, some feathery green leaves set aside for garnish
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, approximately, for brushing scallops on both sides for grilling
- For Balsamic Reduction:
- Pour balsamic vinegar into a small, heavy, saucepan and heat on very, very low heat until balsamic reduces nearly halfway, or to desired thickness for use with squirt bottle, approximately twenty to twenty-five minutes, stirring frequently in between
- Sprinkle in salt and pepper, check seasoning
- Let reduction cool then use a funnel to siphon finished sauce into plastic squirt bottle.
- For the fennel:
- Preheat gas grill, spray grill tray with oil if using
- Set fennel quarters on grill top
- Grill on medium low heat until crisp tender, about twenty minutes, turning fennel over intermittently
- Season with a sprinkle of coarse kosher salt and some cracked black pepper
- For the Scallops:
- Grease grill tray or grates for cooking scallops
- Dry scallops very well using paper towels
- Brush top and underside of scallops with olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper
- Place scallops on very high heat, avoid flaming
- Grill for three minutes, turn scallops over, grill for another three minutes, or a bit longer to desired doneness
- Drizzle Balsamic Reduction onto each plate with desired design
- Set fennel pieces onto each plate then arrange scallops
- Add a small piece of fennel top to each platter