Cheating with scallops

I remember when scallops were so plentiful you would buy them in batter from your local fish’n'chippery; when they used bulldozers to get into the piles of them at the market (now they use tongs); when they were the cheapest of cheap. They were the affordable shellfish. Not any more.

Real scallops – which means scallops which have not been soaked overnight in water, thus eliminating flavour and adding free weight – are getting to the pure luxury stage, up there with crays and crabs. There is nothing exploitative about this. It’s just that the abundance of the past has led to the scarcity of the present. Amid all this is the politicking of fishers vs fishers, and environmentalists vs professionals. A common argument in these aware times.

Amid all the discussion, I can’t help but wonder whether the scallop is going the way of the dodo. But, with all respect to this legendary flightless bird, did it taste anything like a fresh scallop?

Nothing from the sea can match the delicacy of these strange little blobs with the red tail. Rich yet tender; flavoursome, without overwhelming; special to present, yet simple to cook. Sounds a whizz, eh? But how to accommodate all these pluses without having your bank manager on the phone?

The trick is to blend the expensive with the cheap, but delicious, so you can have the satisfaction of the bulk, but the flavour of the rich, at an affordable price.

1 onion, chopped roughly

1 clove garlic, sliced finely

1-2 chillies, de-seeded, sliced finely

1/8 large pumpkin, cut into chunks, or ½ butternut pumpkin

bunch of chives, or fresh herbs, chopped

juice of 1 sweet orange

50g unsalted butter for the pumpkin

50ml cream salt

black pepper

1 head of broccoli, ‘flowers’ cut from the stem, leaving only small, bite-size pieces (or beans, or peas, or asparagus – whatever is fresh, seasonal and thus cheap)

dried pasta shapes, whichever you have in the cupboard – The pasta should have plenty of nooks and crannies to take and hold a thick sauce.

250g ‘dry’ scallops — scallops which have not been soaked and removed of their freshness and flavour – Run a tap over them to remove any clinging sand or whatever is left behind from King Neptune’s locker. Using a paring knife, remove the hard gristle running down the back of the scallop.

juice of 1 lemon

50g butter for the scallops


Soften the onions and garlic with the chillies in a little olive oil, 15-20 watchful minutes. Meanwhile, cook the pumpkin, wrapped in plastic, in the microwave until it takes easily to the knife – somewhere about 10-15 minutes, depending on how thick the pieces are. It should be firm, yet soft enough to mash with a fork.


Mash the pumpkin with a fork or potato masher. The pumpkin should not be pureed in a food processor. It should be done by hand to maintain its slightly ‘rustic’ feel. Mix in the onions-garlic-chillies, half the chives, orange juice, the butter and cream, and taste for seasoning. It will probably need a teaspoon of salt, and no pumpkin dish can take too much black pepper. Set aside in a warm place. The mixture should be quite thick, but still pourable – just.


Cook the broccoli until it takes easily to the knife. Broccoli has more flavour if allowed to cook until it might seem to be overdone. Keep it slightly on a raw side when you are using broccoli with dips. Set aside. You will re-heat the pumpkin and broccoli at the death.


Cook the pasta, following the instructions on the packet. Heat the oven to 220°C.


Heat a heavy pan which can go into the oven, with a tiny amount of oil, until it is very, very hot. Toss in the scallops, without overcrowding the pan. You have to allow each scallop plenty of room to sizzle successfully. The scallops will exude their own juice as they cook. Don’t be fooled into undercooking scallops. They are quite muscular little fellows and need at least a couple of minutes belting about the pan, and several more in the oven. Feel them. They should be firm, with plenty of give. Slice one as a test: they should be just done, translucent, but not pure-white in the middle. When they are done, leave them in the pan but off the heat, douse them in the lemon juice, give them a little salt and pepper, and allow the butter to melt into them.


Re-heat the pumpkin and broccoli as needed – they should be hot enough anyway, as all the above takes only a few minutes – and toss the pumpkin through the pasta in the pan with the scallops. Add the broccoli and extra chives, and serve.

WINE: I like aged riesling with scallops. Winemakers unfortunately describe these wines as having a kero-like aroma. The best come from Clare or Eden Valley or central Victoria. After 4-6 years in the bottle they are a treat.