If you’re lucky enough to be in France for the Christmas and New Year celebrations, you’ll be most likely served a plate of sweetly nutty Coquilles Saint-Jacques as tradition. Coquilles Saint-Jacques is one of the classics of the French kitchen and it's as simple to prepare as it is delicious. You can easily change up the recipe depending on which kind of scallop you use, from large, meaty kings to the smaller, sweeter queen scallops.
If you’re heading to a market or dining out in France over the festive season, look out in particular for Label Rouge scallops from the Baie de Seine, with their pearly white flesh and deep orange color – they have a finer, sweeter flavor than other varieties. Label Rouge scallops are the variety growing in the cool waters of the sandy seabed off the coast of Normandy, specifically in the Baie de Seine, where they thrive. And most likely on tables within twelve hours of being landed on the fishing boats. They are commonly served alongside oysters, salmon tartare as a starter on Christmas day.
Harvesting is strictly regulated stringent selection for size, grading to eliminate any defects, protect species renewal and guarantee the consumer fully mature, highest quality of kings or queens. Scallops are fished along the Norman and Atlantic coastlines from October 1, as winter is prime scallop season. In France, scallops are considered a real treat because of the country’s shorter fishing season, which is strictly imposed to allow the species to recover and thrive. Scallops take two to three years to mature and the dredges used to fish for them are carefully designed to leave behind the small, immature scallops. In 2021, an impressive 23,430 tons of scallops were landed in France.
Scallops are made up of water and protein and that is why scallops are perfect for those who want to lose weight. The meat of scallops is tender, soft and juicy. A very good thing about scallops, each is only about 35 calories – you can have a plate full! For me, when the scallop is served with the orange coral roe, I melt into a puddle. Obviously, the best seafood is fresh, and prepared in such a way as to accent the natural flavors of the sea without overwhelming them. Shellfish like raw bar oysters and clams, need nothing more than a sharp knife and skilled hand to unleash the briny seasonings of the sea. Scallops can be prepared in many ways as well as, eaten raw.
The shell of a scallop consists of two sides or valves, a left valve and a right one, divided by a plane of symmetry. Most species of scallops' rest on their right valve, and consequently this valve is often deeper and more rounded than the left valve, which in many species is actually concave. But that’s probably enough of the inner workings, except I do need to speak about their eyes, yes, their eyes. Scallops have a large number up to 200 of tiny eyes arranged along the edge of their mantles. The optics of scallop eyes are set up very differently than our own ocular organs. As light enters into the scallop eye, it passes through the pupil, a lens, and two retinas and then reaches a mirror made of crystals of guanine at the back of the eye granting then exceptional contrast definition, as well as the ability to detect changing patterns of light and motion.
Seriously, the next time I order a seafood tower in Paris I’m going to be looking at and perhaps winking at my Scallops.