IT WOULD not look out of place on a battle-weary soldier’s lap in the 1940s, but Emily Watkins’ seafood dish is a gourmet winner delighting old warriors and modern diners alike.
Her creation – dubbed Fight them on the Beaches – was a winning course on the BBC2 cookery contest Great British Menu.
The chef of The Kingham Plough, in the West Oxfordshire village, created the dish to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
Fittingly, her grilled scallops with smoked cockle broth, seaweeds and morels in a military-style tin and flask on a wooden tray decorated with sand, was served for a special D-Day 70th anniversary banquet at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Tucking in to Emily’s concoction were war veterans and Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cameron in a special television final shown on anniversary of D-Day on June 6.
The 35-year-old mum-of-three said: “It was an amazing experience to serve it to the veterans – they seemed genuinely surprised that we were going to that effort for them but they’ve given us the freedom we have today. We put the dish on the pub menu on the day the banquet was televised and it’s still on now.
“An insane amount of people have wanted to try it and it’s selling out ridiculously, which is great. We’ve sold a few hundred.
“It’s quite hard work for everyone in the kitchen but it’s absolutely fabulous.
“Being on the programme has given us a lot of coverage and there’s been a really positive vibe.”
Emily, who trained under top chef Heston Blumenthal, had to overcome two stages to reach the final, which included five episodes from Monday, June 2, to Friday, June 6.
She competed against eight other top chefs to be chosen as one of four winners, taking top spot in the fish category.
Emily Watkins with Prime Minister David Cameron
Their prize was being selected to serve at the banquet – filmed in February. Emily, who has owned the pub with her husband Miles Lampson, 36, since 2007, said: “The beginning of the show was terrifying and nerve-wracking.
"I found there was a lot of pressure because I was going into the unknown in the first rounds but I really enjoyed the final week, because we got feedback for our dishes, so were able to work on them.
“It was fantastic to get all the way to the end and that’s why you enter the competition.
“To have your food being judged by other chefs and professionals is terrifying because they are your peers and the ones who really count, as well as customers.
“So to get your dish all the way through means respect from your peers and that’s really exciting.”
Fight them on the Beaches – How to make Emily’s creation
- Fish stock – One finely sliced bulb fennel, half a finely sliced head celery, half a finely sliced large onion, one finely sliced carrot, 1.5kg fish bones, half a lemon, half a head of garlic, half a bunch of parsley stalks, one bay leaf
- Cockles and smoked cockle broth – 2.5kg cockles, vegetable oil, 225g sliced shallot, 150ml verjus, two-and-a -half litres of fish stock, 50g red dulse, three egg whites, 90g smoked cockle meat, 9g lecithin per 500ml broth
- Seaweed ‘tobacco’ – 50g fresh nori
- Braised morels – 60g dried morels, 40g unsalted butter, three sprigs thyme, 150ml fish stock
- Sea aster and purslane – 200g sea aster, 50g sea purslane
- Caramelised sea lettuce – 100g sea lettuce, 25g unsalted butter, 25g caster sugar
- Scallops – one very large scallop per person in its shell, olive oil, salt, one lemon
- For the fish stock, soften the finely sliced vegetables, adding fish bones and continue to cook. Cover with water and boil for 20 minutes, skimming all the time. Add the lemon, garlic and herbs, then leave to stand for one hour before passing the stock through a fine sieve.
- To open the cockles, place a large frying pan on a high heat. Add a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil to the pan and heat until smoking. Add the cockles in batches and flambé all the cockles until they are open, shaking the pan continuously. Reserve 30 plump ones for serving and pick 90g cockle meat for the clarification. Use the remaining cockles and all of the shells for the broth.
- For the smoked cockle broth, cook the shallots right down until sweet. Add the verjus and reduce until it just covers the shallots. Add the fish stock and bring to the boil. Pour the cockles and all of the shells into the broth. Add the dulse. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Pass the stock through muslin and chill to fridge temperature. When cool, pour the stock back into a pan. Place the egg whites and the reserved 90g cockle meat into a food processor and blitz until incorporated. Mix the egg white and cockle meat mixture into the broth, bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Scoop off the protein that rises to the top then pass the broth through muslin. Blitz in the lecithin.
- For the seaweed ‘tobacco’, thoroughly wash the fresh nori. Place in the dehydrator, or a very low oven, to dry for two hours. Crumble into ‘tobacco’ for seasoning.
- For the braised morels, soak the morels in water. Use a turning knife to remove the base. Wash the morels thoroughly, with at least eight changes of water, to remove all the grit. Foam the butter with the thyme in a pan. Sauté the morels in the foaming butter then add the fish stock to finish cooking. Reserve some braised morels for garnish.
- For the sea aster and purslane, prep the leaves. Wash and set aside until ready to serve. To serve, braise the sea aster and purslane in a fish stock and butter emulsion.
- For the caramelised sea lettuce, thoroughly wash the sea lettuce and pat dry. Foam the butter in a pan, add the sugar and then the seaweed to caramelise. Place on parchment to crisp.
- For the scallops, prep the scallops. Heat a griddle pan until smoking. Place the scallops in a bowl with a little oil and salt. Cook on the griddle pan for about two minutes on each side to give a charred pattern. Finish cooking for a couple of minutes in the oven if necessary. Finish with lemon juice.
- To serve, foam the smoked cockle broth with a hand blender. Pour into the flask and use a smoking gun to ‘smoke’ the top before closing. Place the nori tobacco in separate tin. Place the scallop in the centre of the dish and arrange the cockles, seaweeds and braised morels all around. Serve the nori tobacco and the smoked cockle broth on the side.