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.
The base for this can be made up to 12 hours in advance.
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.
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.
© 1990 Shaun Hill. All rights reserved.