The coquille concerned is la coquille Saint Jacques, known more prosaically in the English language as the scallop. Well, Dieppe may have long lost its position as the first port of France, but it retains the honour of the being the premier port of Europe for the import of the famous coquille.
To preserve the stocks on the Channel seabed, French law restricts harvesting of the scallop to the period between 1 October and 15 May. So now that autumn has arrived, the honoured molusc is back on the menus of Dieppe restaurants and on the plates of canny Dieppe citizens. They even welcome la coquille in the chic eating houses of Paris.
The scallop may produce little excitement on the dinner plates of Britain today, but it was a favourite dish for Cockneys as well as English aristocrats in the nineteenth century.
If we had been around in the Middle Ages (and weren’t tied to service to our feudal master), we might have adorned ourselves with scallop shells and have pursued the traditional pilgrimage to the Church of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northern Spain. And we would have popped in for devotions at all the churches of Saint Jacques on the way, not missing the monumental Église Saint Jacques of Dieppe early in our journey.
And even earlier in human experience, if we had happened to be Venus, we would have emerged into the world from a scallop shell…
While the history of la coquille and its devotees is fascinating, what do we do with the unsaintly scallops we buy today? You will see the shells piled up every morning in fishmonger shops and on the stalls by the Dieppe tourist office. You can buy a kilo of filled shells for about 5 euros and then ask the vendor to shell (‘décortiquer’) the fish for you. A kilo will represent five or six scallops.
The simplest recipe (and not the worst) is to pop your scallops into a hot pan of melted butter, pepper them, and fry them for a couple of minutes on either side, perhaps with a touch of garlic.
But you can be more adventurous than that. As is Michel Mouny, the legendary ‘patron’ (with Madame) and ‘grand cuisto’ of the Restaurant du Port on Dieppe’s Quai Henri IV: he does magic things with coquilles and with other gastronomic gifts from King Neptune and the deep.
After all, Michel is ‘Grand Maître de la Confrérie des Chevaliers du Hareng et de la Coquille Saint-Jacques’ and that’s not a title many of us could aspire to.
Lastly, if you can be around in Dieppe on the weekend of 14-15 November, don’t miss the annual Fête du Hareng et de la Coquille Saint-Jacques, along the Quai Henri IV and all around town. Quite a feast. Washed down perhaps with a good Muscadet or Gros Plant.
PS: If you want to add a comment to this blog, please click on the link below: 'ajouter un commentaire'