At Le Champignon Sauvage, two-Michelin-starred chef David Everitt-Matthias serves hand-harvested scallops as a starter, using a variety of techniques and components. Michael Raffael reports
Scallops have undergone a sea change. Not so long ago they were inexpensive. You could coat them in a sauce, glaze them under a grill and voilà, coquilles St
Jacques. Nobody noticed whether they were fresh or frozen. Since then, though, they have gained status. Chefs don't dare tinker with their sweet flavour, and they can't disguise lack of freshness or overcooking.
Chefs paying a premium for hand-picked scallops expect them to be larger than dredged ones. Size matters. Twice or three times the average size is common. In taste or texture there's no difference between the two - after all, the species is the same.
How to cook them isn't a secret. It's child's play almost. Knowing how to make the most of them is much more challenging. How many chefs discard the orange and buff 'roes'? Give yourself some brownie points if you don't. Before you pat yourself on the back too hard, answer a second question: are you
throwing out the skirt?
It takes a creative chef like David Everitt-Matthias at Cheltenham's two-Michelin-starred Le Champignon Sauvage, who hates waste, to realise that there is more to the scallop than a plump knob of protein. Every little counts.
Preparing scallops from the shell
Scallops have a flat and rounded shell. They may be shut tight or starting to gape. Slip a flexible blade flush against the flat shell to free the muscle.
When you're working with large diver scallops, a thin-bladed palette knife prevents any risk of cutting into the meat.
Free the whole scallop from the curved shell (1). Discard the black digestive gland. Also remove the black intestine around the adductor muscle's waist.
Separate the skirt from the rest of the scallop. Pull off the smaller muscle (add it to a fish or shellfish stock). Remove the roe.
Use a clean, damp cloth to wipe away any grit on the muscle, or rinse it quickly and pat dry. Rinse the roe.
Cleaning the skirt (it's also called a mantle) will be done in a batch of a dozen or more scallops. Put them in a colander and wash under fast-flowing water until they are quite free from grit - at least five minutes (2). They can be frozen for later use.
Everitt-Matthias uses dried skirts to flavour dashi (Japanese seafood broth) and fresh skirts to prepare 'scallop tripe'.
Dehydrating skirts for dashi
Skirts can be dry-washed. Lay them on parchment on racks in a dehydrator and dry for about eight hours at 80Â°C until brittle (3).
Dehydrating roes for powder
Blanch roes for five seconds in salted water. Refresh and dry. Cut each one into three. Lay them on parchment. Put on racks in a dehydrator and dry for eight hours at 80Â°C until hard and biscuity. Use a spice/coffee grinder to blend to a powder and store in a sealed container (4).
Tips and tricks
Use a palette knife to open diver scallops.
To test whether gaping scallops are alive, prick the adductor muscles with a knife. Living scallops will then clamp their shells together.
Freezing skirts for tripe has a tenderising effect.
Halve the large scallops, refrigerate and cover with a damp cloth ahead of service, but always use the same day, otherwise they lose their sweetness.
The scallop dish figures as a starter on one of Le Champignon Sauvage's three menus: £48 for two courses, £59 for three courses and £69 for four courses. The scallop cost per portion was £3.65 when preparing the dish for the feature. Other ingredients are inexpensive, but the various elements involved in preparation
make it labour-intensive.
Hand-dived scallops with charred leek, onion, salted wild garlic buds
6-9 scallops depending on their size
30ml olive oil (approx)
30g butter (approx)
350g scallop tripe
6 charred leeks (see panel, previous page)
40g leek purée
12 prosciutto-thin rashers of cured jowl
12 pickled onions
6 pinches scallop roe powder
6 pinches nigella seeds
Salted garlic buds
6 pots of hot dashi tea
Halve the scallops. For each portion, heat oil in a small frying pan. When hot, add a little butter and then the halved scallop. Sear for about 30 seconds, turn and add a touch more butter. Cook for up to a minute depending on the thickness of the pieces. Drain and season with salt (5).
On a plate, pile two small mounds of scallop tripe. Put the scallop halves on top. Lay a charred leek to the side. Use a squeezy bottle to pipe two or three drops of leek purée around the plate.
Add two rolled-up slices of jowl and pickle onion. Sprinkle roe powder and nigella seeds on the scallops. Finish with oxalis and salted garlic buds.
Serve with a pot of hot dashi tea.
Dashi tea with dried scallops
Ingredients for about 200ml to allow for one 150ml serving. This has to be scaled up according to the number of servings.
