I had no idea who Sarah Leah Chase was until 1989 when a sailing friend gave me a copy of the Nantucket Open-House Cookbook in a beautiful birthday gift basket. The seashore colors of the cover appealed to me that summer, and soon this book became essential in my kitchen, and Joan’s. This book taught each of us how to casually blend vibrant flavors of the American kitchen, utilizing herbs and spices from various immigrant cultures.
Sarah being a Nantucket caterer, the emphasis of her first cookbook is warm weather sea coast. For some reason it took me a while to figure out that almost every recipe is intended to serve a lot of people. Since I was taught to stick to the recipe the first time I make anything, at first I was overwhelmed with the sheer volume of food as I tried new recipes. Luckily, the book’s arrival coincided with a desire to entertain more often, and enthusiasts of the clean plate club assisted with the overages. Quickly I learned to halve the recipes for favorite salads and appetizers, like Marinated Goat Cheeses and Scallop Puffs Que Sera.
Ahhh, the goat cheese. Simple, straightforward, beautiful, current (at least for the past 20 years), herby, spicy, creamy and essential to all parties at the Bonhaus. I suspect some friends would refuse invitations unless I promised to provide it. (Not long ago, I even made a stoneware serving plate designed especially for serving this particular recipe.)
As for the Scallop Puffs—a creamy concoction of gruyure and scallops on top of toast rounds—any recipe that specifies it will keep in the fridge for seven days is worth trying. When I made it the first time (for a dinner party for four), it took seven days of scallop puff meals to finish off the batch! Again, halving recipes is okay, halving is okay, halving is okay….
Making Scallop Puffs also taught me the importance of fresh versus frozen fish. Previously frozen fish will weep. If you only have access to previously frozen scallops, this recipe is somewhat forgiving since the extra liquid can be reduced, but be alert! This crowd favorite can only be executed by a cook willing to watch while they broil and serve them hot. It is difficult to execute with 60 people at the Bonhaus for a Winter Solstice party, five of them planted in front of the oven door…though it never seems to be the same five.
There are plenty of other terrific recipes in Open House, but the Scallop Puffs, along with Sarah’s marinated goat cheeses and Joan, gave me the courage to entertain.
Recipes and Resources
- Marinated Goat Cheeses, Nantucket Open-House Cookbook by Sarah Leah Chase (copyright 1987 Sarah Leah Chase, Workman Publishing Company, Inc.). p. 22
- Scallop Puffs Que Sera, Nantucket Open-House Cookbook by Sarah Leah Chase (copyright 1987 Sarah Leah Chase, Workman Publishing Company, Inc.). p. 15
- In addition to her own cookbooks, Sarah Leah Chase was the Nantucket caterer who contributed to the Silver Palate cookbooks, and who inspired cooks like Ina Garten. Learn more about what Sarah Leah Chase is doing now here.