Thursday, November 7, 2013

Coquilles St-Jacques – Hey, Have You Tried That New Saint James Diet?

Coquilles St-Jacques is the kind of unapologetically rich shellfish dish that we used to be able to enjoy, before the book-writing dieticians and celebrity chefs ruined it for everybody. 

Fats of all sorts were demonized, and young cooks far and wide were told to never, ever, under any circumstances, cover-up the delicate flavors of seafood with heavy sauces, especially ones containing cheese.

So, an amazing recipe like this went from classic French treat to crime against nature, and it slowly but surely started disappearing from menus. You can still find it in a few of the braver bistros, but to enjoy on any kind of semi-regular basis, you’ll need to master it at home. The good news is that’s very easy to do.

By the way, this is a great recipe for entertaining larger groups during the holidays, since it can be prepped well ahead of time. For this reason, Coquilles St-Jacques has always been a favorite of caterers and banquet chefs, and below the ingredients list, I’ll give some instructions on how they do it.

You can use sea scallops like I did, or the smaller, sweeter bay scallops, which are really nice in this. Of course, if you use bay scallops, you’ll only need a minute in the simmering wine, so be careful. No matter what you use, be sure they haven’t been dipped in a preservative solution. If you buy them frozen, which you should, the label should only say, “Scallops.”

The shells can be easily found online, or at your local restaurant supply store. Otherwise, simply use some small, shallow gratin dishes, which will work exactly the same. Find something, and give this “scallop recipe that time forgot” a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 4 portions:
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup diced shallots
8 oz button mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup white wine
1 pound sea scallops (about 3 scallops per person)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 egg yolk
cayenne to taste
2 tsp minced tarragon
1 tsp lemon zest
1/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese

Broil on high, about 8-10 inches under the flame, until the scallops are hot, and the cheese is browned and bubbling. Because of the sugars in the wine and cream, the edges will brûlée or burn, but this is not a problem, and actually how it’s supposed to look.

NOTE: You can make these ahead, and refrigerate until needed. Since they will be cold, you’ll need to bring back to temperature before you broil them. Preheat oven to 350 F. and bake for about 12-15 minutes (will depend on how you constructed them), or until the centers are just warm. Switch oven to broil, and broil on high as shown.