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.
3 or 4 hand-dived scallops per person
a handful of samphire, washed
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
- 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.