16 March 2011

Coquilles St. Jacques ... It's All About the Story...

I bought sea scallops this week ... the price was 'up there', but it will continue to rise. As the summer approaches, the availability of North Atlantic sea scallops will fall off as seaside restaurants buy up the catch and fishermen go for other fish. So ... I took one last opportunity to make us a beautiful scallop dish... a dish with memories for me.

I discovered Coquilles St Jacques years ago ... long before I was married with children. During the summer of my junior year in college, I took a flying trip to Cape Cod  with a group of rowdy friends. We camped and drank too much and partied on the beach until all hours and caroused with other like-minded college kids. I met a guy ... a local guy. One thing lead to another and before I knew it he was inviting me out to dinner ... what was a girl to do? I accepted, made sure I got a good shower to wash off the salt water the afternoon before our date , and donned my only sundress packed in the back pack. We went (in his pick-up truck) to one of the prettiest restaurants I'd ever been to  ... Chillingsworth in Brewster.

Their claim to fame ... other than the prices on their menu ... was their location (more on that later) and their French cuisine. We sat in a small dining area, an alcove almost,  and proceeded to linger over a slow,  seven course meal. I was completely out of my league. We started with escargots ... the only time I have ordered them (and it wasn't my idea) - garlicky and wine drenched.  A pretty salad followed. Steve recommended the swordfish. His Dad was a fisherman out of Provincetown and I guess he thought I'd be having fish that his father caught. Being a total ingenue and thinking him a total 'catch', I considered it until I looked at the price on the menu. I demurred and instead ordered Coquilles St. Jacques. I have ever since chased the perfect recipe to duplicate that evening's dinner experience. The scallops were all perfect quarter-sized bites in a soft mushroom and shallot laden cheese sauce. Velvet on a fork ... so gorgeous. I had never had such a beautiful seafood dish.  The rest of the meal is a mystery to me ... we talked. We ordered a second bottle of wine. We finished with sweet creme brulee times two. There was coffee and more talk. During conversation that evening, Steve told me that he, too, fished. He'd signed on for the summer with his father. They'd hit a swordfish catch a couple weeks before and he'd gotten a huge bonus paycheck, hence his ability to take me to one of the best places he knew of.  What an evening ... what. an. evening.

Well, summer romances are just that. I saw Steve a couple more times that week. We talked on the phone a few times after I got back to my sister's place and then .. I went back to school and he went back to work. Period.

I will never forget that wonderful evening, though. You see, I'd gone to Brewster every summer from the time I was ten years old to summer with my family at a small rental just around the corner from Chillingsworth. For me, that restaurant was such a romantic mystery. It was an old historic house that had been converted into a restaurant and guest house. It sat wayyyy back off the main road in a grove of trees with gardens and lawns that were just beautiful. The sign for the place dangled from big white painted posts at the roadside ... in  romantic cursive. For me to be able to go there on a date was a dream come true. I remember telling Steve this and he puffed up ... what a Prince Charming he must have felt. What a Prince Charming he was.

Soo... I reminisced this evening while I made dinner and then I sat down with my real Prince Charming and tucked into the closest I've come to that evening's entree.

Mise en place

This is a dish that comes together quickly. One must have all ingredients in place before you begin with the scallops. Scallops must be cooked fast and gently. They should be creamy and like velvet at their centers. They cook quickly, so the sauce must be done first, the toast points must be well on their way to crisp, and your salad or vegetable should be coming on perfectly done before you poach the scallops.Then... work fast to plate things, while you poach and sauce the scallops and serve ... sit back and savor. Sooo delish!

Note: I want a professional food photographer to move into this house and that's all I will say about photographing this finished dish at 7 PM in the evening when there is NO available light, there is a hungry cook and spouse, and limited patience with camera and setting. Period. As you were.

Coquilles St. Jacques

In a medium saucepan, combine:

1 c. water
1 tsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. salt

Bring to a boil and add:

2 lbs. sea scallops, washed and drained - the largest and whitest you can find

Cover the pan and lower heat. Simmer for just 6 minutes.

Drain and cool on paper towels.

Meanwhile, in a large non-stick fry pan, sauté:

4 tbsp butter
¼ c. onion, minced
¼ lb. mushrooms, sliced

Add to make a roux:

1/3 c. flour
dash pepper
1 tbsp. butter

Lower heat and add:

1 c. light cream
½ c. milk

Whisk sauce until thickened, then add, stirring to melt:

1 c. grated Gruyere cheese (you can use Swiss or Emmental cheese)

Add: and whisk to incorporate:

½ c. dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc is a good choice)
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. chopped parsley

Quarter the scallops into bite-sized pieces and add then to the hot sauce.

Turn into individual scallop shells or ramekins or place in a casserole dish.

Cover with buttered bread crumbs:

½ c. breadcrumbs
2 tbsp. melted butter

Place in a hot oven and broil on low until crumbs are browned and scallops are bubbly.

Serve with rice or on toast points with a green vegetable or salad.


  1. What a sweet story Susan. Coquilles St Jacques is something I haven't made it in years. When I did make it, I used bay scallops and a much lighter sauce. I think I like the sound of your recipe much better. Lots of butter and cream is always better.

  2. What a great story and a beautiful meal. It looks so elegant and gourmet.

  3. Love your story Susan. I went to the Cape with my girlfriends after my high school graduation but unfortunately never met a Steve, lol. I've only made scallops once and although I love them, I did a bad job so I need to try again. These really do sound oh so good!!! Like Kay stated, butter and cream is always better!

  4. Oh, I LOVED your story...so romantic..why is it we always remember short-lived love stories? Is it because precisely they did not last? Anyway, your st jacques are great, so "bienvenue romance!"

  5. YUM! I LOVE C.St. J! It was the first recipe with scallops that I tried to cook as a child and I've loved it ever since. In college it was one of the fancy meals I'd cook for a boy I wanted to impress. YUM!

  6. This is a dish that I remember my mom making a lot. She had huge scallop shells for each individual serving. I can still see the elegant table she set. Thanks for sharing.

  7. A request from your daughter: post more food anecdotes from your life. What a treat!


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