Dinner Party Roulette

Published Gloucestershire Echo Weekend Supplement 31/10/2008


Do you like to take a risk? Live on the edge a little? Do you? Need a little extra spice in your life, a frisson or two?  I can help. The solution is safer than skydiving, cheaper than a track day in a Ferrari and you don’t even have to leave your own home. I’m calling it Dinner Party Roulette. An almost blood free pastime we can all enjoy. Play as follows: develop a dish from scratch in your mind, then simply cook it without prior practice the first time you invite new guests to dinner.  “What wanton irresponsibility”, I hear you cry, “no thought or care for the shattered palates, relationships and dinner plates”. “A gastronomic hooligan whose only intention is to create merry hell in the county’s kitchens”.  Come on give it a try, what have you got to lose? Apart from your friends of course.  Oh, and if you do get it wrong, your reputation will spread faster than an Aussie bush fire.


I played recently, the stakes were high (just how I like them): New friends, return invite (their food had been delicious), and a weekday evening.  Now everyone outside Broadmoor knows that having a dinner party mid week is as bonkers as placing your entire investment portfolio in the hands of Lehman Brothers. You may as well walk down Cheltenham High Street singing any one of the UK’s last five Eurovision song entries with your tartan trousers around your ankles.  The truth is, if you work, mid week dinner parties give you no time to prepare.


My guinea pigs had connections too.  The Michaels: Rowena (ex PR) and Simon (respected Solicitor), could, if needed, have all of Pittville, Sandford Park and Montpellier notified of my culinary gaffes within the hour.  My countermeasures were simple…..plenty of alcohol (and I mean enough to make sure that at the end of the night they didn’t make it down the stairs from my flat in one piece…Rowena did come close). 


So cometh the hour, cometh the chef, I loaded my Mark 3, titanium, ergonomically handled beast of a frying pan with the juiciest scallops I could find and prepared to stare  culinary ignominy in the face. Fortunately ignominy blinked first. The dish was okay but lacked a little something. Whilst Rowena and Charlotte enjoyed the first interpretation, Simon and I wolfed our portions and moved to the kitchen for seconds and a little tinkering. An extra squeeze of lemon, a little more truffle oil and the potential slander of my almost good name had been avoided.


If Dinner Party Roulette is not your bag the recipe below works a treat.


Recipe: Pan fried scallops with leeks, hazelnuts and lemon dressing 

Serves 4 as a starter

Truffle and hazelnut (or cobnuts if you can get them) is by no means a new or innovative pairing, but here I’ve paired it together with some baby leeks, pan fried scallops and a lemon and white truffle dressing.  A little celebration of the beginning of autumn, which I believe now spans the months of May to November!



8 plump scallops, each cut horizontally into 3 discs

24 baby leeks whole (or two large leeks sliced into 6 inch strips)

Vegetable stock to cover the leeks

30g of roast hazelnuts

3 tbsp of hazelnut oil

lemon juice to taste

white truffle oil to taste


salt and pepper

olive oil


Optional extra: Shallot Purée

3 shallots finely diced

1 tbsp butter

1tbsp olive oil


In advance:

  1. If roasting your own hazelnuts, heat oven to 175c, place on a baking tray in the oven and check after 5 minutes, return to the oven for a few more minutes if needed.  Remove and place in a clean tea towel.  Rub vigorously to remove the skins.  Cut 6 hazelnuts in half and set aside for garnish.  Cut the remainder into fine shards.
  2. Wash leeks and place in a pan with a knob of butter and enough vegetable stock to cover.  Simmer gently until the leeks have softened slightly but still retain a little crunch (around 5 mins). Drain, season and set aside until needed.
  3. If using shallot purée, gently sauté the shallots with the oil and butter for 15 minutes without colouring.  Season and blend to a fine purée with a hand blender. Set aside until needed.
  4. Place the hazelnut oil in a bowl, add a salt and pepper and a little lemon juice to taste.  The dressing should be sharp, but not too sharp that it overpowers the hazelnut oil.



5. Re-heat the leeks and shallot purée if using

6. Heat a heavy based frying pan for 10 mins, pour in 2 tsp of olive oil, wipe out excess.  Season scallops and add to the pan, cook for one minute on each side adding a knob of butter when you flip them over. They should be nicely caramelised on both sides. Remove from the pan immediately.

7. Place a line of shallot purée across the plate if using.  Place 6 baby leeks at an angle across the purée.  Position the scallops on top of the leeks.  Dot 3 hazelnut halves around the plate, sprinkle the hazelnut shavings over the scallops and drizzle over the dressing.  To finish add a few drops (literally) of white truffle oil (be careful it is powerful stuff). 



Top tips

Drying scallops on kitchen roll or a clean tea towel before frying increases crispness and caramelisation.  Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan for 10 minutes beforehand to ensure the scallops are fried quickly and at as high a heat as possible.     © 2008 Ben Axford


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