Saturday, August 1, 2015


Last week, to mark the festival of Santiago, I showed a heap of scallop shells, symbol of the pilgrims to the shrine of St. James in Santiago de Compostela (Galicia, northwest Spain). Since medieval times, pilgrims collected the scallop shells to wear on their belts to show they had completed the arduous journey.

All those empty shells made me want to fill them up! I used to buy fresh scallops at my local Mediterranean fish market (and saved many of the shells). But, locally-fished scallops are a rarity nowadays. So I bought frozen scallops at a big supermarket.

Frozen scallops include the white muscle and red coral.
They came in 250-gram packets (about seven to a package), cleaned and including both the white muscle and the red coral. The label indicated the scallops were distributed by a Galician outfit—but their source was the Irish Sea in the northeast Atlantic.

Top scallops with a sofrito and crumbs and cook under the broiler until browned.

This is a typical Galician way with scallops, which are called conchas peregrinas or vieiras in Spanish (in French, they are coquilles St. Jacques, or St. James’s shells). Put two or three scallops in each shell. Top with a savory onion-bacon mixture and breadcrumbs, then gratin them under the broiler. (If you haven’t got scallop shells, place the scallops in small ramekins.)

Serve, accompanied by bread, as a starter. Serve scallops with a crisp white wine from Rias Baixas, Galicia, made with Albariño grapes.

Serve scallops with a crisp Albariño wine.

Scallops, Galician Style
Vieiras a la Gallega

Serves 6 as a first course.

1 pound frozen scallops, thawed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove minced garlic
3 slices bacon, chopped (2 ounces)
¼ cup white wine
2 teaspoons pimentón (paprika)
Pinch of hot pimentón
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs

Pat the scallops dry. If they are very large, they can be sliced in half. Place them in a bowl with the lemon juice.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet and sauté the onion, garlic and bacon on a medium heat until onion is softened, about 10 minutes.

Add the wine and cook until partially reduced. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the two kinds of pimentón, parsley, salt and pepper.

Drizzle oil over crumbs before broiling.
Divide the scallops between 6 scallop shells or individual ramekins. Put a spoonful of the onion mixture on top of the scallops in each shell. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over the scallops.

Set the shells or ramekins on a broiler pan and place the pan under the broiler until scallops are bubbling and tops lightly browned, about 6 minutes.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


Scallop shells are a symbol of pilgrimage to the shrine of Santiago (St. James).

Happy Santiago Day! Today (July 25) is the festival day of Santiago, St. James Apostle, patron saint of Spain. The holy shrine of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, tucked in Spain's far northwest corner, has been site of religious pilgrimages since medieval times. Nowadays, the Camino de Santiago, which crosses from the French border through northern Spain, attracts trekkers both religious and secular.

I’ve never walked the ruta jacobea, the pilgrim’s route, but I’ve made my gastronomic pilgrimage to Santiago. I chose a recipe for veal cutlets—Escalopes San Jacobo—to celebrate the day. Diego, Jaime and  Jacobo are all variations of the name “James” in Spanish.

Escalopes San Jacobo are breaded veal cutlets with ham and cheese.


Santiago de Compostela--Spain’s First Tourist Route

How in the world did this nowhere place on the Iberian peninsula, Finis Terrae, at the western edge of the then-known world, come to be almost as important as Jerusalem and Rome in the realm of the church faithful?

St. James the Apostle (Santiago in Spanish) supposedly came to Spain to preach the Gospel, then returned to Jerusalem in the year 44 AD, where he was beheaded by order of Herod. After his martyrdom, tradition says his sepulcher was transferred to a ship, which, steered by angels, reached Galicia’s Atlantic coast and traveled up the River Ulla to the Roman town of Iria Flavia. There the sepulcher was interred and remained undiscovered until early in the 9th century, when a brilliant supernatural light appeared to a pious hermit, leading him to the burial place of the saint. The appearance of the star caused the site to be named campus stellae, star field, or Compostela.

A church was built at the site of the tomb, and news of the discovery of St. James’s tomb spread rapidly through Spain and across the Pyrenees into France and beyond. Miracles, visions and healing were attributed to the Saint.

The discovery of the Apostle’s tomb came at a time when the Muslim invasion of Spain was gaining ground, with the Moors threatening European Christendom. A mustering of the faithful in pilgrimages was one way to keep the infidels at bay and to protect and strengthen these small Christian kingdoms in the north of Spain against the spread of the Moorish strongholds.

One legend that persisted was that of St. James as the Moor-slayer. The legend got its start in the Battle of Clavijo, when King Ramiro I defeated the troops of the Moorish king, Abderramán II, aided by a knight riding a white steed, who fought alongside him and turned the tide of the battle. According to legend, the knight turned out to be none other than St. James.

Sanctifying journeys to holy shrines began with pilgrimages to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.  But, by 1078 the Turks seized the Holy Sepulcher, halting the traffic of pilgrims to that holy site. After that, the military orders of crusaders were the only ones to visit there, so ordinary pilgrims and penitents turned elsewhere.

