Lyme Bay scallops with pancetta, sherry and salad leaves

Lyme Bay scallops

Lyme Bay scallops, one of the star ingredients of East Devon

Exmouth, Devon, 20 February 2011 I first started writing notes about food and life in Devon in September 1997, creating this on-going sort of food blog long before the mechanism for delivering blogs even existed. When I started this on-line food diary, the internet was, it’s hard to believe, still in its infancy. I didn’t really realise or think that I would still be writing this all these years on, chronicling not just food but many of the significant events that have taken place in our lives over the years as our children have grown up here in Topsham.

One of my earliest entries, posted on 16 September 1997,  begins “Walking back from the Post Office, a blackboard outside the Galley Seafood Restaurant beckoned me in: ‘Live diver's scallops £6 dozen’. David, the chef and owner, had been out diving off of Exmouth and had fetched a batch of large kings from the seabed by hand.”

What a lot has happened in the intervening, what, fourteen-and-a-half years. Yet so much essentially remains within our food community. David and Ondine sold The Galley, went off to sail boats in warm waters for some years, returned and now have the best fish and chips (and fishmonger) in the world at nearby Darts Farm. Darts Farm itself has evolved from little more than a roadside ‘pick-your-own’ farm shop into an amazing food emporium that reflects the very best of West Country food and drink. The Galley, a wonderful fish restaurant under David and Ondine and just around the corner from us, is under recent new ownership and we hear good reports about the place again – we wish Mike and Nigel all the best in their endeavours.

Of course what hasn’t changed is the excellent produce on our doorstep here in East Devon. Yesterday Guy and I went for an afternoon stroll on Exmouth sea front, our destination the family-run Exmouth Fisheries fish shop at the Pierhead that has been there, well, forever. Mark runs this with his mother, who we have known for years, decades actually (she always attends Bella’s ballet performances). What’s good today? I ask. “I have some beautiful local scallops,” she tells me. Big, fat, glistening, with lovely orange corals, we reckon eight should be sufficient, since it’s just the two of us (Kim and Bella are up in the Midlands for the weekend). The scallops cost £6.40. Considering inflation and the fact that Lyme Bay scallops over the past fourteen years have become one of the most highly sought ingredients not only for local but for any restaurant with aspirations for quality (much of the catch goes to London), this seems an absolute bargain!

We cook the scallops simply, in fact not all that differently from that early blog post: this time with cubes of pancetta, fried until crispy, the fat scallops seared briefly in the pancetta fat, the pan deglazed with a little sherry and a splash of vinegar and poured over salad leaves as a hot dressing. Utterly delicious. Some things never change.

200g  pancetta (or bacon), cut into cubes
a little extra-virgin olive oil
Lots of coarsely ground black pepper
Half a garlic clove, finely chopped
8 scallops, trimmed, with coral separated
Mixed salad leaves
A splash of Manzanilla
A splash of white wine vinegar
Balsamic glaze to finish

Place the washed salad leaves in a salad bowl. Heat a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil in a frying pan. Add the cubes of pancetta together with lots of freshly ground black pepper. Fry until crispy then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen towel.

Add a little bit more oil to the pan if necessary and turn heat to moderate. When the oil is hot, add the scallops and sear for no more than one minute a side (depending on how big they are – they may need less than this). Remove then add the scallop corals, turning them after just 20-30 seconds a side.  Remove the corals, and deglaze the pan with a splash of sherry or white wine, bubble down, scraping the pan, then finish with a splash of white wine vinegar. Taste for seasoning and pour this hot dressing over the salad leaves, add the crispy pancetta and toss well. Serve in bowls or plates with the scallops and roe placed on top, drizzled, if you have any, with a little balsamic syrup or glaze.

Wine suggestion: My goodness, fourteen years ago we were drinking Marques de Murrieta Ygay Reserva 1991 white Rioja with this simple supper? What a treat! With last night’s meal, Guy and I had an altogether simpler wine, Madregale Bianco 2009, our ‘house white’ from Abruzzo, fresh, deliciously light, almost opposite in character to old, wood-aged white Rioja. However, afterwards we did treat ourselves to a glass or two of Cascina Fontana Barbaresco 2005 to accompany some Robiolo di Alba cheese. A lovely Sunday night supper with my son.

Cascina Fontana Barbaresco 2005

Mario's Cascina Fontana Barbaresco, a Sunday night treat!

Exmouth Fisheries
The Fish Shed at Darts Farm
Darts Farm
The Galley Restaurant
Cascina Fontana

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