15g kombu (kelp)
10g finest bonito flakes
10g dried scallop skirts
30ml olive oil
1 sliced onion, 250g approx
1 cooked mussel
1 small shiitake mushroom
Sea purslane leaf
Sprig blanched sea blight
Heat the water in a steep-sided pan to 60Â°C. Add the kombu and cook at this temperature for one hour. Remove the seaweed. Bring the temperature up to
80Â°C. Add bonito flakes and scallop skirts. Take off the heat and leave two minutes. Strain the dashi through muslin without squeezing.
Heat the oil in a clean pan. Slowly caramelise the onions until brown and sticky. Pour over the dashi. Simmer 20 minutes. Strain and reduce by 50% or more to a concentrated flavour. Serve hot in a transparent teapot, adding the garnishes at the last moment.
Cured pig's jowl
Dashi tea with dried scallops Le Champignon Sauvage cures its own pig's jowl using Middle White or Gloucester Old Spot pigs. It brines the meat for a week in a slightly sweet pickle, dry-cures it for a further week and then air-dries it. Apart from being diced thick for the tripe, it's also sliced waferthin as part of the garnish for the scallop recipe (see page 38).
Salted wild garlic buds
Pick the buds in spring or summer and preserve in salt.
Blanch a very finely shredded small green leek for 10 seconds. Drain and blend with butter, seasoning and a little xanthan gum.
Charred baby leeks
Blanch and drain the white of pencil leeks (with a little green top). Brush with oil and char on the range or a griddle.
Salt button onions. Bring them to the boil in a pan with lager, honey, vinegar and thyme. Cool. Pack in kilner jars with pickling juices and store for at least a week before using.
Ingredients are for six portions to serve as part of Le Champignon Sauvage's scallop dish, but batch sizes can be scaled up as necessary.
50ml olive oil
3 rashers mild-cured fatty bacon or pork jowl (Bath chap)
1 stick celery, finely diced
2 sliced shallots
2 sliced garlic cloves
2 sprigs thyme
4 crushed juniper berries
Â½ bay leaf
6-9 fresh skirts from diver scallops
275ml light chicken stock
Heat the oil in a small casserole. Dice the bacon or jowl and shallow-fry without colour to extract flavour. Add the vegetables and herbs and cook out without colouring. Add the skirts, port and wine. Boil and reduce by two-thirds. Pour over the stock. Cover with a cartouche or loose-fitting lid. Transfer to a low (140Â°C) oven and simmer till very tender - about two hours.
David Everitt-Matthias opened Le Champignon Sauvage 27 years ago. Back then, he recalls, scallops were emerging from their coquilles St Jacques shells.
"Cooking them then was pretty much as we do them now. Searing them was just as we do it today," he says.
What has changed are customers' palates - and his own response to their demands,especially over the past six ears. "We've gone from being a little 'clumpy' to making both the presentation and taste finer. But at no point have I sacrificed flavour. My food has always been masculine and punchy, so I've been achieving the same flavour with a lighter style."
How has he sustained his creative appetite? "An enquiring, open mind. We'll still go to an Asian supermarket and throw something we've never heard of in the basket to take home and experiment with. Recently we bought some lotus seeds. We'd read they were used in stews or buns. We decided to roast them, powder them and put them in an ice-cream and we got this wonderful caramel-mocha chicory flavour."
The enthusiasm for cooking and inventing new dishes goes a way to explaining why he hasn't cashed in on his reputation. "A chef belongs in his kitchen," he
says, "and there are many other unsung heroes who are at the stoves just as much and they aren't getting recognised."
The hope that he might win a third Michelin star still burns brightly. "Anyone who has one or two stars always wants to do better. I'm driven by the customers loving the food, by the restaurant being full and by the awards we get, but as long as I'm happy and being true to myself that makes me more comfortable than anything."
Last October, Le Champignon Sauvage was given the Outstanding Contribution Award at the Observer Food Monthly Awards 2013 (he was nominated
by fellow two-star chef Tom Kerridge), and that same month, Everitt-Matthias received the Chef of the Year title from the Good Food Guide 2014.
Anatomy of a scallop
The scallop divides into four edible components and an inedible one:
Adductor muscles: The large meaty chunks that everyone knows
Orange and beige 'roes': These are the gonads and ovaries (scallops are hermaphrodites)
Frilly skirts: These surround the muscles and include the eyes and gills
Secondary muscle: On large diver scallops you may also notice a secondary muscle, too small to serve, but good in fish stocks
Digestive gland: The fifth and inedible black part is the digestive gland