Seafood Strudel

December 31, 2011

Seafood Strudel

Wine Varietal: Sparkling Wine or Champagne

Serves 6

For years, this phyllo-wrapped seafood extravaganza has formed the centerpiece for my New Year’s Eve buffet. Brimming with bay scallops and spot prawns (or shrimp), the strudel makes an elegant and impressive presentation, yet goes together quickly once the ingredients are prepped. For a phyllo-dough preparation, it’s lowfat (just one-and-one-half teaspoons of fat per serving!) and full of flavor; the scallops and shrimp form a light “cream” sauce as they cook in the lacy dough. Pair it with a good Northwest Sauvignon Blanc and note how the tarragon (king of the herbs, according to the French) and the anise-flavored Ouzo pick up the herbaceous notes in the wine, while the acidity in the Sauv Blanc cuts through the buttery notes in the phyllo. Just be sure to serve it immediately after it is cooked, as this is one dish that doesn’t reheat well. In keeping with the winter holiday season when I make the strudel, I like to serve it with a simple green salad tossed with a light vinaigrette and garnished with grapefruit segments and toasted almonds. Simply steamed broccoli or Brussels sprouts work well, too. Don’t forget a glass (or three!) of bubbly!

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup diced carrots

1/2 cup chopped white or yellow onion

3/4 pound rinsed, dried fresh spinach leaves, blanched (See Cook’s Hint, below) and squeezed very dry or 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed very dry

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon, plus extra sprigs, for garnish, or 2 teaspoons dried tarragon, crumbled

3/4 pound Alaskan spot prawns or medium shrimp, rinsed, shelled, deveined, and cut in half lengthwise

3/4 pound bay scallops, rinsed and patted dry

1/2 cup homemade unseasoned dry bread crumbs (See Cook’s Hint, below) or storebought unseasoned dry bread crumbs

1 tablespoon Ouzo, Pernod, or other good-quality anise-flavored liqueur

6 sheets phyllo dough, thawed and covered with a damp kitchen towel to keep them from drying out

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the carrots and onion and cook 5 to 7 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender-crisp, stirring occasionally.

3. Add the spinach, salt, and tarragon and stir constantly, until the spinach and vegetables are well mixed and the tarragon begins to give off its aroma, about 1 minute.

4. Gently stir in the spot prawns, scallops, 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs, and the Ouzo. Immediately remove the skillet from the heat, but continue stirring until the scallops begin to turn white on the outside, 1 to 2 minutes more. Reserve the seafood filling at room temperature while you prepare the phyllo dough.

5. Place a large piece of parchment paper on a clean, dry work surface. Place one sheet of the phyllo in the center of the parchment and dot lightly with butter. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of the remaining bread crumbs. Continue this process, layering the phyllo, until all the phyllo and bread crumbs are used (a small amount of melted butter should remain).

6. Starting with the long side of the phyllo, spoon the reserved seafood filling to within 1 inch of the long edge and the side edges. The seafood should cover about half of the remaining rectangle. Beginning with the filled side, roll the dough jelly-roll fashion, using the parchment paper as a guide and a sling. Once rolled, tuck in the ends to seal. Again using the parchment as a sling, transfer the roll to the prepared baking sheet, placing the strudel seam side down. Brush with the remaining butter.

7. Bake the strudel 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then slice on the diagonal into 6 pieces. Arrange the slices like a pinwheel on a large platter and serve family style, or place on individual dinner plates. Garnish with fresh tarragon.

Cook’s Hints: To blanch the spinach, plunge the leaves into boiling water for 15 to 30 seconds, or until they turn bright green and wilt slightly. Immediately transfer to an ice bath to stop the cooking process. To make unseasoned dry bread crumbs, place a single layer of white or whole-wheat bread slices on a baking sheet and bake at 300°F for about 10 minutes, or until the bread turns light brown and dries completely, turning once. Allow the bread to cool, then place it in a food processor or blender and process until the crumbs reach the desired texture.

Recipe from Braiden Rex-Johnson’s private collection.

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