Serious Eats: Recipes

The Secret Ingredient (Chamomile): Seared Sea Scallops with Chamomile Beurre Blanc

[Photographs: Kerry Saretsky]

This month's secret ingredient—chamomile—is not so secret. I have it in my house every second of every day, and I'd bet you do too. But I began to wonder lately, sipping my late-night cup of chamomile tea, if I had unfairly pigeonholed the dainty dried blossoms into a boring, single-task existence. In business school, we learn that it can be beneficial to a company to shape tasks around an individual's talents, rather than vice versa, and while chamomile was highly efficient at calming my stomach and my nerves after a stressful day, I wondered what else it could get up to. After all, I had just seen a bunch of them on sale at the florist, little daisy-like buds that recalled summer hillsides, and I couldn't believe that those were chamomile! In my mind, chamomile never existed outside of a tea bag.

Chamomile comes from the Greek meaning "earth-apple," apparently, according to Wikipedia, because it grows close to the ground and has an apple-like scent. I think such a moniker is unfair—there is nothing in the world that smells or tastes like chamomile. It is delicate, like the flowers I spotted at the florist, but also intensely, almost Victorian-ly virginal and innocent. Not too heady, like some flowers, and certainly not sweet or fruity. It reminds me of primer, a perfect base that grounds everything under and over it, seasonless and timeless and suspended in comfort. (I do, you may have guessed, love the stuff.)

This week I put the whole dried flowers to work in a beurre blanc. Beurre blancs are both velvety and tangy, and I wondered if the chamomile would matte-ify its pervasive acidity. It did, bringing a certain mellowness into a stubborn, old, and tangy sauce. The sweet scallops are the sugar to the chamomile beurre blanc tea, as the sauce pools in ravines of the seared, splintering, cliff-face scallops. It's fancy, but quite easy, and brings a sort of restaurant tinkering to the home hearth.

About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the French in a Flash series for Serious Eats.

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