Obsession is absorbing. It can go on for years – even decades – a process of concentrated gathering, collecting, hoarding. Then one day a point of satiety is reached and the tide turns. All that the river drew in on its flood is finally allowed to ebb back out into the sea. And when an obsession is shared a strange transformation sometimes takes place as all those stored experiences reveal themselves as expertise.
Totally Scallops (Kimagic publishing), is a specialized cookbook entirely devoted to scallop recipes. It is the pearl cultivated over Judy Eberspaecher’s 26-year fascination with Pectinidae, the world’s only migratory bivalves. Judy hails from Nova Scotia, Eastern Canada’s scallop hub, so she comes by her passion naturally. She’s a wonderful photographer, and her book is lavishly illustrated with her own images of scallop dishes, boats, regions, markets, fishers, environments… anything that is related to the delectable little critters. And there are almost 100 short, lucid, eminently doable recipes collected from around the world. It’s fascinating to see how different cultures have treated the scallop, how they choose to enhance that rich treat.
In England, we grew up prizing the scallop’s livid, glossy orange roe, tucked around the creamy white cylinder of the adductor muscle. In North America, only the muscle is prized and typically, on a scallop boat, the “roes and rims” are scraped away as detritus and tossed back into the sea. Patrick McMurray of Starfish, Toronto’s primo raw bar, brings in real East Coast scallops alive-oh and encourages his customers to eat everything inside the shell, including the roe and the ring of crunchy eyes that lies just inside the shell’s rim. It is SO delicious, SO sweet and strange and textured that you forget you are eating a living creature.
McMurray has his moment in the book, but it’s really about ways of cooking scallops. “Treat them like miniature tenderloins,” proposes English chef Theo Randall of the Intercontinental hotel in London. “They have such a great texture and flavour that they don’t need much help.” Fortunately, the rest of the world disagrees. From Montreal comes a scallop, canteloupe and foie gras tartare; from Wales a scallop and laverbread kiss; from Japan, curried scallop cakes; mango scallops fom Singapore, scallop carpaccio and Norwegian scallop and avocado tarts… And scallop soups from just about everywhere. Judy’s husband, wine writer Alex Eberspaecher, provides an introduction and a short essay on matching scallops to wine (Champagne or Riesling share the honours). Best of all are the informative little sidebars that together amount to a small treatise on scallop science and lore.
The book just won the Best Fish and Seafood (Canada) category from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards and now goes up against the rest of the world. The winners will be announced in March. This is a marvellous book for scallop lovers but it will resonate more generally than that, ringing a bell with anyone who still jealously hugs an obsession or has learned to share it. Buy a copy at the Cookbook Store (of course) or from the book’s own web site, www.totallyscallops.com ($39.95).