This is another summer recipe that is quick to make, easy to prepare ahead, and stunning on the plate. What makes this recipe stands out is the mix of Asian spice and western technique. All too often fushion means confusion–a muddle of ingredients thrown onto a plate with no reason or structure. But just occasionally, the East and West combination makes brilliant flavor.

Serves 6

  • 18-24 large sea scallops (about 1kg/ 2 1/4lb)
  • dark sesame oil, for brushing
  • salt and pepper
  • bunch of watercress
  • 125ml / 4fl oz/ 1/2cup crème fraîche

For the Sweet Chili Sauce

  • 1 stem lemon grass, pelled and cut in pieces
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 small red chili, more to taste, stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 5cm/ 2in piece of ginger root, sliced
  • 3-4 tablespoons cilantro leaves
  • 70g/ 2 1/2oz/ 1/3 cup sugar
  • 60ml/ 2fl oz/ 1/4 cup water
  • 60ml/ 2fl oz/ 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (nam pla)
  • 1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce

1. For the sweet chili sauce: Combine the lemon grass, garlic, chili, ginger root, and cilantro in a food processor (a small model is best) and work them to a coarse paste. To make caramel: In a small heavy pan gently heat the sugar and water until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Have a large bowl of cold water ready. Boil the syrup without stirring until it cooks to a light golden caramel. Lower the heat and continue cooking the syrup a few more seconds to very deep golden. Plunge the base of the pan in cold water to stop the caramel cooking. Add the vinegar and heat, stirring, until the caramel dissolves (stand back as the vinegar will sting your eyes). Stir in the lemon grass and chili paste, then the fish sauce and tamari or soy. Set the sauce aside.
2. To cook the scallops: Heat the broiler and brush the rack with sesame oil. Discard the small crescent muscle from the scallops, pat and dry them on paper towels. Brush the scallops with more oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil the scallops about 5cm/2in from the heat until they start to brown but are still translucent in the center, 1-2 minutes on each side. Arrange a bed of watercress on 4 individual plates, add the hot scallops and top with a spoonful of crème fraîche. Drizzle generously with sweet chili sauce and serve at once.

Short cut: use commercial crème fraîche or substitute sour cream.

Getting Ahead: Make the sauce ahead–it will keep up to a week in the refrigerator– and broil the scallops at the last minute.

On the Side: Let’s go Asian with steamed rice or rice noodles.

In the Glass: A feisty white with body and just a touch of sugar. I’d explore the hot-climate Chardonnays from California or Australia.

Crème fraîche: This thick French cream has a slightly tart flavor that is particularly good in sauces.  It is easy to make at home using high fat heavy cream and cultured buttermilk labeled “active”.

To make 1 liter/1¾ pints/1 quart, stir together in a saucepan 750ml/1¼ pints/3 cups heavy cream, 250ml/8fl oz/1 cup buttermilk, and the juice of 1 lemon.  Heat gently, stirring, until just below body temperature.  Pour the cream into a container and partly cover it.  Keep it in a warm place, until it thickens and develops a slightly tart flavor; this will take anywhere from 12-24 hours depending on the buttermilk culture and the temperature of the cream.

From Good Food No Fuss by Anne Willan, 2003
Photo CREDIT: Simon Wheeler