Flurries and frigid temperatures are busily advertising the arrival of winter and I’m just as busy stashing away the pumpkins and gourds, the bittersweet vines and leaves… all the trappings of a autumn, replacing them with evergreens and Christmas decorations. I love this compelling change of seasons. In a northern climate like ours, we can truly appreciate the drama of the earth’s rotation. Let those snowbirds fly toward the monotonous equator where seasons go unnoticed. As a die-hard-year-rounder, I’m here for winter’s splendid show, awaiting the snowflakes and icicles with eager anticipation.
As I trek up and down the stairs to the attic, hauling ornaments and garland, I try to think of all the calories I’m burning and hope that the pounds I packed on at Thanksgiving can be dealt with before the Christmas feasting begins. Because, in addition to its beauty, winter brings the added pleasure of holiday celebrations. Whether at Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years Eve, or other festive gatherings, food seems to be the essential common denominator and I’m already planning the menus. Hmm…
There’s another enticing bonus to winter in Maine, the start of scallop season! Aside from lobster, of course, I don’t think there is a greater gift from the sea than the Atlantic sea scallop. These delectable morsels are a family favorite. They always remind me of our first year of marriage when my husband was studying in St. Louis, Missouri and I was a fledgling teacher on a meager salary. His parents came to visit and I decided to serve them scallops. (Where did I think I would find such an item in the heart of the Midwest?) Undeterred, I bought a package of frozen “scallops” from the local Kroger’s Supermarket. And, equally undaunted, my gracious in-laws, New Englanders both, sat in our tiny apartment and politely raved about these odd tidbits presented straight from an aluminum tray.
Arriving in Maine in the early 70’s, however, I realized I had “dined” and gone to culinary heaven. No more pre-packaged-pseudo-seafood! I was in nirvana where the shellfish on my plate was as fresh as it could possibly be, having been pulled from the water only hours before. Needless to say, the very first holiday dinner I hosted here featured the luscious real deal and, this time, the praise from my family was also genuine. I remember that lavish Coquilles St. Jaques fondly… wondering how I could have even pronounced it; but it’s creamy, rich sauce marked my debut into cooking that was a bit more challenging, a lot more tasty, and not previously boxed in the freezer section.
Scallops are pricey, I agree… but a little goes a long way, especially if paired with a delicious sauce or butter. I’m suggesting this fabulous recipe in case you are trying to impress your own in-laws, or searching for a gourmet addition to your holiday menu, or just craving some serious comfort food as a Christmas gift to yourself. Coquilles St. Jacques will provide a big “Ta-Dah”. But, more simply, scallops rolled in Panko crumbs, drizzled with butter and baked for a few minutes then broiled for top browning, will also fill the bill. Another easy presentation is to quickly pan sear them and serve with a dollop of basil pesto. However you choose to enjoy your precious scallops, they are bound to be delicious and will provide one more reason to rejoice that winter is here again!
Happy Holidays to You All!
Coquilles St. Jacques
Translated, these are the scallops of St. James, patron saint of Spain. Traditionally, medieval pilgrims who traveled the route to his shrine in Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain wore the scallop shell as a distinguishing badge and possibly, as a handy cup for eating and drinking. For an authentic and very pretty presentation, try serving them in a shell. Ask a fisherman or diver to save you some.
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 pound scallops, cut bite-sized
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 tablespoons butter
- ½ pound mushrooms, sliced
- 2 shallots, minced
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 3 tablespoons whipping cream
- 6 tablespoons Swiss cheese, grated
- buttered bread crumbs
Simmer scallops in wine with bay leaf for 3-4 minutes. Drain and reserve liquid. Sauté mushrooms and shallots in butter. Add flour to pan, stirring to incorporate. Add reserved liquid, cream, and cheese.
Allow to thicken slightly. Add scallops to the sauce. Divide into 6 individual scallop shells or ramekins.
Top with buttered crumbs and additional cheese, if desired. Run under the broiler until golden and bubbling.