Scallops in the Shell With Onions

Williamsburg was fortunate to have access to a great deal of seafood being nestled very closely between both the James and York Rivers.  Scallops, like all fresh sea food, would have to be harvested and brought in fresh, where they could be purchased daily at market.  Our Market House would be open seven days per week, but only till 9 a.m. on Sunday, so anyone assigned to do the shopping would have to be up and out early in order to ensure they were getting the very best. This recipe highlights both the lightness and sweetness of the scallop.

18th Century

“Take your scallops from your shells, blanch them well, and take off the beards, provide some small old onions, peel off the two outer most skins and fry them of a nice color, and tender, cut the scallops in thin pieces, put them into a stew pan with the onions well drained, a little cullis and pepper, salt , parsley and nutmeg; stew all together a few minutes, squeeze the juice of a lemon or orange, and put it into the shells, sift over a little fine grated bread, but not enough to hide what it is, color with a salamander, or in an oven, and serve them to the table hot.

This is a genteel good entremets, with a sauce a la Béchamel, with a little Parmesan.” —William Verral, The Cook’s Paradise/1747

21st Century

  • 1 lb of large sea scallops
  • 2 small (or 1 medium) onions
  • 1/2 cup fish or chicken stock
  • 1/2 Tbsp. parsley
  • 1/2 Tbsp. salt
  • 1/2 Tbsp. pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
  • The juice of 1/2 lemon
  • The sauce is 1 cup cream heated and combined with 2 pieces of butter worked up with 1/8 of a cup of flour.

Dice the onion and cut the scallops into strips. Fry the onions in butter until soft add the scallops, parsley, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Fry for five minutes stirring frequently. Add the stock and simmer for three minutes. Strain off the excess liquid

For the sauce: in a separate pan, heat the cream on simmer and add the butter rolled in flour, whisk until thick, add the sauce and the juice of half a lemon to the scallops and onions. Mix them well and spoon them onto the scallop shells and cover with the bread crumbs and Parmesan. Place the shells under the broiler until the cheese is melted and the crumbs are golden brown. If you can’t get scallops shells, you can use little ramekins.


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