There are many recipes in Apicius’s On Cookery which, while intriguing, I have little desire to taste. The sardine and gelatin omelette for instance, or the fried pork livers and brain sausages that were usually paired with the dish I’m making today.
But that so named “Dish of Scallops” is a recipe that caught my eye long ago when I started reading this stuff. It’s something I’ve always wanted to make and taste ever since. Given its mastery of the Mediterranean, Roman love of shellfish was… well, a given! Herem Apicius presents a delicious, exceedingly refined way to cook some.
Lightly cook scallops or the firm part of oysters. Remove the hard and objectionable parts, and mince the meat very fine. Mix this with cooked spelt, eggs, and season with pepper. Shape into croquettes and wrap in caul. Fry, and underlay a rich fish sauce and serve as a delicious entree.
We’re going to modify the instructions just a bit.
First, I want a little texture and big chunks of scallop in my croquette, so only half of the scallops are going to be minced “very fine”. I cut the other half into larger chunks. To make 10 big croquettes, I used 4 scallops. I also added some scallions.
You want to soak your spelt (you can also use regular wheat berries) overnight, then cook with a 4 to 1 ratio of water, simmered over a low fire until a starchy porridge has formed. You might need more water. For four large scallops, I used 1/2 cup of grain and 5 cups of water. 1 egg. Season with black pepper and stir together.
Before frying, make the sauce.
We’re going to interpret “Rich fish sauce” as oeno-garum, or a rich sauce made from wine and fish sauce. The Romans loved wine almost as much as they loved garum, or fish sauce, and it’s an ingredient Apicius calls for in many other recipes as well. It only makes sense to use it here.
To make, we prepare a very simple red wine reduction and then add the garum to it. Start by sauteing a chopped oregeno and rosemary, a little onion and celery. Season generously with black pepper, then add 2 cups of wine and bring to a low boil. Reduce and occasionally stir for 15-30 minutes, until thick. Add 1/3 of a cup high quality fish sauce, bring back to a boil, then remove from the heat.
Don’t be afraid. This sauce is delicious. Tangy and full of flavor but not fishy tasting at all.
The recipe in Apicius calls for the croquette to be wrapped in a caul, or animal intestine casing. To make this dish something more aligned for modern palates, while still using a Roman ingredient, we’re going to roll it in some breadcrumbs instead, to make this “dish of scallops” true croquettes.
Deep fry in oil preheated to 375 for 1-2 minutes, or until deeply golden brown. Remove and drain, placing directly in the warm oeno-garum sauce.
Garnish with “loveage”, a beloved plant, vegetable, and spice common in Ancient Rome, but less so in America. Celery and its leaves, and/or some parsley are decent substitutes.
All that’s left is to enjoy with friends as a delicious starter for a lavish cena to follow.