Hand-dived scallops and samphire with Marsala and porcini sauce

This is a last hurrah for hand-dived scallops and seasonal samphire as well as a need to satisfy my yearning for some fungi. While the Fruits of the Sea may be plentiful here in the Outer Hebrides, I can only read in envy about the wonderful selection of fungi currently being foraged with enthusiasm on mainland UK.

An alternative fungi foray

It’s not to say we do not have some fungi here, we do but they are not the big gusty flavoursome favourites that I craved for this dish. We are very limited by the range of habitats, and importantly, lack of woodlands for a good diversity of edible fungi.  I particularly miss woodland excursions to collect my favourite, Cantharellus cibarius, which I have known all my life as chanterelle, but that is now somewhat inexplicably referred to almost exclusively as the oh-so-trendy girolle in fine dining establishments.

In trying to find out where this change (or my perception of it) had arisen, I started digging and found a paper by Pilz et al (2003) entitled Ecology and Management of Commercially Harvested Chanterelle Mushrooms. Chanterelles, which actually encompass 4 genera: Cantharellus, Craterellus, Gomphus, and Polyozellus, are commonly referred to as chanterelles because their spore-bearing surfaces appear similar without magnification.

I must admit I got a bit sucked in to the etymology having found an enormous list of 90 vernacular names for chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius sensu lato), from Catalonian name Agerola to Ziza horia (yellow mushroom) of Basque, Spain and France. Indeed the Catalonian language appears to have a diverse and delightful array of names including Vaqueta (small cow), Ull de perdiu (partridge eye) and Rossinyol (nightingale).

Anyhow, I digress, since alas, I have no fresh chanterelles this year, but I do have some very fine dried porcini, Boletus edulis, also known as cep or penny bun (and many other great vernacular names besides). This fungi has a distinctive nutty, meaty and robust flavour that works very well in a huge array of dishes.  Balanced correctly with other flavours, it can be surprisingly subtle but identifiable on the palate, yet the distinctive flavour cuts through when required e.g. to accompany steak.

Scallops and samphire with a Marsala and porcini sauce

My supply of hand-dived scallops is becoming harder to acquire and the samphire season is pressing on, the plants are now less juicy and slightly woody, tips are now best selected.

I have married Marsala and porcini together before, but not with scallops, so I was interested to see if I could get the balance right, given the sweetness of both the scallops and the Marsala.  To counter this, I added a bit of our home-cured Old Spot pancetta to the sauce for a slightly salty tang, and the samphire also adds a bit of salt for balance.

The porcini were soaked for about 20 minutes in boiling water, squeezed out and finely chopped.  The reserved soaking liquid was added to the sauce to intensify the porcini flavour. I took my eye off the ball for a minute and slightly over-reduced the sauce, so it was a bit thick but the flavours were still balanced.

The method here focuses on the sauce since scallops and samphire are cooked simply and gently. The sauce should be prepared first and kept warm since the scallops and samphire require full attention by way of minimal but precision cooking.

Serves 2

Ingredients

3 or 4 hand-dived scallops per person

a handful of samphire, washed

Sauce:

15g dried porcini, rehydrated,

75 ml porcini reserved cooking liquid

100 ml double cream

75g pancetta, finely cubed

1 shallot, finely chopped

50 ml Marsala

10g unsalted butter

salt and pepper

Method

  • Add 10g of butter to a pan and gently fry the shallot until translucent.  Turn up the heat, add the marsala and reduce by half.
  • Add the porcini and the cooking liquid and reduce by approximately a third.
  • Meanwhile, gently dry fry the pancetta in another pan until slightly browned, drain on kitchen towel and set to one side before adding it to the sauce.
  • Add the double cream to the sauce and reduce until slightly thickened, keep the sauce warm.
  • At this stage, prepare a griddle or frying pan for the scallops and cook just enough to caramelise the outside and retain a translucent centre.
  • Blanch the samphire in a pan of boiling water for 1 minute and drain.

