Saturday 22 September 2007

Recipe: Scallops with Almonds, in a Parsley Sauce

It was the Technical Department's birthday this week, and Scallops were specifically requested as a first course for dinner. And not the same-old-same-old with leeks and Pernod please (nothing wrong with it, you understand,'s been done). Some research later, and the following recipe was unearthed from the pages of Michel Guérard - a name that's effectively disappeared during the past thirty years, but which is long overdue for re-discovery: his method for gratin dauphinoise, quite apart from anything else, is both unusual and terrific!

At first reading, this particular Scallop recipe sounds as though the shellfish will be swamped by the other ingredients - not so, though, and the end result is subtle, well-balanced and delicious. As with pretty much all Scallop dishes, it can be done from scratch to serving in under ten minutes!

For Two.

Ingredients: 10 large Scallops (coral removed); 3 oz Butter; 20g slivered Almonds; 1 clove of Garlic; 1 large fistful of Parsley; 2 tablespoons of Cream; 1 tablespoon of Olive Oil; Salt & Pepper.


1. Blanch the Garlic and Parsley in boiling water for two minutes. Drain, and chop finely (if doing the recipe for a larger number, and the quantity justifies it, you can do this in a processor; when just doing it for two, though, it's easier just to chop finely by hand).

2. Put the chopped mixture in a double boiler or zimmertopf, and add the Cream and Olive Oil over a low heat. Stir throughly.

3. Heat half the butter in a frying pan. When melted, add the slivered Almonds, raise the heat, and cook, stirring, until they become golden brown. Add the Scallops, and cook for 30 seconds or so on each side. Spoon the Scallops onto heated serving plates, then add the remaining Butter to the pan and stir rapidly as it melts; spoon the melted Butter and cooking residue from the pan over the Scallops.

4. Season the Parsley Sauce, stir once more, then spoon over the Scallops. (If you want to be a purist, you can sieve the sauce at this stage to get an entirely smooth consistency - it's a matter of personal preference. I don't bother)


Thursday 20 September 2007

Water, Water, Everywhere.......!

And I'm not referring to the various recent meteorological events that have left people around the globe paddling knee-deep through their homes. I'm talking about ingredients - and more specifically those things that come to us via some kind of industrialised treatment and packaging process. Almost without fail, they are all full of water....

You'd think that when a recipe calls for 4oz of raisins, nothing could be simpler.

Actually...... it isn't.

If the recipe dates from before the introduction of plastic-packed food - and many of them do, even if they have been recently churned out yet again and glossily photographed by the latest TV celebrity cook - the chances are that the original writer meant 4oz of bone dry raisins of the sort I can remember being sold from jute sacks, along with apricots, prunes, rock-hard salt cod, and salt anchovies that had been preserved so that you could stand them on end. All these things were stacked together on the floor of the Aladdin's Cave that was Zani's, the local grocer in Greece in the '70's, who sported a handlebar moustache and a grizzled expression that came straight out of Zorba. The raisins he sold were tough, leathery and definitely chewy: you couldn't have used them without a good soaking first. The pre-soaked raisins generally available today are about 25% heavier than the original, you need to increase the quantity of any dry fruit by about a third if you want the result the original recipe-writer intended.

And it's the same with meat. Bacon, ham - in fact, most meat - has a much higher water content these days than used to be the case. The reason is simple: it's all sold by weight, so the heavier the better - at least, from the grocer's point of view. Most fresh meat is 'hung' sealed in a plastic bag, and modern bacon is better described as 'sodden' rather than 'leathery'. The practical - and damaging - result of this is that with any cooking treatment other than roasting, the water merely gets released in the process, and seriously dilutes the flavour of the end result.

There are ways to address the problem, however.............My rule of thumb is to increase the quantity of flavouring ingredients in most recipes such as lardon, pancetta etc. by 25% and either to go easy on the liquid in stews, or else - more often - to plan to reduce the sauce at the end of the process to the absolute minimum needed for serving, and thus remove the excess water.

Pomiane's recipe for Beef with Peppers is a good example. In the good Doctor's day, the air-aged beef would have been dry to the touch, browned easily in a little fat and have given off little to no water during cooking. The root vegetables he used would quite probably have been in storage for half a year in sand and would have been getting a bit gnarled. Added to which, his earthenware casserole, with its inevitably ill-fitting lid, would have ensured that the end result - even with the addition of wine - would be tender meat in a very little unctuous sauce.

