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National Coquilles St. Jacques Day

Friday, May 16th, 2014

A Classic French Recipe

Today is May 16 and I’m making a classic French dish, Coquilles St. Jacques, pronounced:  Co-KEE saahn ZHAHK. This is a gratin of scallops and mushrooms in a velouté dusted with breadcrumbs and topped with Gruyère cheese.  For a great effect serve up the scallops in actual scallop shells which you can get at specialty foods stores or at Amazon.  Broil the Coquilles St. Jacques until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is a golden brown.

I decided to make this classic in to commemorate this auspicious day.  I’m gonna tell you up front that I did not like the way these turned out. First of all Ingles didn’t have scallops in their “fresh” fish case. And by fresh it just means the fish has already been thawed out. When you live in the mountains, fish is not going to be fresh.  I had to get scallops from the Frozen Shelf. These scallops literally had no taste what so ever. Not going to say the name as they may someday they’ll want spokesperson.

So I tried to over compensate with the sauce. There was nothing subtle about this sauce. Too much vermouth, too much lemon, too much salt. Use the amounts that come up on the screen they’ve been adjusted. I should have put extra seasoned breadcrumbs and loaded the shells up with extra cheese.

The Classic recipe calls for egg yolks yet I found a lot of recipes that didn’t use them. Whenever there’s any indecision about what to do in the kitchen, you have to ask yourself, “WWJD, What would Julia do?” Well Julia uses egg yolks and also butter, milk, heavy cream  and of course the whole thing is topped with Cheese.  Is she trying to kill us?

Although  the bay scallop is an easy size to work with when you’re going to put the dish in an actually scallop shell, sea Scallop has more flavor. Whatever size you get, you’ll want to trim them to small enough pieces to make room for some mushroom in the sauce on your fork.

• 1 3/4 cups water
•  3/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
•  1 medium shallot minced
•  1 clove garlic minced
•  2- springs parsley
•  2 springs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
•  2 bay leaves
•  1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice
• 1 pound very fresh scallops – See my note below about frozen scallops.
• 8 ounces mushrooms, washed and chopped
• 6 tablespoons butter
• 4 tablespoons flour
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
• Bread crumbs
•  Grated Swiss or Gruyère cheese

I like to use a Bouquet garni. I wrap the  parsley, bay leaves,  thyme and tarragon in some cheesecloth, tied into a neat bundle. This way I don’t have small bits of herbs floating in the sauce that will make caught between my teeth.

1. Bring water, wine, shallot, garlic, bouquet garni, and lemon juice to a boil in a saucepan.  Cook the liquid for a couple of minutes to flavor the poaching liquid. Add the scallops and simmer on low heat until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Check one scallop to make sure it’s cooked.  Remove the scallops with a slotted spoon and set aside.

2. Add the mushrooms to the scallop poaching liquid and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Strain, discarding the bouquet garni and reserving the liquid and mushrooms separately. Some recipes say to poach the scallops and the mushrooms together. I don’t do this as I don’t want to over cook the scallops.

3. Cut the scallops into 1/2-inch-thick slices. If you’re using jumbo scallops you may want to cut the slices horizontally. But if you have beautiful fresh jumbo scallops, why drown them in sauce and cover them with cheese.

4. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and whisk in the flour. Cook over low heat for about 2 minutes. Do not let the flour brown.  Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of the scallop liquid into the flour mixture until blended. Now add the blended flour mixture back into the poaching liquid.  Add the cream and simmer and stir until blended and thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Return the scallops and mushrooms to the velouté and mix all together.

5. Fill 6 scallop shells or shallow 6-inch ramekins almost to the top with the scallop mixture. Dust the top lightly with breadcrumbs and sprinkle with the grated cheese. (If you’re not ready to serve the scallops, cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)

6. Broil the scallops until the mixture bubbles and the cheese melts and turns golden brown.

Coquilles St. Jacques are great for a first course or fish course served with a chilled white Burgundy or my preference, a Prosecco.

If you like to cook fish you should get to know the person behind the fish case and get them to tell you how long the fish has been siting there. Some markets in land-locked areas say, “We fly our fish in daily.” I don’t care if you fly it in daily, you still have to fly it in.

Fresh fish is fish off the boat that is still alive. Fresh fish is fish YOU caught cleaned and cooked that night. After that? “Fresh” is relative.

I’ve gotten large scallops at Costco that have been as good as you can get inland. It arrives to the store frozen and is thawed out in small amounts and sold. Costco is up front with you and doesn’t try to sell you the scallops as fresh. But these scallops have not been processed in a big plant and do have a lot of flavor.


2 thoughts on “National Coquilles St. Jacques Day

  1. bwms2013 says:

    Hi, Vinny! I love sea scallops and will share a great recipe we worked out after our trip to Brittany last year. The Atlanta Highway Fish Market in Gainesville (GA) has dry pack sea scallops most of the time. They have lots of other seafood that is obviously fresh (including whole fish). I have bought the scallops a couple of times and they were delicious. Not cheap, though. When I was there for lunch earlier this week (delicious fried shrimp and oysters that this time were overly large for my taste) the scallops were $20.99 per pound as I recall.

    1. I really must try that place in Gainesville, You do have the knack for finding quality product. $21 per pound is a price I’m willing to pay for good scallops. I paid $15 for the no-taste scallops at Ingles. Two weeks ago in Charleston I paid $32 for a 5 seared scallops at Hank’s Seafood.

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