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WINES | GREAT MARRIAGES

Put a Cork on the Attitude: Trust Your Instincts

November 14, 1996|LAURIE OCHOA | TIMES FOOD EDITOR

The secret to matching wine and food is simple, if you ask Ken Frank: Don't take yourself too seriously.

"That's the trick," says Frank, who is chef of Fenix at the Argyle hotel in West Hollywood and among the most outspoken of Southern California's top chefs. "People put a lot of worry into this stuff, but I've learned to trust my instincts."

Of course, there is more to Frank's trick than a simple attitude adjustment. Practice helps too.

"Don't just talk about cooking to the wine, do it . . . all the time. And taste what you serve. If something doesn't quite work, store that little mistake in your memory and move on."

Frank is luckier than most of us. Through his restaurant, generous customers who bring in pricey, hard-to-get bottles, and his role as corporate executive chef for the international hotels of the Lancaster Group, he gets to taste many of the world's great wines. And he's had years of cooking practice. Still, he insists that anyone can play the wine-food game--even as he describes a wine-food pairing that is wonderful but hardly the stuff of ordinary home cooking.

"Just remember," Frank says, "food tastes better with wine and wine tastes better with food."

Lately, Frank has been cooking porcini-crusted scallops served on "crushed" potatoes mashed with lobster butter. He pairs this with a 1994 Hermitage Blanc "Marquise de la Tourette" from Delas Freres.

"It's a white Rho^ne wine," says Frank, "a Rousanne-Marsanne blend, and it's delicious. It has nice perfume and all of the seafood and wine-matching capabilities of a nice white Burgundy or Chardonnay without being just a boring Chardonnay."

As for the scallop dish, Frank says: "It looks good; it tastes good. It's hard to go wrong. The porcini powder on the scallops is a trick I stole from our chef in Washington."

If you don't have a white Hermitage or even scallops on hand, Frank would surely approve if you stole the best trick of the dish: the lobster-butter crushed potatoes.

PORCINI-CRUSTED SCALLOPS WITH LOBSTER CRUSHED POTATOES

At first glance, this recipe looks out of the range of most home cooks. The techniques are simple, but the ingredients--a lobster shell, porcini powder, saffron threads and fresh sea scallops--are not the stuff of ordinary pantries. The Times Test Kitchen, however, was able to find an affordable lobster at an Asian market. Use the lobster meat for an appetizer--or skip the scallops and serve the lobster on top of the potatoes. Another option: Use shrimp shells and heads for the butter. The flavor won't be as intense, but the potatoes will taste good. Porcini powder is sold at some supermarkets; it's been seen at Pavilions and Gelson's. It's also sold through the local Mushroom Man catalog (800) WILD-404. It adds a nice toasty note to the scallops, but the dish would still be very good without it. Note that the recipe uses only about 3 tablespoons of the lobster butter. The rest can be refrigerated, tightly covered, for several weeks.

Shell of 1 lobster

Water

Butter

3/4 cup dry white wine

Pinch saffron threads

1 shallot, finely diced

Salt

Freshly ground white pepper

2 baking potatoes, baked

1 cup chopped wild mushrooms

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon white wine

12 large sea scallops

3 tablespoons porcini powder

2 tablespoons oil

Chervil sprigs

Chop lobster shells into small chunks. Place in small saucepan with just enough water to cover. Add 1 cup butter and simmer until water has evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully strain off lobster butter. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Cook white wine with saffron threads and shallot in small saucepan over high heat until reduced to jelly. Whisk in 1/2 cup butter, cut in small pieces. Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Strain, discarding shallots and saffron, and keep warm until ready to use.

Cut baked potatoes open and scoop out flesh with fork. Crush with fork, mixing in 3 tablespoons lobster butter (if you add some chopped lobster meat, it's even better). Season to taste with salt and pepper and keep warm.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium-high heat and add chopped mushrooms. Cook, stirring, 5 minutes, then add garlic and white wine. Cook until wine evaporates, about 5 minutes, and season with salt and pepper.

Remove and discard crescent-shaped muscle from side of scallop, season scallop with salt and pepper and dredge 1 side of scallop in porcini powder. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high heat and when very hot, add scallops, powder-side down. Cook until nicely seared, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn over and finish cooking on other side until done, about 2 minutes.

To serve, making ring of crushed potatoes in center of each of 4 plates. Top with scallops and pour saffron sauce around. Garnish with some wild mushrooms and sprig of chervil. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

310 calories; 301 mg sodium; 54 mg cholesterol; 22 grams fat; 14 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams protein; 0.47 gram fiber.

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