Char-grilled scallops and fermented fennel with a lemongrass and ginger buttermilk sauce, by Derek Johnstone, head chef at Borthwick Castle

After indulging over the festive period, January often feels like an opportunity to start afresh, improving our diet and general wellbeing. I found myself in this position last year when I reached my heaviest weight. I knew in myself I had make a conscious effort to improve my health.

It’s been documented over the years that chefs can struggle to stick to a healthy lifestyle due to unsociable working hours and the stresses that can come from working in a professional kitchen. As a busy chef, my focus has always been on preparing meals to surprise and delight others - but often, when it came to my own meals, I would simply choose whatever was convenient. It was last year when I realised that had to change.

I now take my own meal times seriously and focus on eating as many different healthy options as possible. I’ve always loved vegetables, even more so now that I’ve started growing my own. They’re brilliant to cook with and I love the versatility that they can bring. There are so many different cookery techniques that can be applied to vegetables, but something I’m using a lot these days is fermentation.

Fermented foods have suddenly become very fashionable – in fact, they’re possibly one of the most popular food categories at the moment. Fresh yoghurt, aged cheese and spicy Korean kimchi are all full of flavour and have unique aromas. As well as being tasty, fermented foods are packed full of probiotics, which help with digestion and fending off colds and flu – always a welcome benefit at this time of year!

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been fermenting my own cabbages, apples, fennel and woodland mushrooms. It needs a degree of patience, but that patience pays off! These fermented vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked, and they have a lovely, sour acidity to them.

In today’s recipe, I’ve used my fermented fennel which can be easy presented on an elegant starter plate topped with two medium size scallops and surrounded with a little drizzle of buttermilk sauce. Hopefully this dish can provide you with another option in pursuit of healthy eating in 2019.

For the fermented fennel

(These quantities will make a 450g batch)


10g fennel seeds

10g black peppercorns

2g pink peppercorns

5g cumin seeds

2x bulbs of fennel

75ml apple juice

75mls mineral water

Fine table salt

4x star anise

1 clove of garlic


1. Toast the fennel seeds, peppercorns and cumin seeds in pan, then grind in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder.

2. Trim the fennel and remove the outer layers. Wash and juice the outer layer, plus one whole fennel, through a vegetable juicer.

3. Measure the fennel juice, mix with equal quantities of water and apple juice, then pass through a fine sieve.

4. Place a 1 litre glass jar on a digital scale and set the scale at zero. Cut the remaining fennel into 1cm pieces, pack into the jar, then cover with the liquid.

5. Add the garlic, star anise and spices. Seal the jar and leave at room temperature for 3 weeks. The fermented fennel will be ready when it has softened slightly, but is slightly sour to the taste.

For the diver caught scallops


8x medium scallops in their shell


Rapeseed oil


1. Place a butter knife between the two shells and release the scallop by cutting the little muscle. Remove each scallop from its shell and remove the outer skirt.

2. Wash the scallops in lightly salted water and pat dry with a clean cloth.

3. Lightly season the scallop with salt and cook on a hot griddle for two minutes on each side.

4. Drizzle with rapeseed oil before plating.

For the lemon grass buttermilk sauce


2x shallots

20g fresh ginger

1.2g ground ginger

2x lemongrass sticks

100ml buttermilk

100ml white wine

150ml water

3g salt

50ml double cream

50g butter


1. Heat the butter and add the sliced shallots. Once tender, add the chopped, powdered ginger and chopped lemongrass.

2. Cook until the base has wilted, then add the white wine.

3. Cook the wine out for two minutes, then add the water and cream.

4. Simmer the sauce until the cream has reduced by half, then add the buttermilk.

5. Season with salt and pass through a fine sieve. Taste and season again, if required.

For the coriander oil


100g coriander

200 ground nut oil

1g sea salt


1. Bring a pan of water to the boil with salt and have a bowl of ice water to hand.

2. Blanch the coriander for two seconds until the coriander turns bright green, then refresh in ice cold water.

3. Squeeze the excess moisture out of the herbs, blitz in a food processor with the oil and salt, then pass through a fine sieve.