If ever there were a town that could be likened to a snow globe village, it would be Whistler, BC. A two-hour drive north of Vancouver, Whistler is a resort town nestled at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. It was host to the alpine events of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympics Games, and at this time of year it epitomizes the magic of Christmas. In the heart of the village is one of BC’s best restaurants: Araxi, and today’s dish comes from the restaurant’s cookbook.
I have had the pleasure of dining at Araxi twice. The first was a few years ago after a long day of hiking north of nearby Pemberton. It was a welcomed indulgence and shared in the good company of my sister, and mom and Aunt Diane; whom were both visiting from Ontario. We enjoyed our experience so much I had to take Brett for a birthday dinner the following year. I have since prepared a few dishes from the cookbook, all with great success (a testament to the book, not my cooking).
Chef James Walt perfectly balances the elegance of fine dining with providing a satisfying meal. This is an absolute must for a town where the clientele is primarily comprised of adrenaline junkies in search of a classy, but substantial, meal after a day of skiing in the winter, or mountain biking and hiking in the summer.
Walt is passionate about showcasing seasonal ingredients, many of which are sourced from farms in the nearby Pemberton Valley, from which much of Vancouver’s farmers market produce also hails. While several recipes in the book may seem intimidating, the instructions are excellent and make preparing fine dining meals at home quite approachable.
Today’s recipe features Qualicum Beach Scallops, and a beautifully silky cannellini bean purée. Making this dish does require some forethought (soaking and cooking the beans) but the actual active time to prepare the meal is quite minimal, especially if you consider the impressive results. The book indicates that this is an appetizer portion, but served with a good side salad we have it as a meal. The flavours are rich and satisfying, so you don’t need much.
Serve leftover bean purée as a sort of hummus with good bread, or as a side with a nice cut of thinly sliced pork or steak.
- A few sprigs of fresh thyme (a good handful)
- 1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 bay leaf
- 10 black peppercorns
- 3 cups cannellini beans, soaked overnight in cold water
- 1 carrot, halved
- 2 stalks celery, halved
- 1 medium onion, peeled
- 2 oz good quality, smoked bacon (we like applewood); about 4-5 slices
- 8-10 cups water
- 8 thin slices of bacon (per above)
- ½ tsp curry powder
- ¾ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp clarified butter*
- 12 fresh scallops, medium size
- Micro greens and vinaigrette for garnish
*If you don’t have clarified butter on hand, you can use regular butter with a bit of oil to raise the flash point. Keep in mind that cooking scallops on a high heat will cause the milk solids in butter to brown very quickly, so try for the clarified if you can. Make your own, or look for ghee in stores.
Place herbs and peppercorns in a square of cheesecloth tied with kitchen twine.
Drain and rinse soaked beans and place in a large saucepan. Add the bundle of herbs, slices of bacon, and all veggies. Top with enough water to come about two inches over the beans.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to medium-low and simmer for one hour. Occasional skim impurities off the top. Taste broth and season with a little salt (the bacon will also impart some saltiness, so taste as you go). Simmer for an addition 20 minutes, or until beans are tender.
Remove from heat and strain mixture. Reserve cooking liquid, but discard vegetables and herb bundle. Return beans to the pot and add 1 ½ cups of water and purée with a hand blender. Alternatively, place in a food processor and purée. Taste and season with additional salt if necessary. Press though a sieve. Set aside to keep warm until ready to serve.
Note: you can skip this last step of pressing through the sieve and the flavours will still be great, but I’d recommend trying it at least once, as the silky texture elevates the dish. I hate wasting good food, so keep the leftover solids to stir into soup or as a thickener for stew. It adds fibre and flavour.
Prepare bacon while beans cook. To do this, lay slices flat on a parchment lined baking sheet. Top with another sheet of parchment, and a second pan. This will create nice flat, evenly cooked slices. Place in a 350° F oven for eight minutes and check doneness. Continue to cook two-four minutes, or until crisp. Remove and set aside.
To prepare scallops, mix curry powder and salt in a small dish. Heat clarified butter over medium-high heat. Season scallops with curry/salt mixture and place in the hot pan. Cook for about two minutes, until nicely browned. Turn and cook for an additional minute. Remove from heat to ensure they don’t become over cooked.
To serve, spoon some purée onto four dishes. Place 3 scallops on each dish, along with two slices of bacon. Garnish with micro greens and a light vinaigrette. I used vinaigrette made from the juices of yesterday's walnut-raisin relish (soufflé accompaniment) and tossed in some of the raisins as well. This provided the right amount of sweetness and acidity to balance the saltiness and richness of the dish.