When future historians look back at Brexit – the classic own goal scored by the Brits in the referendum to leave the European Union next year – they might conclude that the first shots in this harebrained dispute were fired by French fishermen in the Baie de Seine. The ‘scallop wars’, as the incident has inevitably been dubbed, did not result in any casualties or damage, but it did provide for some lurid headlines and some breathless reporting on TV and radio.
Scallops, for those who have not yet tasted these delicate bivalve molluscs, are white shellfish found on the seabed, and fetch a good price in fish markets around the world. Not as prized as, say, oysters, scallops nevertheless adorn the starter menus in thousands of upmarket restaurants. So how did these humble molluscs trigger this recent Anglo-French incident?
French fishermen are only allowed to scoop them up in nets after first October to give them time to complete their breeding cycle. There are no such restraints on the British, however: they deploy huge metal factory ships that scour the seabed with mechanised scoops that destroy all marine life at the bottom of the sea. The French, who operate much smaller wooden boats, resent this selfish approach and had been demanding that the Brits wait till October, but to no avail. Last week, some 35 French boats harassed six huge British factory ships, throwing stones and smoke bombs.
You can’t quite understand the war unless you have tasted scallops
Predictably, there was outrage in the UK, with Michael Gove, the minister in charge, insisting that British fishermen were perfectly within their rights to catch scallops that were outside France’s 12-mile economic zone. Others piled on the hysteria, warning of the dangers ahead in the post-Brexit period.
So what’s the fuss all about? Well, you have to taste them to fully appreciate why the ‘scallop wars’ are possible indicators of things to come. Preparing them is simplicity itself, provided you don’t overcook them. The easiest way is to melt some butter in a pan, and place your scallops in it. While they are being sautéed, throw in some sliced garlic and squeeze in some lemon juice. Cook for a few minutes on one side before flipping them. Once they are golden brown, remove and pour the lemon-butter sauce over them, together with a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Of course, there are many variations available to the innovative chef. You could toss in some chilli flakes, or finish them off with a drizzle of soya sauce and some finely sliced ginger. One method I like is to sear them on a very hot pan so the surface caramelises quickly. This is how The Limestone, our favourite local restaurant serves them.
A quick aside about the culinary scene in much of rural Britain: probably because of a shortage of skilled chefs willing to venture into the boondocks, there are very few really good restaurants to be found, at least where we spend half the year. London, of course, is full of some amazingly good restaurants offering dishes from around the world. Some village pubs have tried to reinvent themselves as foodie destinations, but I have found very few that can hold their own.
Returning to The Limestone, it’s a smart boutique hotel with a small but elegant dining room that only serves dinner. Apart from the regular menu that always offers seared scallops, it has a large blackboard of specials that include dishes prepared from locally sourced ingredients. So whenever we want a little treat, that’s where we go. It’s not cheap, mind you, being closer to London prices than one would have expected. But the food is consistently good, and the service friendly without being pushy. Out in a local village, that’s more than one could expect.
Published in Dawn, EOS, September 9th, 2018