Scallops with Lentil and Coriander Sauce

Gidleigh Park’s menu uses a lot of expensive ingredients like caviar and foie gras, and I want this to be balanced by dishes which are more mundane – this doesn’t mean boring and drab, but ‘earthy’. The lentil sauce for the purée should be spicy and aromatic, and the cream and butter will counter any fierce or dominant taste and give the base a smooth texture. The freshness and flavour of the coriander leaves contrast with the earthy character of the lentil purée, yet they blend together extremely well. Fresh coriander is essential for its aroma – seeds or the dried herb don’t give the same effect.

This is just about my current favourite dish, but I wouldn’t want you to think that the recipe arrived whole and complete like a tablet from Mount Sinai. The dish began as an unsuccessful experiment with lobster and a lightly curried lentil purée, progressed through lobster and scallop with lentil purée, and then became scallops with lentil purée, lemon and coriander leaves, a definite improvement. The puree developed into a sauce base with butter and cream, and the fresh coriander, at one point just one of many small ingredients, was elevated to co-star status. The final dish tastes right to me, and I offer my regrets to anyone who ate it during its progress to that stage.

Take special care buying molluscs, especially in summer. Everyone is concerned about oysters and avoids them in months without Rs. The worst stomach ache I ever experienced came from scallops. They had warned me by smelling like a drain, and had I taken note, I would have spent less time over one.

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Ingredients

  • 16 large, very fresh scallops
  • sesame or groundnut oil

Sauce

  • 2 oz (50 g) brown lentils
  • salt
  • ½onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • 1 knob fresh ginger, peeled and crushed
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, crushed
  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes, skinned, or 2 tablespoons tomato passata
  • 10 fl oz (300 ml) chicken stock

To Complete

  • 2 oz (50 g) unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon cr è me fraîche or soured cream
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 small bunch fresh coriander, chopped

Method

The sauce

The base for this can be made up to 12 hours in advance.

  • Soak the lentils for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight, with occasional water changes, then parboil in salt water until tender, usually about 5 minutes. Drain.
  • Fry the onion, garlic and ginger in some of the oil until golden.
  • Add the crushed cardamom and allow to cook off the heat for a few seconds, then add tomatoes and two-thirds of the cooked lentils.
  • Cut the corals from the scallops and clean.
  • Bring the chicken stock to the boil, add the corals, cook for 5 or 10 minutes, and sieve the coral stock on to the lentil mixture. Throw away the corals.
  • Simmer for 10 minutes, then purée in a liquidiser.

The scallops

These must be very fresh. They should be washed at the last moment (no more than 20 minutes before cooking), and shouldn’t be in contact with water any longer than necessary to clean off any grit or sand. Never use frozen scallops for this dish, nor any that have been soaked in water (a common fishmonger’s practice to make them swell). Waterlogged scallops will always stick to the pan as they cook, then shrivel and toughen as the water bubbles out.

  • Clean the scallops, then cut horizontally into three or four slices and brush with oil. Use an oil which will enhance the flavour of the dish, like sesame or groundnut, and avoid highly flavoured oils like olive. You need only the finest coating of oil if the pan is hot enough.

To Complete

  • Reheat lentil purée in a clean pan, whisking in butter, cream and lemon juice. Check salt.
  • Add the coriander leaves and remaining whole warm lentils to the sauce. Spoon the sauce on to plates.
  • Cook the lightly oiled scallop slices in a very hot dry frying pan for a few seconds on each side, and lay them on the sauce.

You are aiming for a golden, caramelised outside with a soft and barely cooked inside. It’s important to have your frying pan really hot to get the dish right – if the scallops boil or steam they will lose the concentrated flavour needed to balance the sauce.

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