By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer
History: There are several legends that supposedly explain why the scallop shell is the symbol of St. James, but food historian Waverly Root offers a logical reason. During medieval times, one of the few places where scallops were fished was off the Atlantic coast of Galicia, in northwest Spain. It was also where pilgrims from all over Europe traveled to pray at the shrine of St. James. So to prove they had made the religious pilgrimage, many people brought back scallop shells, or wore them on their hats and clothing. A variety of European scallop is even called "pilgrim's scallop."
These bivalve mollusks, sometimes called the "caviar of mollusks," are fished, not only off the coast of Spain and Brittany, but in the Irish Sea, from New England south to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, and in the Pacific from Alaska to Peru. As is the case with other shellfish, the colder the water, the better the flavor. The two most common varieties sold in the United States are sea scallops (about 11/2 inches in diameter), and the smaller bay scallops (1/2 inch), which are harvested mostly on the East coast and considered the most tender and flavorful. At one time, many dishonest fishmongers cut out small disks of shark or other fish and sold them as scallops.
Buy: Fresh scallops should have a sweet smell and a moist sheen. Their color ranges from pale beige to creamy pink. If scallops are stark white, it may be a sign they've been soaked in water, which is a ploy to increase their weight.
Store: Refrigerate scallops immediately and use as soon as possible - within two days.
Prepare: Scallops taste best when they're cooked quickly - sauteed, grilled, broiled or poached. Coquilles St. Jacques is the French name for scallops, and also the name for the famous dish made of scallops in a creamy white sauce, topped with bread crumbs or cheese and browned.
Good for you: Scallops are high in protein and in minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, and depending on how they're prepared, relatively low in fat and cholesterol.
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