Coming out of their shell

The scallop is known in France as the “Coquille Saint-Jacques” after the shells from the coasts of Galicia that decorated the coats, bags or hats of pilgrims on their way to the shrine of St. James (“Saint-Jacques”), which was the origin of the great cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Brought back as souvenirs, they came to symbolise this spiritual journey. But it was not until the 19th century that they became a sought-after element of French gastronomy.

The “coquillers, boats specialising in dredge-fishing for scallops, only work from October to May, which protects stocks. French regulations oblige them to hold a special license and prohibit them from summer fishing. The size of the catch is also regulated so juveniles are not overfished. The scallops are sold alive, with their valves tightly closed.

The most famous specimens come from Erquy, in the bay of Saint-Brieuc, Morbihan and the harbour of Brest – all in Brittany – as well as the coast of Calvados in Normandy. Fishing quotas are renegotiated each year in order to preserve the resource.

In season, without waste

It’s important to buy scallops alive, within 48 hours of fishing. The fishmonger can shell them. They are eaten raw, as carpaccio, marinated, or cooked in countless recipes, each more delicate than the next. The reproductive organ of this hermaphrodite mollusc is known as the roe, or the coral. The male part is grey, the female part orange. The longer the season progresses, the bigger the coral. Some use it in emulsion sauces, taramasalata or refined bisques. A trend that’s growing with the rise of anti-waste cooking.

Rich in minerals, trace elements and vitamins, scallops have a fine flesh with a hazelnut flavour. The French are careful to cook them in a way that doesn’t mask their subtle taste. Portuguese cooks don't hesitate to cover them with white port, garlic, parsley and grated sheep’s cheese, to form a gratin. In the United States they may be eaten pan-seared with mayonnaise or in a sherry cream sauce.

A little anecdote

A Spanish legend recounts that the companions of Saint-Jacques, who transported the saint’s body to Compostela, saved a horseman from drowning. He emerged from the sea safe and sound,but covered in scallops. Which is how the shell became the emblem of the pilgrims, right up to the blue and yellow logo that marks the roads leading to Santiago de Compostela.

An ecological indicatorResearchers are able to read the evolution of marine environments by examining the lines that streak the scallop shell. This exoskeleton provides data in the same way as the growth rings of trees. It not only indicates their age, but also gives valuable information on the state of the coastal bays where they are fished. The harvest itself is highly ecological. This gift of the sea is subject to responsible, controlled and very rapid fishing: in season the fishing boats only spend half an hour at sea. 

Gourmet tip


To keep the scallop fresh for a little longer, bind the shell with a large rubber band to save it the effort of opening and closing its valves.

You are 4 to have shared this memory!

  • Les tagliatelles aux Saint-Jacques


  • La Saint-Jacques poêlée


  • Les coquilles Saint-Jacques


  • Les coquilles Saint-Jacques