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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Coquille St. Jacques, or toying with a recipe

Once years ago I fixed dinner for a small group of women who were attending a sales meeting the next day. My entrée was Coquille St. Jacques, and I confess it was probably the most complicated dish I ever fixed—and time-consuming. Worth it though, because one woman, who had traveled the world, said she’d never had a finer meal. The next day one of the men asked what we had for dinner, and when I told him, he said, “Gesundheit!”

Coquille St. Jacques is French for scallops in a creamy mushroom sauce. I prowled around the internet, found lots of recipes, but no explanation of the name or its history. I do know that it is traditionally served in a shell-shaped dish, piped around the edge with mashed potatoes

Some time ago I came across Ina Garten’s recipe for Make-Ahead Coquilles St-Jacques. Because Jordan loves scallops, and because I wanted to try the recipe, and because Jordan’s husband doesn’t like scallops, I fixed the dish this week when Christian was entertaining clients. I’m not at liberty to reproduce the recipe for you—Ms. Garten might object—but here’s a link to it:

What I want to share with you today is how I toyed with the recipe. Basically, the dish has three components: a creamy white sauce; sautéed scallops, shallots, and mushrooms; and a crumb topping.

The original recipe calls for curry in the white sauce, but I firmly believe in letting delicate flavors, especially seafood, speak for themselves without distracting spices. I don’t want chili powder anywhere near my lobster, nor do I want curry in my scallops. I left it out. Otherwise, I made the cream sauce as recommended, except I didn’t bother with unsalted butter. I did use heavy cream—no cheating with half-and-half.

The recipe called for sea scallops, which are large and very expensive; I substituted the smaller bay scallops, which are still expensive, but a bit more reasonable. As luck would have it, the bay scallops I got were a perfect medium-to-small size—bite-size, whereas sea scallops often require cutting.

Ms. Garten recommends sautéing thinly sliced shallots first, adding sliced mushrooms, and finally adding scallops. I sautéed the shallots until soft and transparent, added the mushrooms, and cooked over medium heat until soft and tender. Then I took them out of the skillet, turned up the heat and seared the scallops—the trick is to get a brown crust quickly while leaving the inside soft and tender. It only takes a minute. Don’t look away.

I put the shallots, mushrooms, and scallops into the sauce, stirred it all, and divided into individual ramekins. Then I turned my attention to the crumb topping—and learned a wonderful new trick. The topping is fine bread crumbs (I used panko which turned out to have a bit of thyme and parsley—just a hint) and grated gruyere cheese. But then you moisten the mixture with just enough olive oil. Absolutely made the best, crunchiest topping ever—and held its crunchiness through reheating the next night. I’ll use that topping (with varied cheeses) on lots of other dishes

I halved the recipe and got three nice-sized servings, so that Jordan and I dined on it the first night, and I had the one leftover ramekin the next night. The full recipe would easily serve six. A bit rich, a bit of work, but oh my! Was it good!

Hats off to Ina Garten.

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