John Sedlar, chef-owner of Rivera and the subject of our most recent interview, is cooking some ambitious food at his downtown restaurant these days. Three menus, three rooms, three continents, and a lot more than three dishes. And while we could have asked him for his recipe for snails with jamón ibérico, vinho verde and garlic petals; or maybe his coffee-braised Kurobuta pork with sugar cane sauce; or, theoretically, the cabeza de oro, an architectural feat composed, somehow, of foie gras, lobster, scallop, truffles, more jamón ibérico and caviar, we did not. I guess you'll just have to go order them. But we did ask for Sedlar's recipe for Scallops Arabesque, a somewhat simpler combination of seared scallops, eggplant, preserved lemons and ras el hanout sauce. (You can buy both the lemons and the spice mixture, which simplifies things.)
"It's the first baby steps in the Latin food story," says Sedlar about the dish. "It's a Moroccan dish; it's the Moorish influences in the Spanish kitchen. This is really the oldest dish that we have." You don't need to stencil the Arabic work for "Arabesque" on the plate, as they do at Rivera, of course, but you can give it a shot if you're feeling particularly artistic. Or just dust a bit of the spice mixture nearby. Ras el hanout means "head of the shop," and is a Moroccan spice mixture that can contain as many as 50 ingredients and was so named because shop owners often created their own house blends of the stuff. Sedlar's version does not demand 50 ingredients. Though he may yet change it to do so. We wouldn't be at all surprised.
From: Chef John Rivera Sedlar of Rivera Restaurant
2 Italian eggplant
2 whole roasted garlic
salt and pepper to taste
1. Cut the eggplant in half, score, season with salt and pepper and pour olive oil over the flesh. Roast in 300 degree oven until soft, about an hour.
2. Once the eggplant is fully cooked, remove the skin and put the cooked eggplant in a food processor, add the garlic and purée together. Add additional salt and pepper to taste, if desired.
Ras el hanout sauce:
2 cups chicken stock
5 tbsp vadouvan*
1 1/2 oz cold butter, cubed
salt to taste
1. Place chicken stock and vadouvan in sauce pan. Over low heat reduce to sauce consistency. Add salt and cold butter cubes stirring constantly.
*Vadouvan is a blend of spices and the recipe may vary for each person/chef. To get an idea, here's one recipe from Epicurious. Or you can buy it (from Amazon or wherever).
NOTE: You can substitute purchased preserved lemons.
3 cups sugar
1 cup salt
1. Juice the lemons and remove the pith. Bring salt water to a boil and cook the lemons for 5 minutes. Repeat the process 3-4 times using new salt water each time. Dry the lemons and place in a pan. Cover with sugar and salt mixture, wrap container and store in refrigerator for 5-7 days. After 5-7 days, remove the lemons from the container and rinse off. Cut the lemon into small cubes and store in olive oil.
Sea Scallops and assembly:
18 large sea scallops
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
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1. Heat all the various components and keep warm on the stovetop. Season the scallops with sea salt. Over high heat, fill a large saute pan with the grapeseed oil.
2. Once the oil is almost smoking, gently place the scallops in the pan. When the scallops have a dark golden sear, turn the scallops and finish cooking on the other side until preferred doneness. If you enjoy your scallops cooked over medium-medium well, place the pan in the oven for about 6 minutes.
3. Spoon a line of eggplant purée onto the center of your dish, creating a bed for the scallops. Place three scallops per plate and top with the Ras el hanout sauce. Finally top the scallops with about 1/2 teaspoon of the preserved lemons. Sprinkle with additional Ras el hanout.