By a majority vote in our September Poll, you chose Coquilles Saint-Jacques as the dish you would most like me to prepare. I have not failed you. I prepared this King of Seafood dish for lunch with Mom today. As impressive and complicated as it looks, I assure you there is nothing to fear about its preparation, as I have promised to keep it simple for you. In merely one hour's time, you can be serving this at your dinner table and I kid you not when I say it tastes as delicious as it looks. Those of you that have had this at my dinner table will agree with me.
Coquilles Saint-Jacques is French for Scallops. Apparently, the scallop shells were a symbol of the Crusaders of the Order of Saint James (St. Jacques in French and Santiago in Spanish). James intervened to try and save the life of a drowning knight. When the knight emerged out of the sea covered with scallop shells, everyone proclaimed it as a miracle and the scallop was named Coquille Saint-Jacques in honor of James. And that's the story of Coquilles Saint-Jacques, which translates in English to The Shells of St. James. Now whether that was a history lesson or a folklore tale is for the reader to decide. I kind of like to think that it really happened.
The first thing you want to have before you make this dish is either authentic scallop shells (if you can get them off the knight) , ceramic scallop shell ramekins, or shallow oval shaped regular ramekins. Any of these can be found in stores like World Mart or Pier 1 Imports. You might also find them easily online. They shouldn't cost more than $3 each on the higher end. I got my authentic shells at World Mart a few years ago and my ceramic ones at Linens N Things a couple of years ago, before they closed down. In any case, make sure they are 5 to 6 inches in diameter and about an inch deep for the ramekins. If they are very inexpensive, pick up a dozen of them.
Now we can put together our shopping list. This dish will probably run you about $4.00 a serving; however, as you will see, it's worth every bite. I made 4 of them today and I spent about $15 and this recipe will serve 4 as an appetizer or 2 as an entree. Get your pen and pad and here we go:
1/2 lb. of large sea scallops (large scallops stay more moist and succulent)
1/2 lb. of bay shrimp
1/2 lb. grated Swiss cheese (if you want to use Gruyere, even better but more expensive)
2 strips of plain bacon, fried semi crispy, chopped up and set aside
5 med button mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons of all purpose flour
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 cloves of garlic chopped finely
1 large shallot chopped finely
2 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/4 cup of anise liquor (Ouzo, Ricard, or Pernod)
1 1/2 cups of milk or fat free half n half
1 cup of fish stock or chicken stalk, I prefer fish stock, really brings out the flavor
pepper (if you have white pepper, that's great, but not a deal breaker)
Remember, what will make your kitchen experience enjoyable is to do your prep work before the heat goes on. So do all your chopping, slicing, and measuring before anything else. Being organized makes cooking run smoother and mistakes hitting the high road.
Start with a pan that's about 10 inches in diameter and a couple of inches deep. Spray with a bit of Pam and add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and heat at med high. Saute your shallots, garlic, and mushrooms together until ingredients get soft and shallots are translucent (about 3 minutes). You don't want your shallots and garlic to caramelize (get browned), so if your heat is too high, turn it down a bit. When ready, pour the anise liquor in and stir with a wooden spatula so as to "deglaze" the pan. Pour the ingredients into a bowl and set aside. Make sure your empty pan is clean of any debris from what you've just sauteed. Now the next step. You are doing just fine so far.
Now you are going to make a roux (pronounced roo). A roux is the base for a sauce. It is made with flour and fat, in this case, butter. One thing to remember is the more you cook a roux the darker it gets. If you want to make a darker or brown sauce, you cook at a higher heat. A light sauce will require you preparing the roux at a lower temperature so that it doesn't brown. With seafood, you want to make a "white" sauce, so turn your heat to medium low to start and add your butter. Once the butter has melted, add your flour and start stirring. I find a wooden spatula works great because you can easily scrape the bottom of the pan so nothing sticks. Once the flour has mixed well with the butter, keep stirring and turn the heat up just a bit. You will notice the mixture getting thicker and may even start looking like a paste. This is perfect so far.
Now you are going to slowly add the milk while constantly stirring, making sure the roux is mixing well with the liquid. You will notice the liquid thickening. Turn your heat up to medium and finish adding the milk. Stir and mix well and let it get to a real light boil (a few bubbles start appearing). Keep this from becoming a roaring boil, OK? Allow it to thicken and cook for a few minutes and then slowly add the fish (or chicken) stock, all the while stirring. Bring back to a slow bubbling, stir for about 5 minutes. This is allowing the flour to cook so your sauce won't have that pasty taste. When you're making a sauce with roux and liquid, always make sure the liquid is cold and not hot. Otherwise, you'll have clumpy sauce. Just remember, opposites attract.
Next, you are slowly going to add about half of your grated cheese to your sauce and stir. Remember, when you stir, be sure to be scraping at the bottom so there's no sticking. Once half the cheese is in your sauce, add your cooked mushrooms, shallots, and garlic and stir to blend. Now add your bacon, scallops and shrimp and allow to cook for no more than 4 more minutes. Add the parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Put your scallop shells (or ramekins) on a cookie sheet, turn your oven to broil, and the oven rack about 6 inches from the coils. Start spooning the ingredients into the shells to just about 1/8 inch from the rim. Now sprinkle the cheese generously on top to cover the sauce completely. Pop it into the oven and let broil for about 5 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and gets a nice browning. Remove from oven and let set 5 minutes before serving. Serve with crusty French bread, a tossed green salad, and a glass of white burgundy or Chardonnay. You are going to think you died and went to heaven and your guests will be asking you for the recipe; however, you'll know what to tell them, right? Go to http://www.nonchefnick.blogspot.com/.... that's what you'll tell them. (photo by Dominique Roche)