I’ve been obsessing about bivalves for ages now but at long last Rye Bay Scallop Week has arrived. It may seem like quite a risk to combine this delicate seafood with North African/Middle Eastern flavours but I can promise you that it really does work. As I found out at The Ambrette restaurant today (more on this meal later in the week) the humble scallop is more than a match for a myriad of spices.
Sumac Dusted Scallops with Merguez, Chickpea Puree and Mint Pesto
Serves 4 as a starter
Merguez are spicy little beef or lamb sausages from North Africa. Apparently Asda sells them. Alternatively, you can buy them from halal butchers or source them online. I used the left over merguez sausages I had in a Toad in the Hole. The kids loved it!
Don’t be put off the the number of stages in this recipe. They are all straight forward and pretty quick to complete. You’ll be eating your scallops before you know it!
- 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 400g tin of chickpeas, drained
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Fine sea salt, to taste
- Cayenne pepper
- 25g pack fresh mint
- 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
- 1 tsp white wine vinegar
- 1 heaped tbsp (15g) blanched almonds
- Pinch of salt and sugar
To finish the dish
- 4-6 Merguez sausages (Depending on length – the ones I used were about 10cm long)
- 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
- 12 large scallops (with or without the coral – you choose)
- Salt and pepper
- 1-2 tsp ground sumac
- Mint sprigs to garnish
- First make the chick pea purée. Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan over a medium low heat. Add the chopped garlic and let is barely sizzle for a few minutes. You want the garlic to slowly turn golden. Keep an eye on it as garlic burns in the blink of any eye and this will make the oil taste bitter. As soon as it starts to become golden turn off the heat and allow the garlic to infuse the oil as it cools a little.
- Place the drained chickpeas in a food processor along with the cumin, lemon juice, ¼-½ tsp fine sea salt (according to taste) and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Strain the oil into the bender discarding the garlic (the chickpeas should be perfumed with garlic rather than being overpowered by it). Blitz until you have a rough purée. If it seems dry add a little water. It doesn’t need to be anywhere near as smooth as shop bought hoummous. You can make this in advance and keep it in the fridge until you need it.
- Next make the mint pesto. Strip the mint leaves from the stalks and place in a small coffee or spice grinder. Add 2 tbsp rapeseed oil, white wine vinegar, almonds and a large pinch each of salt and sugar. Process until you have a fairly smooth paste (just like regular pesto). Ideally I would make this just before you cook the scallops as it will discolour somewhat and become a much darker, murky green (that said it still tastes good even in its oxidised state).
- Pre-heat the oven to a low temperature (say around 50-100°C). Grill the sausages until throughly cooked then chop into 1-2cm chunks. Cover with foil and keep warm while you assemble the dish and cook the scallops.
- Put a heaped tablespoon of chickpea puree in the centre of each plate (you may have some left over but it is great as a dip or spread on some crispbreads). If you like you could warm this through a little in a microwave beforehand particularly if it has been in the fridge.
- Heat the remaining rapeseed oil in a large frying pan over a medium high heat. While the pan is heating season the scallops with a little salt and pepper then sprinkle with sumac on each side. Fry the scallops for 1-1½ minutes on each side (depending on their thickness) until they are lightly caramelised. Arrange three scallops on top of a pile of puree. Scatter a few pieces of merguez around the plate then add a few small dollops of the mint pesto. Garnish with extra mint sprigs if desired.