When you read these days of having to seal the lid of the daubière with flour-and-water-paste 'to keep the precious liquid in' remember this has become completely redundant - with modern equipment and modern ingredients, you could leave most stews in the oven all day and you'd still end up with the meat and vegetables swimming around in a complete soup!. Following most recipes to the letter, particularly if you are using a spanking new Le Creuset, you'll find you end up with pints of insipid liquid which need reducing in volume by at least 3/4 in order to get some flavour back.

Here's how to do the reduction:

1. Strain all the solids from the stock while still warm. A large coarse sieve is ideal but failing that a colander will do. Wait a few minutes for all the liquid to drain through.

2. Degrease the liquid. Either by leaving it over night in the 'fridge and removing the solidified fat or, if you are in a hurry, using a fat separator or, if you have plenty of ice cubes, pouring the cold stock slowly over a colander full of ice: the fat will stick to the ice and the liquid will fall through.

3. Boil the de-greased stock in the widest pan you can lay your hands on - a sauté pan is fine - until it is literally syrupy. You almost can't go too far - well, don't go on until it burns - you can always add a bit of boiled wine if there is too little juice. Scrape down the sides of the pan which will have a film of concentrated stock and then return the stock to the solids. It won't nearly cover the solids but there only needs to be just enough juice to serve.

4. Reheat carefully when needed, check the seasoning before serving

Tonight's Dinner:

Salad of Endive, with Roquefort & Walnuts, in a Sherry Vinaigrette

Raie au Beurre Noire, with Puy Lentils.

Baked Raspberry Creams.

Monday 17 September 2007

Recipe: Celeriac 'sformato'

I suppose the practical translation of sformato would be 'mousse' - although it strikes me that a more literal translation would be 'shape', as in the nursery name that used to be given to blancmange (a much-loathed childhood memory, although one which has been rehabilitated in my mind, with the addition of more sophisticated flavours and under the guise of bavarois). In Italy, sformato is a savoury dish, and generally represents the unhappy end of some poor vegetable, which has sacrificed its all to absolutely no good purpose. For years, sformato was a dirty word in our house, following a particularly unfortunate experience at a Christmas Eve dinner just outside Colle Val d'Elsa, where the guests were all expected to bring a dish, and one elderly signora proudly presented her famed sformato of Cardoons. It raised the concept of 'bland' to hitherto-unknown heights, and the way it slithered eggily round the teeth and down the throat was little short of unpleasant. (Mind you, our contribution was a traditional English Christmas Pudding, and the Italians round the table, having looked on warily as the thing was set alight, took mouthfuls of the gloriously rich concoction with expressions of horror etched on their faces that completely defied description. Chacun a son gout.....)

Anyway, the following dish has gone some way towards changing my thinking about sformati in general - the flavour is good and intense, and the secret is not to process the vegetable too much before baking it, so that the finished product has body and retains a nice crunch. Quantities given here are for four, and I've found that they work perfectly when adjusted pro rata for two, six, eight, etc. If adjusting volumes to an odd number, then it works best to follow the egg/cream quantities for a smaller number of portions, but to increase the quantity of Celeriac in order to bulk up the overall amount - i.e. for three sformati, reduce the egg and cream quantities as if you were making only two, but throw in an extra handful of Celeriac dice. (If you go the other route, and try and add more egg, it just becomes too much like a baked custard).

For Four:

Ingredients: 2 cups of finely diced Celeriac; 3 oz of Butter; 1 cup of Cream; 2 Eggs; Salt & Pepper.


1. Melt the Butter in a small saucepan, and sweat the diced Celeriac in it over medium heat for about fifteen minutes, until it is tender and gives off a strong aroma.

2. Add the Cream to the pan, stir, and continue cooking for another five minutes, to allow the Cream to thicken. Allow to cool slightly.

3. Process this mixture in a food processor for half a minute, along with the Eggs and seasoning. It should still have some texture after it's been processed.

4. Divide the processed mixture between four greased ramekins, and bake for 20 minutes in a bain marie in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees C. Allow to rest for five minutes after they come out of the oven and before you turn them out to serve.

In Italy, last week, I couldn't get Celeriac, and instead used finely diced Celery. It worked well - although I had to cook the diced Celery for slightly longer in order to evaporate the water, before adding the Cream. Italian Celery has a lot more flavour than that in England, where, if I were going this route, I would definitely opt for organic Celery, which again has a lot more flavour than the non-organic variety.