My intent was to prepare a simple but delicious supper for myself on New Year’s Eve. But that didn’t happen. By 8 pm I was lying on my bed watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder on my DVD player, and by 10:30 I was fast asleep. Things don’t always go according to plan. I guess I zonked out because of the four days I had spent with the kids. There was also an adorable but rambunctious cat that I babysat (catsat?). So I made my dinner on the eve of January 1st instead.
Leaving the office at 4 pm on Thursday, I raced to my local fish merchant who sells the freshest and most beautiful fish and shellfish. I knew it’d be crowded. And it was. A long queue of people all wanting their fresh oysters, shellfish, scallops, smoked salmon and fresh fish for their December 31st meal. So I left because no one was practicing social distancing and I don’t like standing in a queue. I managed to find everything I needed at my trusty local MONOPRIX: 4 fresh scallops (coquilles St Jacques), parsnips with which to make a purée and baby spinach to make a salad with sliced beetroot, orange and crumbled goat’s cheese. The day before I had bought a bottle of crémant (fizzy white wine), also called poor man’s champagne – delicious, especially if topped up with blackcurrant liqueur to make a cocktail called kir.
Oh, at another market I bought a lot of plump black Greek olives with which to make a fig tapenade. Warning: addictive! The sweetness of the dried figs cuts through the saltiness of the olives. Very easy to make and a perfect hors d’oeuvre to serve with the crémant or champagne. Actually, what was time-consuming was hand-pitting the olives which is why I like listening to the radio and podcasts while I cook. Throw into a mixer and add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a few capers, one garlic clove, lemon juice, the cut up dried figs, a splash of olive oil and water. Whizz and serve on very good crackers.
Most French people eat foie gras on December 31st, but I don’t like it. Literally meaning “fatty liver” the process is to ram a pipe down the throats of male ducks and geese twice a day and pump grain and fat into them to fatten up their livers. Barbaric.
I added a potato to the parsnip purée because I thought the taste might be too parsnippy without it. Cauliflower could also work. Peel, chop and boil in milk then purée. I used a hand-held potato masher. Add salt, pepper, a knob of butter and a hint of nutmeg.
I asked the Monoprix fishmonger how long I should cook the scallops. I had read many Anglo recipes that all said 2 to 3 minutes on each side. My French fishmonger said “30 seconds on each side, no longer.”
“Not 2 to 3 minutes?” I said. He looked at me in horror and said “Absolument pas, ma chère dame. Si vous voulez savoir la vérité, je mange mes coquilles st jacques crues !” Translation: Absolutely not, my dear lady. If you want to know the truth, I eat my scallops raw!
Now it was my turn to look surprised. Raw? Sort of like sushi, I guess. Here are the scallops, so fresh they were literally scraped off the shell. I rinsed them under cold water, dried them thoroughly, heated a skillet until very hot, threw in some butter and when the butter began to foam and turn brown I gently put in the scallops, not touching one another, and just seared them. Salt and pepper, not much; lemon juice if you want or why not a splash of white wine or champagne. 30 seconds each side (60 seconds each side, if you want), and Bob’s your uncle. Forget the fancy sauces. If all your ingredients are super fresh, au naturel is best. The danger of overcooking scallops is they become tough, and that would be a shame.
There are so many beautiful French white wines that you could serve with this: Sancerre, Chablis, Vouvray, a Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire or a Pouilly-Fuissé from Burgundy. I finished off my bottle of crémant. Salad, cheese to follow and a light dessert would have been nice, but I forgot to make the salad and didn’t have any cheese or dessert.
I love cooking. I started young, around 11 years old, maybe younger, encouraged by my mother who cooked a lot and made her own bread and everything else. From our kitchen came a lot of love, warmth and nourishment in all forms.
I wish you a happy, healthy New Year.