This tasted like a fitting way to celebrate beautiful local scallops and savour the end of the summer samphire season while welcoming the autumnal flavours of fungi.

scallop final

scallops final 2

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41 thoughts on “Hand-dived scallops and samphire with Marsala and porcini sauce

    • Thank you, it was and the sea beans are a stones throw from my house, so I pick just enough for a meal at a time. Alas, I think this will be the last dish of the season for them as they are getting past their best. Look forward to seeing them again next summer.

  1. We had samphire last night but it took an age to prepare; how quickly the seasons pass. I’m missing chanterelles too. I picked some in Angus a couple of weeks ago but my favourite chanterelle stomping ground had been ‘visited’ and pickings were frugal. I met an elderly Italian couple in the woods last year; they had come out to Angus from Dundee and had carrier bags full to the brim with ceps and chanterelles. I hate greedy foragers and they’d have been better off using a basket anyway. Fortunately, we have plenty of seaweed on Uist 🙂 xx

    • What a shame about your chanterelle patch. I had favoured spots in Strathspey, haven’t been for a while, but suspect with increased visitor numbers in Cairngorm National Park, pressure will be coming to bear. Such a pity people can’t just take enough for a meal or two – they are so delicate, as you say, a plastic bag is no way to treat them! Trucks round here doing a pretty good job at removing seaweed, hauling to Stornoway, and expansion in extraction due on North uist too, although they focus on Ascophyllum nodosum, so plenty goodies left out there. I must do more with seaweed!

  2. Oh, this looks wonderful. Scallops, samphire, Marsala and porcini. I think that’s a list of my favourite foods. I don’t think I’ve ever had scallops and Marsala together before either, and really like your idea of adding the pancetta. I assume that it worked well?

  3. Fresh scallops, porcini, and pancetta are 3 ingredients that go so well together. I’m not at all familiar with samphire but, knowing you, I bet it fit this dish like a puzzle piece. One thing’s for certain, it helped make a beautiful presentation. As I go to my fishmonger more regularly, I’ve found he carries quite a few other ingredients besides seafood. I’ve seen porcini & chanterelle there last Spring and am looking forward to seeing what he’ll have this Fall.

    • Thank you John, I really enjoyed the dish. I wonder if he might have samphire. Even the big supermarkets stock it here, although it is shipped from Israel, so I don’t buy it out of season as it comes from too far afield and as a result goes a bit flaccid, losing its all important crunch. Hope you find some nice surprises at you fishmongers.

  4. Plump and delicious scallops- yum! We have lots of mushrooms in the woodland around here, some as big as tea plates. Everyone ‘local’ tells me that they are poisonous, despite the fact that they seem to be the same (though larger) as the ones in the shops. So, I am too scared to chance them Tracey!
    Great stuff as usual, regards from an autumnal Norfolk. Pete.

    • Thanks Pete. Maybe the local people want to keep the hallucinogenic ones for themselves 🙂 I’m with you, I wouldn’t take a chance if I wasn’t 100% and experienced with each species, it’s way too dangerous and every year a few people die or come close to death as a result of misidentification. Stick with the ones in the shops!

  5. Your combination of flavours sound amazing, next time I find samphire I will try this out.
    We had scallops from Eriskay, simply cooked, it was so fresh, and sea-sweet. (I will stop reminiscing about our Scotland trip eventually!)

    • Thank you, glad you got to try the great scallops here, sea-sweet is a great description. I may well be down at Eriskay later in the week for a pub lunch at ‘The Politician’, I have had good scampi and chips made with real scampi – langoustines there.

  6. What a lovely combination. We had the most delicious beans with salicorne in Brittany last fall. I still think about the salty goodness. We never, and I mean never, see any samphire here. How lucky you are to have it outside your door!

  7. I’m yet to taste samphire – always late to these culinary delights! Your porccini sauce sounds really good though, definitely worth working on a vegetarian version…

  8. I’ve never tried samphire, but certainly have enjoyed scallops. I confess, I didn’t dive for them myself (I’ve never done any diving) but I’m sure your recipe would be delicious with purchased scallops too!

  9. Thank you. At very low tide spring tides, you can pick up scallops along the shore, or snorkel for them, but at all other times, I leave the job to professional divers, of which there are very few working here, so getting scallops when you want them can be hit or miss but that makes them special when we do get them.

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