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Recipes --> Main Courses --> Hong Kong Black Pepper Scallops

Hong Kong Black Pepper Scallops

This week's article/recipe comes to us from Wine Guy Mark Gapinski who seems to know his way around the kitchen as he does the wine store....

“And for the scallops, I recommend the Syrah” Really?

An ideal food-wine pairing is one in which both the food and wine are more pleasurable together than they would be individually. Witness the perfection of a grilled rib eye steak with a fine Cabernet Sauvignon, or perhaps a goat cheese tart with a crisp Sancerre. For me, few foods call more loudly for a white wine than scallops. Those tender, succulent mollusks seem made for a buttery Chardonnay or a fruity Vermentino.  

Given this, I was mildly disturbed when the May 31st edition of the Wine Spectator arrived at the Grapevine Cottage. Its cover featured a tantalizing dish of scallops served with a RED wine. On closer reading, I found it was not a light to medium-bodied, food-friendly Pinot Noir or such, but rather a Syrah. Syrah, mind you, the able-bodied consort of barbecue ribs, grilled lamb, venison and wild boar. Could some culinary alchemy transform the delicate scallop into a companion for Syrah? I had to find out.  

Here’s the recipe for the scallops that appeared in the Wine Spectator. It comes from Ming Tan at Wild Ginger (www.wildginger.net) and is fast and simple.  

Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a main course

Ingredients:

2/3 lb large scallops (20 count)
Rice flour
Rice bran or saffron oil for pan frying (I used avocado oil)
1/2 tsp soy sauce 1/2 tsp rice wine or dry sherry
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
14 cup chicken stock 

Preparation:

Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in a skillet. Dredge the scallops in rice flour and shake off excess. When the oil is hot add the scallops to the pan. Do not crowd. Fry the scallops for 45-60 seconds, turning once. The goal is to create a nice crust on the scallops. They will finish cooking on the next step.

Drain the scallops on a paper towel. In a dry wok, combine the soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil and black pepper. Turn heat to high. When most of the liquid is gone, add the scallops and stir-fry in the remaining syrup. When all the liquid is gone and the scallops are well coated, add the chicken stock. Toss until scallops are coated and the liquid is gone. This takes about 1 minute. Plate the scallops and garnish with cilantro leaves.

Judgement:

To pair with this dish, the Wine Spectator article suggested looking for ready-to-drink Syrah with a “peppery” description. I chose two Syrah to have some basis for comparison. First, I selected a Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage Petite Ruche 2013. The 2014 vintage of this wine was mentioned in the Spectator article as a good fit.

Next, I chose a Tenet Pundit Syrah 2015 from Columbia Valley, Washington. This wine’s description used the word “peppery”.  Both of these wines are currently in stock at the Grapevine Cottage. Just in case neither Syrah worked out, I also removed a white “rescue” wine from the refrigerator before I started preparing the scallops.  

With two wine glasses each, my wife Connie and I sat down for the tasting. We agree that we would have no verbal or non-verbal communication about the food and wine pairing until we had eaten at least two scallops and tried both wines at least twice.  After we tasted the scallop dish with both wines, it was time for judgment.

First of all, the scallops were delicious. They were quite peppery, but the soy sauce, sesame oils, and rice wine created an unctuous glaze. Much to our surprise, both Syrah paired beautifully with the scallops. The Crozes-Hermitage was the unanimous favorite. The peppery elements in this old-world style wine were a perfect match for the pepper in the scallops. Its medium body didn’t overwhelm and the blackberry fruit upfront seemed just about right.

These two wines were the same note, an octave apart! The Pundit was also very tasty with the scallops. Connie and I both felt that its peppery notes weren’t quite as pronounced as the Crozes Hermitage, and that perhaps the big blackberry fruit upfront was a bit much for this dish. Even so, it was still a wonderful wine to drink.  

My learning from this exercise is that, while the nature of the protein is important in wine pairing, sauce matters and it matters a lot. 1/2 teaspoon of soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper and 1/4 teaspoon of sesame oil transformed a classic white wine scallop into a dish that was a perfect match for a red wine, even for a Syrah. Happy pairing!