Sick and tired of those dull, home-cooked dinners of buttered pasta? Instead, try following the advice of Horacio Rivadero, executive chef of The Dining Room in South Beach. With his advice, you can develop an inspired recipe of your very own.
Chef Rivadero believes that truly excellent dishes showcase fresh ingredients, evoke memories, and are a perfect balance of flavors and textures. Feeling overwhelmed? Don't worry. He has also shared one of his great seasonal recipes, featuring Serrano Wrapped Scallops with Yellow Corn Sauce, Corn Pico de Gallo and Black Trumpet Mushrooms, for those nights when you need some inspiration directly from the chef himself.
To start building an excellent recipe, Chef Horacio starts off with fresh ingredients. Menus and dishes cannot be static, because they are completely dependent on the availability of ingredients. He seeks out local produce and makes it a point to mention that the locavore movement is not just a fad. It's about a commitment to quality and freshness. To keep up with produce, the menu at The Dining Room evolves according to the season.
At home, try keeping an open mind when you head to the grocery store or farmer's market. Let the produce decide what's for dinner and not the latest suggestion from your favorite Food Network host.
Once stocked up on freshness, Rivadero considers influences, like those sweet memories of the basil garden his mother kept in the backyard during his childhood in Córdoba, Argentina. He begins to brainstorm about the pairings of these ingredients, considering cultural, personal or gastronomical inspiration. In the case of the featured corn-filled recipe, Rivadero thought back to the scallop and corn chowders he savored on a trip to New England.
Rivadero also thinks about balance. He stresses that a properly executed dish showcases both sweetness and saltiness. When you are dreaming up your dinner, think about the individual flavors of each ingredient. Remember that a hint of acid brightens up the palate. A mixture of raw, cooked and crispy textures makes flavors more compelling. Try to add different elements of creaminess, crunchiness and fluffiness.
For the recipe below, Chef Horacio mixes sweet, creamy corn with raw, fresh corn. The jalapeño adds a hint of spice. He adds trumpet mushrooms, fortified in sherry, for a deep earthiness that compliments the salty jamón serrano. The scallops are seared to achieve a crispy, browned crust. The variety of flavors, textures and aromas keeps the dish interesting with every bite.
Try to keep in mind that every single ingredient has a purpose, even garnishes. If you dine at The Dining Room, you will never spot a plate superfluously dusted with minced parsley on the edges. You will also never see arrangements of flowers or inedible foods atop an entree. Rivadero believes that garnishes should not only be edible, but they should take part in the entire balance of the dish.
Basically, don't try to impress your guests with dishes loaded with minced herbs. If the garnishes can fly away and disappear with a gust of wind with no harm to your dish, think about another option.
If you're still not feeling too inspired by childhood memories or bountiful produce, try out this recipe which showcases fresh, sweet corn. Chef Horacio uses corn from Homestead in his rendition, which reaches its seasonal peak in the months of April and May. Serve it as an appetizer at your next dinner party and your guests will think that you too are an inspired restaurant chef.
Serrano Wrapped Scallops with Yellow Corn Sauce, Corn Pico de Gallo and Black Trumpet Mushrooms
Serves 4, as an appetizer
Note: The yellow corn sauce, the corn pico de gallo and the mushrooms can all be prepped in advance. The serrano wrapped scallops can also be kept in the fridge for a few hours, so you can play graceful host and just cook off the scallops and warm the sauce right before dinner time.
Serrano Wrapped Scallops:
8 jumbo scallops
8 slices of jamón serrano
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
Yellow Corn Sauce:
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 cups of chopped Spanish onion
6 ears of fresh sweet yellow corn
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of turmeric
Salt, to taste
1 bay leaf
1 stick of celery
4 cups of water
Corn Pico de Gallo:
2 cups of fresh sweet yellow corn (about 4 ears of corn)
2 tablespoons of chives
1 red jalapeño, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
Black trumpet mushrooms:
2 oz dried black trumpet mushrooms (rehydrated in water, then pat dried) *
1/4 cup sherry
Micro celery, as an optional garnish
* If you can't find black trumpet mushrooms, Chef Horacio recommends enoki mushrooms as a substitute.
1. Wrap the scallops with the serrano, using the warmth of your fingers to gently press the ham in place. Do not use a toothpick, since the fat in the serrano will facilitate adhesion to the scallops. Place in the refrigerator while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
2. Remove the corn from the cob. In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat and add the onion, corn, sugar, turmeric and salt. Cook for about two or three minutes. Add the bay leaf, the celery, the water and the cobs into the saucepan. Cook for about ten minutes, until the water has reduced by half, but before the corn has fallen apart or disintegrated.
3. Remove the sauce from the stove. Discard the bay leaf, celery and cobs. Allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes. Add the corn and the onions into a blender. Progressively add small amounts of the remaining liquid into the blender, pureeing in between additions until reaching the consistency of a creamy sauce. You might not have to use all of the water.
4. Pass the yellow corn sauce through a sieve if necessary. Set aside to continue to cool.
5. For the corn pico de gallo, in a small bowl, combine the sweet yellow corn, chives and jalapeño. If you are serving the dish later on in the day, add the olive oil and salt immediately prior to when it will be served. Stir. If you are feeling extravagant, you can replace the olive oil for half olive oil and half truffle oil.
4. For the black trumpet mushrooms, place the sherry in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until the alcohol has evaporated and the mushrooms have absorbed the flavor of the sherry. Also set aside.
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5. To cook the scallops, heat a pan over medium heat. Add the butter and, once warmed, add the scallops. Do not season the scallops with salt, since the ham is already very salty. Cook about three minutes on each side, until the scallops have reached a golden brown color. Occasionally, use a spoon to baste the scallops with the melted butter. To check for doneness, press on the center of the scallop. If they feel slightly firm, they are ready.
6. To serve, spoon the yellow corn sauce in each plate. Add the pico de gallo in the center. Sprinkle the sides with the black trumpet mushrooms. Place two scallops in each plate, top with the micro celery, and enjoy warm.
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.