Saturday, January 02, 2010

Diver-Caught Scallops? Yeah, Right...

My first job of the day on the starters section was washing and picking three hundredweight of lettuce - about enough to fill 23 Volvo estates. There were four types of leaves – rosso, oak leaf, frissee, and radicchio. I’d pick each leaf off, carefully rip it into strips, and throw away the spine.

The lettuce had to be washed three times until the water was clear, then dried in a salad spinner. It was a dreadful job in winter – the water was so cold that after an hour your hands would go completely numb and you’d lose all sensation in your fingers, and if you ever got caught skimping on the washing, there’d be trouble.

Once my tubs were filled with endless prepped leaves, I’d move on to the terrines, soups, and whatever else needed doing. Every few days, Greeny would pop down with a wild salmon for my gravlax. I don’t know if he was still getting them from the poacher we’d met in the pub. There were rumours he’d bought himself a snorkel and a speargun and was doing it himself.

The fillets were cured with salt, sugar, lemon and lime zest, and wrapped tightly in clingfilm, and kept in the fridge for three days. The curing mixture was washed off and they were covered in finely chopped dill, and kept in the fridge for another day for the herb to penetrate the flesh. The skin would be leathery by then. I’d slice the flesh and serve it with blinis, made from buckwheat flour, fresh yeast, beer, eggs, salt and sugar. I’d make fresh blinis for every service and keep them warm in a tea towel under the lights.

The scallops that came in varied in quality. Sometimes they were small and grey, and looked like they’d been on the boat for a couple of days. Other times they were beautifully sweet and pearl white. After two bad batches in a row, we started buying them in the shell and shucking them ourselves. Sometimes they were so fresh they sprang back as you prodded them.

Stewie, who as you might remember had studied a marine biology degree and had intellectual pretensions above "just being a chef", knew all about scallops and how the boats that caught them wrecked the seabed. He grimaced as he showed us the shells, and the chips round the edges caused by dredging. He said that was how you could always tell whether they had been diver-caught or not. We were still describing ours as 'diver-caught', so one day I put a copy of the menu in front of Stewie just to watch his reaction.

He immediately became incensed and yelled at the restaurant manager to change it. “If these are diver-caught,” he screamed, holding up the battered shells like a court exhibit at the Old Bailey, “then I’m a monkey’s fucking uncle!”

We served the scallops with a vierge sauce, which is very easy to make, and in my humble opinion is the best way to serve them. You dry roast coriander seeds in a pan and crush them with the end of a rolling pin, releasing a wonderful aroma. You add olive oil, white wine vinegar, finely diced red onion, tomato concasse, and chopped garlic, parsley and chives.

The vibrant pink and green sauce looks great with the scorched, golden-brown scallops. The trick with cooking them is coating them in rust-red scallop dust (dry scallop roes under the lights and blitz them in a grinder). The powder caramelises as they cook and gives an intense flavour. The other trick is not to overcook them, or as Keith Floyd liked to point out, "they become like rubber bullets".

To get away from the madness on the other side of the kitchen, and the need to fight for space on the stove, I used an induction cooker on my station. The beauty was it'd get a pan spitting like a trapped cat in seconds, and gave out no residual heat so you could put lettuce nearby without it wilting. I’d fry the scallops in a sizzling hot pan for 30 seconds on each side, so they were caramelised on the outside and marshmallow soft in the middle.

After a couple of weeks, I tinkered with the vierge sauce recipe and added a few crushed fennel seeds. Underbelly of aniseed, and thoughts of France, I mused in a rare moment of pleasure. I was so proud of the addition that in a moment of madness, I told Jules.

“Who told you to change it?” he snapped.

I bit my lip. He was just like all those other robots that come out of Michelin star restaurants - a complete cunt.

My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available on Amazon CLICK HERE

"Reading this book is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar

Twitter Reviews:

"A rattling good read." - @chrispople

"It's a fab read. The Fat Duck chapters are class." - @Mcmoop

"If you claim to be a foodie you MUST buy this book." - @CorkGourmetGuy

"Bought your book and am hugely enjoying. Funny, engaging, interesting, lively." - @oliverthring

"A great read about the reality of working at The Fat Duck & other less famed restaurants." - @alanbertram

"Very funny, very close to the bone." - @AmeliaHanslow

"A great read and must have book for anyone in the industry." - @philwhite101

"Thoroughly enjoyed it." - @rosechadderton

"Excellent!" - @MissCay

"Just finished your book, and loved it! Thanks for ending on a happy note; it needed it after all the reality ;-)" - @voorschot

"Fab account of psycho chefs, plus work experience with Heston and Stein." - @Laurajanekemp

"Excellent read & loved the ‘scary duck’ tale! I look forward to the follow up book (no pressure ;D). Great memories of first being addressed as chef." - @granthawthorne

"Sensational account of a chef’s life, couldn't put it down. Get it from Amazon now!" - @Fishermansarms

"I'm loving your book. Very enjoyable. Some great one-liners. "His legs wobbled like a crab on stilts" had me chuckling." - @griptonfactor

"Highly recommended. A great book about changing careers for his love of cooking." @Whatsinmymouth

"Downloaded the book last Sunday and finished it the same day! Great read." - @MTomkinsonChef

"Very funny." - @SkyRuth

"Any of you who have flirted with chefdom, go and immediately download this book from Amazon - Down and Out in Padstow and London. Great read." - @el_duder

"Truly brilliant." - @kcassowary

"Just rattled through Down And Out in Padstow and London by Alex Watts in no time at all, what a great book." - @leejamesburns

"It's brilliant, a fine piece of work. If you've ever wanted to peer into a professional kitchen I can't recommend it highly enough." - @acidadam

"Fantastic read - the English Kitchen Confidential!" - @cabbagemechanic

"A great eBook to buy about serving your time (literally!) as a trainee chef." - @OkBayBach

"Great read." - @rankamateur

"Don't start reading it if you have things to do:)" - @NorthernSnippet

"Great book...couldn't put it down, read it non-stop on a train and finished it in one day." - @chunkymunki

"Jolly good read, feel free to do one more." - @esbens

There are also 12 reviews on its Amazon page.

Haven't got a Kindle? You can download a free Kindle reader app to read it on your computer. CLICK HERE.


thedrb said...

Beautifully put sir, enjoying your posts as always and hope they remain as strong as ever this year

Lennie Nash said...

Thanks Mr DRB,

I moved to a new place, so have been without the interweb for the past few weeks, so normal service will hopefully now be resumed. Hope all is going well, and all the best for the new year/decade.

All the best,


Mat Follas said...

Great as always ... not the first restaurant to pass off dredged as dived scallops ... really pisses me off too when its obvious this has been done and surprises me how few suppliers care about the difference

happy new year !

Lennie Nash said...

Happy new year Mat,

Thanks for the letter. Maybe we should start up a dredged scallop outing service.

All the best for the coming year,