Thursday, September 18, 2014

Coquilles Saint Jacques

There is something so utterly visceral about eating a mollusk.  They are nature’s original hand-held eats.  Dining on some clams or oysters, I feel a kinship with the primitive peoples that probably polished off a plethora of them as they sat along the seashore.  (although how they ever figured out that an oyster was anything other than a rock I’ll never know). 

Of all the mollusks of the sea, the Scallop has to be the beautiful white swan to the oyster’s ugly duckling.   Its shell is graceful and symmetric; its flesh white and uniform—a marshmallow of the sea.  It can be served simply on its own or gussied up fancy.

In this dish, we’re gonna go with gussied up fancy.  (It is a French dish, after all).  Dining on Coquilles Saint Jacques is the opposite end of the spectrum from primitive, however.  This dish takes an already elegant foodstuff and raises it to even greater heights of elegance and allure.  This dish ranks right up there with Lobster Thermidor and Pheasant Under Glass for high end haute cuisine.  I can’t help envisioning the staid, wood paneled walls, white tablecloths and fine china of a three Michelin star restaurant when I make this dish, one that the great Julia Child herself might be seen at sipping a nice white Graves or white Burgundy. 

Yes, this dish sends my mind on flights of fancy.  But it also does a number on one’s taste buds.  Here’s how:

Coquilles Saint Jacques


1 lb Bay Scallops
6 Tablespoons Butter
8 Oz Fresh Mushrooms
1 Onion, Chopped
1 Cup Dry White Wine
2 Tablespoons Flour
1/3 Cup Milk
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
2 Egg Yolks
1 Tablespoon Fresh Tarragon, Min
1/2 Cup Grated Gruyere
1/4 Cup Breadcrumbs
1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Juice

If you’re going to go to the trouble to make this dish, go the extra mile and get the scallop shells.  They are cheap, just a few bucks at a kitchen supply store, and you will truly wow your guests with the presentation. 

To start, melt three tablespoons of the butter in a skillet.  

When this is good and hot, add the (well-drained and dried) scallops and allow to sauté for 60-90 seconds undisturbed.  

Then use a spatula to roll them over and sauté on the other side for another 60 seconds.  Use a slotted spoon or similar to remove the scallops and reserve.  

Now, I know you’re thinking, they can’t be finished cooking yet.  Well, you’re right.  They are not.  But we’re going to be broiling them later, so if we fully cooked them now, they would get overcooked in the broiler.  And we don’t want that.  Overcooked scallops are tough and rubbery. 

After you’ve reserved the scallops, reserve the white scallop broth that has rendered out into the skillet as well.  Lot of flavor in that liquid that we will use later. 

Add the rest of the butter to the skillet, and when it is melted add the onions and mushrooms.  

Cook these for 8-10 minutes until the onions clear and the mushrooms are cooked.  Remove both with a slotted spoon and reserve. 

Add the white wine to the pan 

and scrape the bottom with a spatula to break up the browned bits.  Add the reserved scallop broth to the pan.  

Let this cook a minute, then sift in the flour.  After this has cooked a bit, add the milk and stir frequently for a few minutes.  

Then turn off heat to the pan. 

Meanwhile, mix the heavy cream and the two egg yolks in a bowl.  

Mince your tarragon 


and add it to the cream egg mixture and blend thoroughly.  

To this, add the mixture from the wine/broth/milk mixture from the skillet and blend again.  

Return this concoction to the skillet and heat through, but do not boil. 

Return the mushroom onion mixture to the skillet, 

then add the scallops.  

Turn off the heat. 

Butter your scallop shells on the inside, then spoon a portion of the scallop concoction into each of the six shells. 

Grate your gruyere 

and mix it with the bread crumbs.  Sprinkle this mixture on the top of each scallop shell.  

Dot with a very small pat of butter if you like. 

Turn on your broiler and get it hot.  Broil the shells about 6 inches from the broiler for about 4-5 minutes, a little longer if necessary to melt the cheese and get the top golden brown.  

Basically watch the process closely and just make sure the cheese doesn’t burn. 

Remove from the oven and admire.  Squirt with a bit of lemon juice if you like, and serve immediately as a nice first course of an elegant dinner. 

Until next time,

Come out of your shell, have some scallops!


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