It's because the scallop was mainly found in Galicia that during the 10th century it was chosen as the emblem of pilgrims to the shrine of Saint James (Saint Jacques in French) at Compostela in Spain. It became known as the Coquille Saint Jacques, while French zoologists gave it the less romantic name of "peigne" (comb). Paleontologists have found fossilised masses, sometimes considerable, on the coasts of the Channel, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. It seems that the scallop was prized not only for the animal it sheltered but for its shell, which apparently served as a kind of currency. Food historians Georges and Germaine Blond have put forward the hypothesis that during ancient times there existed "shell routes." That would explain why the pilgrims who attained Saint Jacques at Compostela chose this symbol as proof that they had accomplished the journey.
Medieval Christianity was fascinated by the scallop: it inspired architects, silversmiths and goldsmiths, and even renaissance painters, as Venus was born in a scallop shell. A member of the Pectinidae family (like the small queen shellfish and the pétoncle), the scallop is its biggest representative. Its average size is 7 to 13 cm for Atlantic scallops, 8 to 10 cm for those living in the Mediterranean. Red-brick-coloured, sometimes pink or speckled, the two ribbed striated vavles are different: the right side is hollow, the left side flat.
It its resting state the scallop lives at the grassy or sandy bottom of the sea, but it can swim in the open sea by clapping its valves to avoid its predators, like the starfish. The scallop is a hermaphrodite, both male and female, that has a single genital gland, its coral. This is made up of two parts, one ivory-white and male, the other orangey red and female. Most scallops are fished in the Channel, on the Normandy coast and in Brittany in the bays of Saint Brieuc, Brest and Quiberon. Normandy scallops are generally bigger with abundant coral, while those from Brittany are smaller. The difference between the two varieties, Atlantic and Mediterranean, lies in the stripes between the ribs of the valve, which are rounded in the Atlantic variety and rectangular in the Mediterranean scallops.
Scallop fishing is forbidden from May 15 to September, which makes it a protected species. The species is genuinely threatened and the demand is huge. The French Maritime Affairs bureau sets draconian fishing quotas, fixing the number and size of scallops to be fished. Scallop trawlers are authorised to dredge only for shells measuring 10.2 cm - bigger than this and they must not be fished. A good scallop should be heavy and hermetically sealed, its mollusc alive, translucent white and firm. Then comes the experts' dispute: do the best have a meaty coral or a nonexistant one? The scallop tolerates all cooking methods but hates to be overcooked, which gives it a rubbery texture.