This is such a treat but actually, very affordable, especially if you local fish counter has scallops on offer. It makes a very luxurious and special starter but we enjoy it occasionally as a special lunch dish, in which case you might want to serve five scallops per person instead of three. It is very important that the scallops are not overcooked – they become tough and rubbery very easily but if you use a timer and turn them over as soon as golden and caramelised you can’t go far wrong. The pan must be hot enough for the scallop to form a crust but not so hot that they will burn before it is time to turn them over. I find a minute and a half on one side and then a minute on the other is about perfect, but if they are small then reduce the time to thirty seconds after you have turned them over.
The cauliflower is a delicious and very traditional partner to the luscious scallop – it makes such a smooth and flavourful purée. It is really worth frying the little cauliflower wafers as these add texture to the plate and gives the cauliflower a wonderful caramelisation. If you want to push the boat out a bit further you could add a rasher of crispy pancetta or perhaps fry up some crumbled black pudding and scatter some of that around for the ultimate surf and turf.
6 – 10 fat king scallops (depending on whether a starter or lunch)
25g unsalted butter
Rapeseed or olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil (two tablespoons)
Mixed fine herbs (eg chives, parsley, fennel)
1 unwaxed lemon
Sea salt & black pepper
First take your scallops out of the fridge so they can come up to room temperature. Dry them off with some kitchen towel and cut off the row, making sure you remove any tough bits that link the roe to the scallop. You could keep the roes to cook separately if you like. Season the scallops with sea salt and black pepper. Do this just before you are going to cook them.
Take a pestle and mortar and put in a tablespoon or two of finely chopped herbs. Add the extra virgin olive oil, lightly season and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Set aside.
You won’t need all of the cauliflower. Take about 1/4 of it and divide into florets. Reserve a couple. Cut the others into four pieces and place in a small saucepan with a small piece of butter (taken from the 25g) and toss around over a medium heat until the butter has melted and coated the cauliflower. Pour over some whole milk; you want it to almost but not quite cover the florets. Season with sea salt and simmer very gently or about fifteen minutes (covered with a lid) or until the cauliflower is completely soft. Drain the excess milk away. Take a hand held blender and purée the cauliflower. Add seasoning to taste and set aside to keep warm while you prepare everything else. You can make this purée in advance; it will keep well in the fridge for a day or two.
Slice the remaining cauliflower florets into slices about the thickness of a pound coin. You want about three per person. Heat a frying pan and add a little rapeseed or olive oil. (About a scant tablespoonful). Add a little butter and when foaming pop the slices in and fry gently until golden brown on each side. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm in a low oven.
Warm a couple of plates. Clean out the frying pan and put back onto the heat. Add a couple more tablespoons of rapeseed or olive oil and another knob of butter. Once melted and the fat is medium hot, add the scallops. Work quickly starting at 12.00 and putting them in a circle around the pan. Fry for a minute and a half and then turn them over, starting with the one you put in first (if you put it in using the clockface method it makes it much easier to remember the order!).
Add the remaining butter and cook for another minute. Take off the heat and squeeze over the juice of half a lemon. Put the scallops onto a plate lined with kitchen paper.
Take you plates out of the oven. Put a large spoonful of the cauliflower purée on each one and spread out a bit. Arrange the scallops around and add three cauliflower wafers to each plate. Drizzle the herb oil over and around and season the whole thing with a bit more sea salt (eg maldon) and a grind of black pepper. Squeeze over a little more lemon juice and serve immediately while it is still warm.