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All-White Scallops and Grouper with Champagne Sauce

Back around 1992 I casually tossed an idea to Chef Felix Sturmer, the chef of the Westin Canal Place Hotel and its stunning restaurant, Le Jardin. Could he do an all-white dinner? Where all the food was white, I mean. He jumped at the challenge, and what came of it was the forerunner of what became, a few years later, the Eat Club. Sturmer cooked up a fantastic evening of brilliant food. Its most memorable moment came when the first guests to arrive introduced themselves. They were an African-American couple who said they had to attend any all-white dinner because their name White.

This was the best of the dishes the chef made for us that night. It combines two familiar seafoods in a striking combination. The sauce is tinged with the flavor of fennel, a kind of celery with a somewhat licorice-like flavor. In combination with the leeks, cream, and Champagne, it lends a fascinating accent.

  • 2 Tbs. chopped French shallots
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup Champagne
  • 12 oz. fresh grouper fillet
  • (substitutions: redfish or black drum)
  • 12 fresh dry-pack (dayboat) sea scallops
  • 1/3 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. white pepper
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup fresh fennel, sliced julienne (matchsticks)
  • 1/2 cup leeks, well washed, white parts only, julienne
  • 18 white asparagus (if available fresh; otherwise, use green)
  • 1 tsp. black caviar
  • Salt and pepper

1. Saute shallots in a half-stick of butter for about two minutes.

2. Add the Champagne and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the grouper and the scallops. Season with salt and pepper. Poach the fish and scallops in the Champagne for about eight minutes, covered. Remove seafood and keep warm.

3. Raise the heat to medium and reduce the liquid in the pan by half, uncovered. Add the cream and reduce by half again.

4. While that’s going on, in a separate skillet saute the fennel and leeks in a half-stick of the butter. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Steam or poach the asparagus till crisp-tender. Rinse in cold water to stop cooking.

6. After the second reduction of the sauce, remove from heat and whisk in the last of the butter.

7. To serve, place the sauteed fennel and leeks in the center of a large plate. Pour some sauce around the plate, covering the entire bottom. Separate grouper into flakes about 1/4 inch thick. Slice scallops to the same thickness. Alternate grouper and scallops around plate. Top each with a little caviar. Place asparagus tips on top of the leeks and fennel, with the tips meeting in the center. Or, if all this is a little too Martha for you, just throw everything on the plate and nap it with the sauce.

Serves four.

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