After the 11th century, Santiago became the main destination for pilgrims throughout Christian Europe, attracting kings, princes, knights, prelates, monks as well as the faithful of ordinary classes. The pilgrimages reached their height during the 12th and 13th centuries. Those who made the journey were assured  automatic absolution.

The Pilgrims’ Way to Santiago brought the development of Romanesque art and architecture, of Provençal poetry, of legends, literature and troubadours, of commerce, all of which shaped the life of Europe in the Middle Ages right up until the Renaissance.

The establishment of numerous monasteries as way-stations on the pilgrim route did much to further the development of wines.  Monks and pilgrims may have brought in grape varietals from elsewhere in Europe and, too, they may have taken indigenous ones back with them.  For example, the Galician Albariño grape, from which is made what is arguably Spain's best white wine, is sometimes said to be the original Rhine wine grape, rather than vice versa. 

Spain’s first guidebook was the Codex Calixtus, written by a French priest in the first half of the 12th century, which provided, besides background information to the legends of the saint, much practical advice to pilgrims--best routes, where to stay, what to eat and drink. 

Inside the veal cutlets, melted cheese and ham.

The dish consists of thin frying steaks of veal (actually, young beef, not white veal) that are pounded thin, then sandwiched with sliced ham and cheese. After coating with breadcrumbs, they are fried until crisp.

San Jacobos used to be an especially popular dish along the Camino, especially in Navarra and La Rioja. Nowadays they’re more likely to turn up in the frozen foods section of the supermarket, made with chicken instead of veal. I never did find an explanation of why these veal cutlets are named for St. James. Though, curiously, in Asturias a similar preparation is called “cachopo.” I wonder which came first, "jacobo" or "cachopo."

I used cutlets from the babilla, a cut from the leg. Any thin frying steak from the top round or rump will work. These were big fillets. They can either be cut in half or each one folded over the filling. Pounding the fillets helps to tenderize them. Sliced cooked ham (in Galicia, lacón) goes in the filling with any good melting cheese. I used San Simón cheese, a lightly smoked cow’s milk cheese from Galicia. That touch of smoke was brilliant.

I cooked only four of the San Jacobos. The other two, once breaded, I wrapped and put in the freezer for another meal.

Escalopes San Jacobo
Veal Cutlets, St. James

Serves 6.

6 large veal cutlets, cut about ¼-inch thick (2 pounds)
Salt and pepper
6 slices cooked ham (about 5 ounces)
6 slices cheese (about 5 ounces)
1/3 cup flour
Pinch of thyme
2 eggs, beaten with 2 teaspoons water
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
Olive oil for frying

Bottom cutlet has been flattened.

Remove any membrane from the edges of the cutlets. Spread them on plastic wrap or greaseproof paper and pound with a meat mallet to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Place one cutlet on top of another, matching the shapes. Cut them in half crosswise, making 6 double cutlets. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Sandwich ham, cheese between cutlets.
 Open up the paired cutlets. Place a slice of ham and slice of cheese on one half. Top with the matching cutlet. Press the edges together around the filling. Sandwich ham and cheese between the remaining cutlets.

Place flour in a shallow bowl. Add ½ teaspoon salt and the thyme to the flour. Place the beaten eggs in another bowl and the bread crumbs in a third bowl.

Dip in flour, egg, crumbs.
 Dredge one cutlet “sandwich” first in flour and pat to remove excess. Dip in beaten egg, letting excess drain off. Then dredge in breadcrumbs, making sure to bread the edges of the sandwich. Place it on a tray. Repeat with the remaining cutlets.

Refrigerate the tray of breaded cutlets, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours to allow the breading to dry slightly.

Place oil to a depth of 1 inch in a skillet (use a small skillet to cook one cutlet at a time or a large one to cook 3 cutlets at a time). Heat the oil until shimmering, but not smoking. Fry the cutlets until golden-brown, turning only once, about 1 ½ minutes per side. Remove and drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

Serve cutlet with shoestring potatoes and fried Padrón peppers.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


At my house, summer entertaining tends to be very simple”—casual, salad meals or barbecue on the terrace. But every now and then I want something a little “dressier.” This elegant fish terrine fills the bill. 

Cold fish terrine, lovely for summer entertaining.
Prepared a day or two in advance, the terrine is served cold. It can be sliced and plated as a starter or served, like a pâté, as an apperitif, with mini-toasts to spread it on. In either case, a fruity white wine or sparkling cava goes very nicely with it.

My terrine is a variation (I´ve added chopped zucchini and carrot) of the famous pastel de cabracho of three-star Michelin chef, Juan Mari Arzak. Back in the 1970s it became a signature dish of the nouvelle cuisine Basque, according to Chef Jeffrey Weiss, who includes a recipe for Chef Arzak’s terrine in his book, CHARCUTERÍA--THE SOUL OF SPAIN (Surrey Books-Agate; 2014).

