There’s been quite a bit of talk recently (like, three weeks ago when I started writing this post!) about the television event that is Masterchef and how it might be changing the way Australians are cooking at home. I’ve joked with friends about the new collective silence that can now be observed on the suburban streets of Melbourne at around 7pm, as families sit around waiting for their lamb roast to ‘rest’. This isn’t a bad thing: in fact, it is quite wonderful.
On a personal level, three important things have happened since I’ve become hooked on the program: 1) I have started to shop differently (and less expensively) at the markets: rather than buying everything I could possibly feel like eating in a week, I buy a couple of things that look wonderful, fresh and inspirational and think hard about how to showcase their quality; 2) I don’t worry as much about how things might (not) work out. I just go for it and if the worst thing that happens is the steak is medium and not medium-rare, I know that the heavens won’t fall and that it happens even to experienced cooks and chefs; 3) I have developed an intellectual crush on a giant Englishman who wears skinny white pants and a cravat every day.
This scallop entrée is something I made up the other day when scallops looked incredible at the market and I’d promised myself I’d use the cauliflower that was about to go limp in the fridge. They looked so impressive and are an easy starter for when you have people round. The little babies are seared in browned butter until just done and are then finished with a splash of Spanish fino sherry that mixes with the butter to become a sweet, rich sauce. They sit on the shell upon a pillow of velvety cauliflower purée and are finished with a sprinkle of finely chopped parsley, lemon rind and garlic. A bit of a Spanish/Italian hybrid – I realise – but it was delicious. It looked liked something from Masterchef and reminded me that sometimes the best dishes are the ones you discover without a recipe. So in the spirit of this, I am giving only a simple description of how this came about, instead of a detailed recipe.
Some notes: If you can't get fresh scallops on the shell, just get loose ones and serve a few on a nice plate on top of the purée. The fresh ones are sweeter! I like mine with roe attached but you could get the ones without. Spanish fino is a dry sherry, very much unlike what your grandmother used to drink of an evening. It is well worth seeking out! You can read more about it here.
1. For the cauliflower purée, make a velouté soup kind of a thing. Melt a nice knob of butter and stir in a tablespoon or so of flour, mixing to make a roux. When it looks ready (be careful not to burn!), add enough warm vegetable stock to cook a third or a half cauliflower cut into pieces. You don’t want a thick sauce to cook the vegetable in, just something with a bit of body that will make a nice smooth purée. When the cauliflower is tender, whiz the whole lot up in a blender or food processor until velvety and smooth. Season to taste and keep warm.
2. For the gremolata, finely, finely chop some fresh parsley, lemon rind and a garlic clove. The idea is for this to be delicate on the scallop – so no chunks of garlic! Set aside.
3. For scallops, melt another little knob of butter on medium heat in a pan. Season the scallops carefully with salt and pepper on each side. When the pan looks nice and hot, pop the scallops in and be prepared to start turning! They don’t take very long – only 30 seconds or so on each side. When done, transfer to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm. Return the pan to the heat and add a good glug of fino sherry – it should bubble up and smell amazing. Swirl the pan to amalgamate, or stir with a wooden spoon. – there won’t be heaps of sauce, but just enough to drizzle over the scallops. To serve top cauliflower purée with scallops and spoon over the juices in the pan. Sprinkle the tops scantly with gremolata. Time’s up! But you’re plated and done.