Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sea Scallops and Pilgrim Roads, Viveiro, Spain

In the far northwest of Spain are several remote fishing towns and villages, many woven together by a web of coastal pilgrimage roads, eventually leading to Santiago de Compostela. More immediately, the footpaths weave through green landscapes of forest and coastline, fishing boats, and small shrines known only to the locals. Any given day can bring together a walk into the wild, a stop at a Romanesque chapel, and end with a seafarer's feast with a regional vintage.

In Viveiro, such a walk could follow the road that meanders up from town to the place's patron saint, San Roque. On many days I have traversed this route, stunned by how different it is each time. One day, I would see wild deer, on another, cows coming home and taking over the narrow road, and on yet another, an outcrop of startling quartz rock whose spikes were exposed by recent rains. There was almost always the sound of chestnut leaves in the wind.

Near the shrine is a local hilltop restaurant, open on weekends throughout the year, that grills local meats, seafood, peppers, and dark leafy greens on an open wood fire. Another option is to hike back down, pick up just-caught sea scallops from the covered market in town and pan fry them at home. Scallops are so plentiful here that their large shells wash up regularly on nearby beaches.

I like to keep it simple: Heat a little olive oil and butter and lay the scallops in the hot pan. While they brown on one side, season them with chili pepper flakes, and sea salt. Turn them over, add a quick splash of white wine and cook until the scallops are done. Squeeze a bit of fresh lemon. If you have lemon thyme or parsley on hand, sprinkle a bit of the fresh chopped herbs on the scallops before serving. An excellent white wine with the scallops would be AlbariƱo.