Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Creamy Scallop Soup

This soup is not your everyday soup. It takes too much time and too many premium ingredients for that. But it's the perfect thing for a dinner party or special occasion. All the work and effort you put into it is worth the time it takes to concoct this gorgeous, sophisticated soup. The base is silky, creamy, and rich, and yet has a slight tang from the lemon, and a hint of nuttiness from the crème fraîche. And let's not forget the jewels of tender, succulent scallops that are swimming lazily in the broth. The recipe doesn't make much, but it's enough to serve 4. Why? Because something this rich and satisfying doesn't need more than a small bowl. More, in my opinion, lessens the experience; tips it over to the side of being too much. Serve it in small bowls, so each drop can be savored, as it should.

The soup begins with a white fish stock. Where does one obtain the fish heads/bones/frames necessary for the stock? Call a local fish market, or even a regular grocer, and see if they'll reserve you a pound or two of it. They'd likely discard it anyway, so might even give it to you for free (or would charge a nominal fee). I got mine from Whole Foods. I called them the morning I was going to make the stock to have them reserve heads/frames from white fish for me. They charged me $0.99/lb.

Next comes the crème fraîche, the French version of sour cream. But, to no one's surprise, it's better than the usual sour cream. Why? Because crème fraîche has a nutty flavor that imparts itself to the final soup -- so I'd recommend you use the real thing. You can buy a small tub of it (just enough for this soup, actually) made by Bellwether Farms for $2.99 from Trader Joe's. If you can't find it, you could probably subsitute sour cream or whole milk yogurt, but it won't be the same. Alternatively, you could try making an imitation. Do this by adding a tablespoon of buttermilk to a cup of whipping cream, then heating it gently to 110°F (45°C). Let the good bacteria culture grow in a warm place (think rising dough), keeping it there from 8 hours to a couple of days, until it's thick. Once it's the right consistency, transfer it to a small container and store it in the fridge. It'll thicken some more while in there, and will be good for about three weeks. But the truth is, it's a poor substitute. If you can get real crème fraîche, you should definitely splurge.

The recipe calls for whole sea scallops, which are then quartered. I've made this soup twice now, once using whole sea scallops and once using bay scallops. I liked the flavor of the sea scallops more, but bay scallops, with their pleasing whole-mini-scallops look, make for a nicer presentation. Which you use should be determined by which aspect is more important, depending on the occasion for which you're making the soup. A 1-lb bag of frozen bay scallops can be had at Whole Foods for $6.99; a 1-lb bag of frozen, wild sea scallops can be had at Trader Joe's for $10.99; and a 1-lb tub of fresh, wild sea scallops can be had at 99 Ranch for $9.99.

Creamy Scallop Soup

This recipe is originally from Orangette, who calls it "Cream of Scallop Soup," per the Gourmet recipe she got it from. However that makes me think the scallops have somehow been pureed into the soup, which is not the case, so I like my name better.

  • ¾ lb. sea scallops, tough ligament removed from side of each if attached
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 cup white fish stock
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • 7.5oz (213g) crème fraîche (about ¾ cup)
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped chives


  1. Rinse the scallops, and then pat them dry. Quarter them, and season them with 1/8 tsp. salt.
  2. In a heavy medium saucepan, combine the stock, wine, shallot, thyme, and ½ tsp. salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, cover, and boil for 5 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing on the solids before discarding them. Return the liquid to the saucepan. Bring it to a boil, then stir in the scallops and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until the scallops are just cooked through, about 2 minutes. (Do not overcook. If anything, leave them rare; they will continue to cook after you remove them from the heat.) Remove the scallops with a slotted spoon, and keep them warm, covered. Reserve the cooking liquid in the saucepan.
  3. Meanwhile, put the crème fraîche in a small saucepan, and bring it to a simmer over medium-low to medium heat. Simmer until it reduces slightly, about 3 minutes. Add it to the cooking liquid in the medium saucepan, stir well, and simmer together for another 3 minutes.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, ¼ cup of the crème fraîche-cooking liquid mixture, and pepper. Add half of the remaining crème fraîche mixture to the yolk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Then pour it all back into the medium saucepan, whisking. Cook over very low heat, whisking, until just slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Do not boil. Remove from the heat, taste for seasoning, and salt as needed.
  5. Divide the scallops among 4 small soup bowls, and then ladle the soup on top. Sprinkle with chives. Serve immediately.

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