Chef Vincent Terusa’s Pacific Diver Scallops

There are myriad dishes on Selanne Steak Tavern’s menu that I relish, but the scallops with pickled mushrooms, black garlic, and cauliflower puree is a must for me, either as a starter or a larger portion devoured as my entrée. 

Vincent Terusa, executive chef at the Laguna Beach restaurant, creates an alluring balance of flavors and textures in his popular dish. He shared the secrets to nuancing the plump U-8 Pacific Diver scallops, revealing how he sears them hot and fast in a puddle of grapeseed oil, deeply browning one side, and then flipping them to quickly heat the opposite side. These mollusks are cooked medium-rare to medium, just warmed through in the center—tender and succulent. Cooked with care and knowledge neither undercooked nor overcooked, they are almost custardy in texture. 

Spooned on the plate, a base of creamy pureed cauliflower offers a hint of earthiness to the dish, while the quickly pickled mushrooms in the sauce offer a just-right amount of acidity. Black garlic brings subtle sweetness. 

Vincent Terusa and Cathy Thomas smile while holding a plate of Pacific Diver scallops. Photograph by Curt Norris

Terusa was a musician before he was a chef. His movements flow in a rhythmic pattern at the stove. The Orange County native was a professional drummer and college percussion teacher prior to attending culinary school. He sees many parallels between making music and creating dishes, as well as leading a restaurant kitchen. 

I agree. Both musical and culinary arts involve creativity, collaborating with others, “performing,” and working with skilled hands. Perhaps most important, they involve producing results to be enjoyed by an appreciative audience.  

He has worked at Selanne Steak Tavern since it opened in 2013. Before that he cooked at Michael Mina’s former Stonehill Tavern and under chef Frederic Castan at the former St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort and Spa. He credits Castan with being one of his greatest culinary mentors. 

 

Favorite Restaurant: I appreciate good food and craftmanship. I might love an insane Italian deli as much as a Michelin three-star restaurant. 

First Interest in Cooking: I used to cook a lot with my now-wife, Stephanie, before we were married. That experience really jump-started my love of cooking. 

Drink of Choice: I appreciate high-end bourbons and rye whiskies. American Eagle Bourbon—neat. Or for a cocktail, an Old-Fashioned.  

Underrated Ingredient: Acids! Especially vinegars, they are underutilized. They can really make a difference in a dish.  

Secret Talent: I am a homebrewer. I brew everything from ales to porters to hard seltzers. 

Collector: I probably buy a cookbook every couple of weeks. One of my favorites is Jacques Pepin’s “La Technique.” 

Exercise Pleasures: Hiking with my wife, often at Whiting Ranch.  


Pacific Diver Scallops with Pickled Mushrooms, Black Garlic, and Cauliflower Puree 

Photograph by Curt Norris

Yield: 1 first course serving, with leftover puree 

Cauliflower Puree: 

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil 
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, such as Walla Walla, cut into narrow strips (julienned) 
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets 
  • Salt and white pepper 
  • 2 cups heavy cream  

Scallops: 

  • 2 large diver scallops, U-8 preferred (8 per pound) 
  • Salt and white pepper for seasoning 
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil  
  • 2 ounces Bunapi mushrooms, torn from the cluster into individual mushrooms, washed, air-dried 
  • 1 small shallot, finely diced 
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning 
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided use  
  • 2-3 cloves black garlic, peeled and split in half 
  • 3 to 4 fresh thyme leaves (still on woody stems) 
  • 4 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar 
  • Garnish: 2 pinches powdered porcini mushrooms, sprigs of fresh chervil 
  1. Cauliflower Puree: Place 2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil in a thick bottom large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add cauliflower florets and cover with heavy cream. Lightly season with salt and white pepper. Bring to a simmer on high heat. Reduce heat and simmer over low heat until florets fall apart to the touch of a spoon, about 20 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer vegetables to blender leaving liquid behind in the pan. Transfer about 1/3 of cream (liquid) in pan to blender. Puree, adding more liquid if necessary to achieve smooth, creamy texture. Taste and season as needed. If desired, leftover soup can be mixed with remaining cream to make a soup.
  2. Scallops and Mushrooms: Dry scallops with paper towel. Season them with salt and white pepper. Place grapeseed oil in a thick bottom sauté pan over medium-high. When oil just begins to shimmer, add scallops (flat side down) and cook until bottom edges start to turn golden to dark brown, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Turn the scallops over. Add mushrooms and shallot; season lightly with salt and pepper. Sauté for one minute. Turn heat to medium. Add 1 tablespoon butter, black garlic, and a small bunch of thyme leaves. Baste scallops with a spoon by tipping pan towards you and spooning browned butter over the scallops for about 10-15 seconds. Remove scallops to a paper towel and strain away excess browned butter. Then over medium heat, add white balsamic vinegar and reduce by half, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add remaining 1 tablespoon butter, stirring to emulsify. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
  3. Plating: Place a generous tablespoon-size amount of cauliflower puree on two places on plate. Then place scallops atop the puree, spoon mushrooms and sauce over the top of the scallops. Finish with a few fresh thyme leaves, a small dusting of porcini powder on either side, and garnish with a few sprigs of fresh chervil.

Source: Vincent Terusa, executive chef Selanne Steak Tavern, Laguna Beach 

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