Scallops gulai


With Indian influences, a gulai sauce is spicy, sunny coloured and coconutty. It is a hallmark of Padang cuisine but popular across the archipelago, cloaking meat, fish, offal, seafood or vegetables. I once had a particularly good village version with crunchy young bamboo shoots. Here I have chosen seared scallops, which cook in minutes. If you make the sauce in advance (which it is best to do anyway as this will give the complex flavours time to mellow and meld) this makes a very speedy meal.


  • 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) queen scallops (shelled weight), cleaned
  • tablespoons oil
  • 3 lemongrass sticks, trimmed, bruised and tied in a knot
  • 3 lime leaves
  • 2 salam leaves (optional)
  • 400 ml (14 fl oz) coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons dark palm sugar (gula jawa), shaved
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind paste

Bumbu spice paste

  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 3 can dlenuts or 6 blanched almonds, toasted
  • 6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 6 small red Asian shallots, roughly chopped
  • 4 large red chillies, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 3 cm ( inches) turmeric, peeled, or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 cm (¾ inch) ginger, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon salt


If the scallops have a little white bit at the side, remove it as it will become tough when cooked. If you have small queen scallops you probably won’t have to halve them, but if you have large ones slice in half horizontally. Keep in the fridge until needed.

To make the bumbu spice paste, put all the ingredients in a food processor and grind to a paste, adding a little water as needed to help everything come together.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a deep frying pan and add the bumbu, lemongrass, lime leaves and salam leaves. Fry - splashing in a little of the coconut milk to loosen the paste if it starts to get too dry - until everything is very fragrant and all the raw taste has gone.

Add the remaining coconut milk, palm sugar and tamarind paste. Bring to a simmer and cook gently for 5 minutes, stirring often to stop the coconut milk splitting. Taste for seasoning. You can make in advance up until this point and in fact the flavours will only improve by being kept until later or stored overnight in the fridge.

Fish out the lemongrass and warm the sauce through.

Dry the scallops well with paper towels. Drizzle with the remaining oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat a griddle pan over a high heat until just smoking. Sear the scallops for about a minute on each side. Drop into the sauce just before serving.