scallops with pancetta and spiced cabbage
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This dish has all my favourite tastes combined: it’s salty and sweet and spicy and sour. I know – that’s pretty much ALL the tastes except bitter, since even umami, elusive though it is, there are bags of in the dish too.
There is absolutely no doubt that the best scallops are the freshest, hand-dived, preferably still in shells, with the foot, pedal and ventricle (I’m not joking) still intact. If you’re thinking scallop sashimi (bliss) or ceviche (divine), that’s a must. But unless you’re extremely lucky to live where such things are in modestly priced supply (I’m not), frozen scallops are second best. A supermarket bag of sustainable, MSC approved bivalves will set you off by about six quid and will make a posh starter for four.
As with most molluscs cooking them is about when to stop: the sooner the better. Sear them in foaming butter with lots of salt and pepper sprinkled just before they land in the skillet; not longer than a minute on one side for king scallops. These are the best to have on their own, full of flavour and a morsel to savour without distractions.
Queen scallops are – as you might easily guess considering gender pay gap and all – cheaper and smaller. But – as that gender tends to be – also more versatile and suited to gutsy companions. That’s why I’ve used them in my dish – from salty pancetta, sweet and sour cabbage and spicy chili they get the star treatment.
scallops with pancetta and spiced cabbageServings: 2-4Time: 15 minutes
- For the cabbage:
- 3 tbsp. rapeseed or groundnut oil
- 1 large mild red chili, cored and chopped
- 1 head of Napa cabbage (Chinese leaf), shredded
- 2 tbsp. sweet chili sauce
- ½ bunch fresh coriander, finely chopped
- salt and pepper
- For the scallops (per person):
- 2-3 rashers of pancetta
- 1 tsp butter
- 6 queen scallops, roeless and trimmed
- salt and pepper
- quarters of lime, to serve
To make the cabbage, heat up the oil in a wok or a large frying pan. Add the chilies and stir fry for a minute. Turn up the heat to high and add the shredded cabbage. Stir fry for 3 minutes only until it starts wilting. Stir in the sweet chili sauce and coriander. Keep warm.
For the scallops, place the pancetta rashers in a large dry skillet or pan; cook them in batches if necessary. Fry the pancetta on both sides until crisp. Remove it from the pan and keep warm.
Add the butter to the pancetta pan. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Add them to the pan when the butter is foaming and sear for about 30 seconds on each side; a minute if you use king scallops. Remove the pan from the heat.
Divide the cabbage between serving plates, top with slices of pancetta and arrange the scallops on top. Serve with the lime quarters.