Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tofu "Scallops" Meuniere

How should I your true love know
From another one?
By his cockle hat and staff,
And his sandal shoon.
~ Hamlet (4.5.23-26)

That's right, Ophelia - if you're trying to spot a pilgrim in a crowd, the cockle hat is a dead giveaway ("cockle," for those who may not know, is another word for "scallop"). In the lower panel of the image above, from the 14th century Codex Manesse, we see a man in the customary dress of a medieval pilgrim: a hat with a cockle-shell stuck in it was worn as a sign of having visited the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Other de rigeur accessories included a shoulder bag and, as Ophelia - mad as a March hare, yet with method in't - tells us, a staff and sandals. One theory has it that the shell represented the pilgrim's having crossed the sea to reach the shrine, but it probably has more to do with the fact that St James was a fisherman, especially since the faithful typically walked the route known as the Camino de Santiago (Way of St James). Which explains the need for a staff, but suggests that the sandals may have had something to with all the flesh-mortifying so popular among religious types in the Middle Ages: ouch! In fact, what do you want to bet that Shakespeare planned to include "blisters" in Ophelia's litany of her true love's attributes, but it didn't scan?

According to tradition, St James traveled to Spain to preach the gospel of Christianity, and on his return to Judea was put to death - with a sword, one of his attributes - by order of Herod. His body was then miraculously translated to Iria Flavia, in the northwest of Spain, and later to Compostela. In artistic representations, James is usually shown with a sword, cockleshell, and pilgrim hat; as patron saint of Spain, James is also associated with the Reconquista, so he's occasionally depicted on horseback, trampling a Moor. (Which really isn't very saintly by today's standards, but was, along with the Inquisition, all the rage for awhile. I think of it as a sort of medieval analogue of "American Idol": de gustibus non est disputandum, right?)

The earliest records of pilgrims traveling to Compostela date from the middle of the 10th century, but it wasn't long before it became a major destination spot, with thousands of the faithful making the long trek. A complex infrastructure developed to support and profit from the many pilgrims, with inns, hostels, and various commercial businesses springing up along the route to cater to the weary traveler's needs. Around 1140, the Codex Calixtinus (often regarded as the first travel guide) appeared, providing would-be pilgrims with spiritual encouragement, along with helpful information about what they would need, and where they could stop along the way. People still travel the Camino de Santiago today (I have two friends who have done it), although the cockle hat, staff, and sandal shoon seem to have gone the way of the feudal system.

At this point, the gentle reader may be thinking that this is all very interesting (or not), but appears to have little or nothing to do with tofu, or indeed with cooking, full stop. Strictly speaking, they would be correct, but the following dish is adapted from a recipe featuring scallops (the bivalves), you see! By which I was reminded of Ophelia's song, and from whence I began thinking - as one so often does - about medieval pilgrimages. Since my camera is currently AWOL, I decided that a nice picture of a cockle hat would be just the thing, along with a little contextual background, to introduce this yummy twist on a classic dish. And there you jolly well have it - scallops as medieval headgear, tofu as post-modern scallops, and a recipe, "meet bothe for the seson and the feeste," bound to ensure that your true love's pilgrimage to the dinner table ends in gustatory (if not plenary) indulgence.

Tofu "Scallops" Meuniere
The Tofu
~ 1 lb. extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
~ 1 cup vegetable broth
~ 1/4 cup lemon juice
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, dried parsley, garlic powder, tarragon, paprika
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 1 tsp. prepared dijon mustard
~ 1/4 tsp. turmeric (for color)

~ Slice the pressed tofu in half horizontally, then cut into "scallop"-size pieces; I got a dozen from a 1 lb. package of Nasoya. (You could use a round cookie cutter if you want to go for scallopy verisimilitude, but bear in mind that you'll have fewer pieces.) Place the "scallops" in a large, shallow bowl, or baking dish.
~ Whisk together the vegetable broth, lemon juice, mustard, and seasonings, then pour over the tofu pieces. Flip to coat with the marinade, then cover and refrigerate for at least an hour (the longer the better).

The Preparation
~ 2 tbsp. canola oil
~ 4 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, finely minced
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1/2 cup dry white wine
~ 1/4 cup chopped, fresh parsley (or 1 tbsp. dried)

~ In a large skillet, heat the canola oil and saute the tofu over medium-high heat until lightly browned, about 5 minutes on each side. Reserve the marinade for the sauce.
~ When all the tofu is cooked, set aside on a plate and pour out any remaining oil.
~ Add the margarine to the pan and melt; add the garlic and the black pepper, and cook a few minutes, until the garlic is slightly browned and fragrant.
~ Stir in the wine to deglaze the pan; cook another few minutes.
~ Slowly add the reserved marinade, stirring continually, and cook until the sauce begins to thicken a bit, about 5-10 minutes.
~ Stir in the parsley, then return the tofu pieces to the pan, flipping once to coat with the garlic/margarine mixture.
~ Turn the heat to low, and cook another 5 minutes.
~ Serve hot with rice or pasta, and the vegetable of your choice - we had ours with sauteed leeks and fiddlehead ferns, because it's spring!


  1. This sounds great! I think I'll try it tonight!

  2. At last! A Coquille St Jacques sans the coquille! A few more little scallops get to live on!

  3. This sounds DELICIOUS! Thanks for posting such a great recipe and awesome little tidbits of history too!

  4. Most hostels will not accept local residents.

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