Apparently my butcher in Winnipeg, Felice, misses me, which I find strangely comforting. I used to say in order to be happy one needs to have a good butcher, a good hairdresser and a good seamstress. Here in France, I could also have a good poissonier for fish, a good boulanger for bread and a good caviste for wine. I found my poissonier, Laurent Quaranta, practically the day we arrived, at his shop just down from the daily market. When I met him he proudly told me that he is the best fishmonger in Provence. I told him that if that were the case, he’d better remember me, because he’d be seeing a lot of me over the coming year. As we chatted, I couldn’t help noticing the lipstick on his cheek. Yes, he’s popular indeed!
I promptly made a new resolution: to try preparing a different fish at least once a week. Which is easy with the variety and quality available at my poissonnerie. Recently we have tried monkfish, tuna, haddock, loup de mer (sea bass) trout and sole (until now, I have never actually cooked fresh sole - I only have memories of the flavourless fillets of my youth, from the frozen section of the grocery store). I’m not sure I’ll ever be friendly enough with Laurent to “faire la bise” (the French habit of kissing on both cheeks), but I am at his shop often. And even when I’m just passing by, he waves hello and I often stop in for a chat.
INGREDIENTS OF THE WEEK: SCALLOPS AND CLEMENTINES
Scallops come in two sizes, the large Saint-Jacques and the smaller petoncles. I’m partial to the Saint-Jacques which are plump and gorgeous. When you find them in the market still in their shells, you know they are so fresh. They’re festive and plentiful here at this time of year.
I’ve been noticing a lot of tartares on menus around here: raw beef or raw salmon, for example. But as I was walking through the market the other day, I started thinking of the possibilities of scallops combined with the newest arrivals on the scene: clementines. They are prolific in the market now and are so inviting when they are set out in huge piles, so vividly orange, with their leaves still attached.
So I decided to try putting together scallops and clementines in a tartare of my own.
RECIPE: TARTARE OF SAINT-JACQUES WITH CLEMENTINES
This would make a lovely first course for a festive holiday dinner. For presentation you can do one of two things: chop all of the ingredients finely, like a ceviche, and marinate them. At serving time, drain the mixture (saving the marinade) and pack it into plastic-lined ramekins. Invert the ramekins onto individual serving dishes, then carefully remove the ramekins and the plastic. Another option is to slice everything into thin rounds, more carpaccio-style, which makes a very pretty picture with rounds of scallop, rings of shallot and little circles of radish all mingled together.
Start with the freshest possible scallops you can find, with the corals attached if available (I know, not possible in Winnipeg). Depending on the size, you need only about two per person. Juice a whole clementine and a whole lime into a bowl. Season with pepper and some piment d’Espelette (or other mild chilli powder or even cayenne) to give it a little kick. Finely chop (or thinly slice) the scallops and add them to the juice. The juice should barely cover the fish, so add more clementine and lime juice if there is not enough. Finely chop (or slice) a shallot, then a few radishes and stir them into the bowl as well. Some finely shaved fennel is also very nice. Marinate the mixture in the fridge for around 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The scallops will have turned a bit white, meaning the acids have “cooked” the flesh. Stir in a handful of chopped parsley or arugula and season with salt and pepper.
To serve, drain the scallop mixture, saving the juices. Fan out some very thin slices of avocado on each serving plate (optional), then top them with the drained scallop mixture (see above for ideas). Decorate the plate with clementine segments and drizzle some of the marinating juices around. Top with fleur de sel and sprinkle more piment d’Espelette around the plate. Serve immediately. Enjoy!