My paternal grandparents lived by and from the sea. My grandfather crafted fishing boats, and my grandmother knitted thick Aran sweaters to sell to the fishermen of Bass Strait. They ate fish daily, had one cow for milk in the early days of their married life, and grew a few vegetables in their back yard. They raised seven children in their tiny wooden house facing the sea: they were poor but their life was simple and healthy. My uncles and great uncles were fishermen in these waters, or spent lonely months operating the lighthouses on the windswept islands of Bass Strait. It is no wonder then, that I am drawn to this coast. I need to smell the sea air, hear the winds and the waves crash, and eat fish straight from the source. The pull is a strong one.
Our annual east coast road trip often begins at Lake Tyers, a beautiful village conveniently located near Lakes Entrance, home of the largest commercial fishing fleet in Victoria. I’m pretty fussy when it comes to seafood. The only way I like it is fresh: I would rather go without, than eat the frozen product. The best source comes from the fleets of fishermen who work upon the deep, clean waters off Bass Strait. But then I am biased!
Each month brings a new species to the Seafood Co- Op or the trawlers along the wharf. I have been fortunate in the past to score freshly caught calamari, Moreton Bay Bugs and prawns fresh from these trawlers. It all comes down to the month, the weather at night, and the sequence of the moon. No point expecting fresh trawler prawns before December, the ladies at the fishing Co-Op will tell you. I was more than compensated this week by finding fresh scallops being shucked in one of the trawlers along the wharf. Most of these briny babies are heading up to the Sydney Seafood Market. I’m eating mine today, fresh from the shell. I purchased a kilo for $30.00 and then filled a bag of discarded shells too.
This simple scallop recipe can be found in Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion. I’m not travelling with this tome, so my proportions are based on instinct and also on my abundant supply of large scallops. If you have a copy, find the recipe in the Scallop chapter.
Scallops Au Gratin
- 1/2 kilo fresh scallops, cleaned, row retained.
- 2 cups of 1 day old bread, such as sourdough, crumbed or grated.
- 2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
- 2 or more garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 cup chopped Italian parsley
- Olive oil
- salt and pepper
- around 20 large scallop shells.
Heat oven to 180 c. Lay cleaned scallop shells on flat baking trays.
Clean the scallops by removing the digestive tract or lumpy bit from the side of the scallop. Don’t remove the roe: it has no distinct flavour and is part of the scallop treat. If the scallops are large, halve or quarter them.
Heat a small frying pan and add a generous slurp of good olive oil. Fry the onions very slowly until they soften and colour slightly, then add the garlic for another minute.
Remove the onion mixture from the heat and add the scallops, half of the bread crumbs and the parsley. Season well, then toss mixture together, Add a little more oil to moisten.
Place a heaped tablespoon or so in each shell. Add more crumbs to the top and another drizzle of oil. Bake until lightly browned, around 10 minutes, or use the griller function. Serve with lemon wedges.
Scallops are my favourite treats from the sea,