Cabracho, scorpion fish, has big flavor.
Cabracho, or scorpion fish, is an ugly fish, usually red or ruddy in color, with a bony, maily-cheeked head. But its firm flesh is white and extremely flavorful. Once considered a “trash” fish, suitable only for the stock pot (de rigueur for bouillabaisse), scorpion fish has become a sought-after fish. (In Spain, it’s also called escorpena, rascacio, polla de mar, gallineta and cap-roig.)

Redfish, rockfish and sculpins are related species and could be used in place of the scorpion fish. Or, you could use any fish you like for this terrine. Salmon would work.

Fish Terrine
Pastel de Cabracho

Slice the terrine and serve as an elegant starter.

If possible, have the fish vendor prepare the fish. Scale and gut it. Cut off and save the large, bony head. Split the head in half. Open up the body section, but don’t worry about removing the spine yet.

To make the broth for poaching the fish, I used a spice and herb blend called Louisiana Crab Boil (because I just came back from New Orleans and I'm using it for everything!). Like mixed pickling spices, it contains mustard seed, coriander seed, cayenne, bay leaves, dill seed and allspice. After cooking the fish and flaking the flesh, the head and bones can be returned to the broth to make a flavorful stock, which can be frozen for a future use.
Flaked fish for the terrine.

The flesh of the scorpion fish is white. It is tomato sauce that gives the terrine its salmon color. Use homemade tomate frito (recipe is here) or canned tomato sauce.

I watched a TV chef make pastel de cabracho (check it out here.) He lined the mold with plastic wrap. The terrine bakes at a very low temperature, so the plastic film doesn’t degrade. It really seemed to help in unmolding the terrine. However, all I had was a really low-quality plastic wrap and I did not want to chance using it.

So, I did have trouble unmolding my terrine, which emerged in two pieces. However, the soft-set terrine can easily be smooshed together and smoothed with a palette knife. 

Serve the terrine with a sauce, if you like. I riffed on salsa rosa (pink mayo), by substituting fire-roasted red peppers for the ketchup.

Smooth over any breaks with a palette knife. Looks pretty good!

Serves 8-12.

1 whole scorpion fish, 2 – 2 ½ pounds, cleaned
6 cups water
1 teaspoon Crab Boil mixed spices
1 carrot, peeled
1 stalk celery
1 leek
1 teaspoon salt
Shrimp heads and shells (optional)

1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped leek (white part only)
½ cup finely diced zucchini
¼ cup finely diced cooked carrot
2 tablespoons white wine
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup tomate frito (smooth tomato sauce)
6 large eggs, beaten
2 -2 ½ cups flaked fish
½ cup raw peeled shrimp, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon hot pimentón (paprika), not smoked
2 tablespoons fine fresh bread crumbs
Boiling water
Salad greens to garnish
Crisp toasts to serve
Sauce to serve (optional), recipe follows

Sprinkle the fish head and opened body section with salt and allow to set for 30 minutes.

Bring the 6 cups of water to a boil with the mixed spices, carrot, celery, leek and 1 teaspoon salt. Boil 10 minutes.

Lower the fish head and body into the fish broth. Cook 4 to 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to lift the fish head and flesh from the broth. Remove and reserve the carrot too. Let the fish cool. Set the pot of broth aside.

Once cooked, it's easy to remove bones.

When the fish is cool enough to handle, carefully separate the flesh from the head and body and reserve it. (If desired, return the boned-out head and other bones to the pot of broth. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and reserve the stock for another use. It keeps well in the freezer and can be used for fish soups)

Use your fingers to shred or flake the fish, removing any remaining bones. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a medium skillet, heat the oil and sauté the chopped leek until softened, 3 minutes, without letting it brown. Add the diced zucchini and cook 3 minutes more. Stir in the wine and cook on high until liquid has evaporated. Dice the reserved cooked carrot and add it to the skillet.

Add the cream to the skillet with the vegetables.. Bring it to a boil and immediately remove from the heat. Pour the contents of the skillet into a mixing bowl.

Stir in the tomato sauce, then whisk in the beaten eggs. Season with salt, pepper and pimentón. Fold in the flaked fish and the shrimp.

Set terrine in pan of water.
Have ready a 2-quart terrine mold that has been lightly oiled and dusted with bread crumbs. Pour the fish mixture into the mold. Set it in a larger pan and place on oven rack. Add boiling water to the larger pan to half the depth of the terrine mold.

Bake the terrine 10 minutes. Lower heat to 250ºF. Bake until a skewer comes out clean, about 90 minutes.

Remove the terrine from the oven and from the pan of hot water. Allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate at least 12 hours and up to 36 hours.

Run a knife around the edges or the terrine. Place a serving plate on top of the mold and carefully turn it over, allowing the terrine to unmold onto the plate. If not to be served immediately, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (up to 2 hours).

To serve, slice the terrine and place on individual plates garnished with salad greens or serve it on a buffet table accompanied by crisp toasts. Serve with sauce, if desired.

Serve the terrine with sauce or without.

Salsa Rosa
Pink Cocktail Sauce

2 roasted red peppers
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 clove garlic (optional)
1 tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Blend all of the ingredients. Serve cold.