May 16, 2012

National Coquilles St. Jacques Day

"I will always associate the smell of this dish with my first imaginings of France — and with the imminent arrival of guests. When I smelled this dish cooking downstairs, I knew company was coming. My mother made it for special occasions only. I remember being terrifically impressed that she served it in scallop shells. I yearned for this dish — knowing it only by smells — and was delighted when I finally turned old enough to sit down to eat with the adults. This was the reward." - Anthony Bourdain

It's National Coquilles St. Jacques Day!

If you've never heard of this particular dish, don't feel bad - many people haven't. That's the grand thing about national food holidays, though: you get to learn about and sample foods you may have never heard of let alone had. So - what is a "Coquilles St. Jacques"? Translated it means scallops of St. James. It's a classic French dish made from scallops, wine, sometimes bourbon or cognac, a heavy cream sauce, breadcrumbs, and cheese, and it's traditionally served with mushrooms inside of a (obviously clean, unless you're into unidentified ocean grit) shell.

Where does the name come from, though? Unsurprisingly, there's some debate. Some believe that it was named after one of Jesus' 12 apostles (James, brother of John). One story goes that St. James rescued a drowning knight, and when they emerged from the ocean depths they were covered in scallop shells. In another variation, a Spanish nobleman in procession to his wedding was carried into the sea by his suddenly crazed horse. It was there that the nobleman miraculously discovered the body of St. James which was covered in scallop shells.

And now you're all the wiser, foodies.

I'm incredibly disappointed by my attempt to veganize today's food holiday. I took a portabella mushroom and stuffed it with breadcrumbs, diced vegan scallops, a cashew cream and white wine sauce, and topped it with Swiss cheese. There was nothing particularly wrong with it, I just didn't think it was all that nice tasting (honestly, I don't think I like scallops vegan or otherwise). I did find a pretty sweet shell that made the perfect vessel for serving said kitchen catastrophe in though, so for me, today is a partial win!

Happy Coquilles St. Jacques Day!