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Sauce Thermidor, most commonly poured over grilled lobster, takes a while to cook. That’s why I advise to make double the amount – it’s a bit tricky, but it’s absolutely special for a seafood dish. And it need not be lobster.
A North Yorkshire equivalent of lobster Thermidor is served at a wonderful chippy in Filey, on the east coast of North England. It’s a proper chippy but has seating inside and table service, so some locals call it ‘a fish restaurant’. Haddock prevails over cod, everything is cooked in beef drippings, bread and butter turns up whether you order it or not and if you ask for tea to be served AFTER the meal, they know you’re a Johnny Foreigner. And you know you’re in the North.
I’m not super-keen on battered fish so I usually look for something else (which isn’t battered saveloy). And that’s how I discovered their cod and prawn Mornay: the seafood baked in a rich cheesy béchamel. And before you point out that fish and cheese is a no-no, I’ll tell you in this instance it is a resounding yes-yes.
But as much as I loved their dish, I didn’t want to reproduce Brown’s Mornay; I thought I’d try something more sophisticated, more – tongue goes into cheek, Johnny Foreigner. Lobster Thermidor is a starchy, fine dining classic but Thermidor is a sauce in its own right and there’s no reason something else apart from lobsters should not be thermidored. Prawns, fish mix, clams – or scallops.
There are as many different interpretations of sauce Thermidore as there are chefs, probably, so mine is a little different too – Parmesan, you see, takes me back to the Filey dish. It is a real chore to cook and cook and cook the shallots until they soften but they absolutely must be soft – you don’t want oniony bits in your fine sauce. The reduction stage is even more boring – all of forty minutes or more of it as the stock et al must cook down to about a tablespoonful of liquid. But hey – it’s not your basic dinner dish. It’s special.
It tastes special too, and I urge you to make the full or even double amount of the sauce and freeze a portion for a future occasion. Any fish or seafood splashed with the Thermidor will be elevated to fine dining status. And the backdrop for the scallops is something you should certainly consider cooking too if you go for my recipe: spelt with pancetta is a blissful bed for the fat little scallops smothered with the posh, fragrant sauce.
scallops thermidorServings: 2Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
- 100g (½ cup) spelt
- 50g (2 oz.) diced pancetta
- 6 large scallops, trimmed, rinsed and patted dry, corals separated
- salt and pepper
- 1 tsp butter
- For the Thermidor sauce:
- 25g (1oz) unsalted butter
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 500ml (1 pint) fish stock
- 50ml (2fl oz.) white vermouth
- 90ml (3fl oz.) double cream
- ½ tsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tsp finely chopped mixed herbs (flat-leaf parsley, tarragon and chives)
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 15g (½ oz.) finely grated Parmesan
1. First make the sauce: melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the shallots and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add the vermouth, stock and half the cream. Bring it to the boil and keep bubbling over medium heat until it reduces by three-quarters, about 40 minutes.
2. Stir in the remaining cream, mustard and herbs; add the lemon juice and most of the Parmesan. Simmer for a few more minutes until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Set aside.
3. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, add the spelt and cook for 10-12 minutes until al dente. Drain and return to the pan.
4. Cook the pancetta in a skillet until crisp. Transfer to the pan with the spelt with a slotted spoon, leaving any fat in the skillet.
5. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Add the butter to the bacon pan and sear the scallops for 1 minute on each side. Add the corals into the pan for the last few seconds.
6. Lightly butter one gratin dish or two individual ones. Preheat the grill to high.
7. Stir the spelt with the pancetta, check for seasoning and add salt and pepper. Spoon the spelt into the dish/es, arrange the scallops on top and spoon the Thermidor sauce over them. Top with remaining Parmesan.
8. Place under the grill for 2-3 minutes until bubbling and browned. Serve immediately.