Posted by: njbrown | September 21, 2009

Scallop success

September 21, 2009

This weekend George and our son were away, and I had the luxury of cooking anything I wanted using whatever fattening and sinful ingredients were called for.  I decided to have another try at Julia’s scallops in white wine, and then using this base recipe do her Coquilles St. Jacques.  A trip to the liquor store for vermouth and to the grocery store for fresh bay scallops and heavy cream, and I was prepared.  I proceeded methodically through her recipe in The Way to Cook, and the final result was probably the best thing I have ever made.  They were exquisite – the sauce unbelievably delicious and the scallops meltingly tender.  It was one of those very rare times when the planets were perfectly aligned, and Julia must have been smiling down.  I don’t know how many decades I will have to wait for this to happen again, but knowing it could happen is really encouraging.

The next day, I used the left-over sauce as the base for clam chowder and just added potatoes and baby clams and thinned with milk.  It, too, was wonderful.  (I didn’t have sour cream to top it along with the chopped parsley as Julia suggested, but given the fat content of the chowder, I think that was probably just as well.)

My trip to the liquor store was a rare occurrence, because at college I found I have neither the stomach nor the head for alcohol.  Literally two sips of wine will give me a headache.  I was amazed to see the astounding variety of wines now available.  Julia was my first exposure to pairing food and wine, and the wines she suggested at the end of each show were a complete mystery.  In the 50s in my memory, men of a certain class drank beer (and college students, of course), middle class people and above drank cocktails, and for major life events – weddings, ship christenings, etc. – some people drank champagne.  The French drank wine, but they were considered exotic.  The only thing I knew about Italian wine-drinking was Chianti bottles used as candle holders in cheap Italian restaurants.  The general belief was that the French and Italians gave very young children wine which made them dubious role-models.  By the mid-60s, Mateus (the Portuguese rose) was the drink of choice in my 20-something social circle.  Mateus was good because it went with meat, poultry or chicken, thereby eliminating having to know anything about wine.  Mateus bottles because of their shape and color were also good to grow Philodendron to decorate  our low-budget homes.

Julia taught average Americans (and Canadians) about wine – cooking with it in liberal splashes, and drinking it.  My hunch is that she gave the wine industry a major boost.  When I was cooking along with her in the 70s, my knowledge of California wines was Gallo that was cheap and came in jugs.  By the time we moved to Canada, New York was producing wines (which we thought we laughable), and once in Canada we heard of Ontario wines (which we thought were even more laughable).  However, today Ontario has more than a hundred wineries – most in the Niagara region that is called “Napa north” – and produces wines that I have heard do quite respectably in world competitions.  Everyone knows how California and New York wines have done.

The world without Julia would have been very different.



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