~ Classic Coquilles St. Jacques (Gratin of Scallops) ~
Once upon a time in Happy Valley we had a fancy-schmancy resort restaurant called LePapillon. As the name implies, it specialized in French cuisine. If you were into a swanky, suit-and-tie, heels-and-hose, Saturday-night-date-place to enjoy a wonderful meal while listening to the best grand piano player in the area, and, take in a breathtaking sunset, this is where you went. For a period of about ten years, Joe and I frequented the place often, and, I arranged for many family celebrations and business gatherings to be held there.
Times change, people change, and, back in the late 1990's, when they transformed their elegant casual-dining indoor-outdoor Eagle's Nest Lounge (overlooking the swimming pool, tennis courts and grounds of the championship golf course) into an Outback Steakhouse, the handwriting (more like graffiti) was on the wall. Since LePapillion and the Eagles Nest shared the same elegant portico and worked together in a lot of ways, the dumb-it-down atmosphere of a chain steakhouse quickly trickled into the LePapillion and Camelot was no longer.
Note: Technically, LePapillion still exists, except: it is only open for caterings, and, the Outback Steakhouse is now a gourmet burger joint called The Field. We've not been there in 20+ years.
A gratin (GRAH-tn) or gratinee (Grah-tee-NAY) refers to any dish that is topped with cheese and/or breadcrumbs mixed with a bit of butter, then heated in the oven or under the broiler until bubbly and browned.
Coquille St. Jacques (koh-KEEL sahn-ZHAK) is a gratin of scallops in a creamy white-wine sauce topped with cheese and/or breadcrumbs, and, it is typically cooked and served in a scallop shell or a scallop-shaped dish. Because it is so rich, it is almost always served as an appetizer or starter course to a meal. Back in its heyday, LePappillon made a superb version of this classic dish, which I splurged my calories on almost every time I ate there. Coincidentally, their chef at the time (whom I came to know quite well) was named Jim, which is short for James, which in French translates to Jacques. We always had some fun with that.
That said, "coquille" is the French word for "shell" and "St Jacques" is associated with Saint James, the apostle that is said to have rescued a knight who fell off his horse into the water and emerged covered in scallop shells. Poor medieval Christians, making the pilgrimage to his shrine wore a scallop shell on their hat or clothing, and, carried a scallop shell with them to churches where they could expect to be given as much food as one could pick up with one scoop. (The above photo of a portrait of St. James is courtesy of Wikipedia.)
Coquille St. Jacques a la LePappillon (circa 1980's-1990's)...
4 tablespoons salted butter
12 ounces crimini mushroom caps, sliced into 1/4"-thick strips (about 4 cups)
4 ounces shallots, or, diced yellow or sweet onion (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/4 cup dry sherry
3/4 cup heavy or whipping cream
6 4"-5" fresh thyme sprigs
freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, to taste
*Duxelles (dook-SEHL) is a French term referring to a savory mixture of finely-chopped mushrooms, shallots and herbs cooked in butter until it forms a thick paste. Duxelles is commonly used as a bed for the scallops when making Coquille St. Jacques, and, it is how this divine dish was prepared at LePappillon.
~ Step 2. Add the mushrooms and lightly season with salt and pepper. I use 20 and 30 coarse grinds respectively. Increase heat to medium-high and sauté for 9 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, leaving all of the liquid remain in the skillet.
~Step 3. Return the still hot skillet to the heated stovetop. Add onions and garlic. Cook until onions are soft, about 3 minutes. Add sherry, and using a spatula, deglaze pan by scraping browned bits from bottom of skillet. Continue to cook for about 45-60 seconds.
~ Step 4. Add the cream and the thyme sprigs and adjust heat to simmer gently, until nicely thickened, about 9 minutes.
Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste (I use 20 and 30 coarse grinds respectively).
~ Step 5. Add all of the cream mixture, including the thyme sprigs to the food processor containing the sauteed mushrooms. Process the mushrooms and cream mixture to a pasty mix of small mushroom bits using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl with a rubber spatula about half way through the process. You will have 1 1/2-1 3/4 cups of duxelles.
To prepare a classic Coquille St. Jacques mixture (the scallop mixture):
4 tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup bottled clam juice
1/2 cup white wine
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups heavy or whipping cream
freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, to taste (Note: I use 15 coarse grinds of each.)
24 large, U/12 (12 per pound/2 pounds) wild, sea scallops, patted dry and placed on a layer of paper towels for about 5 minutes
4 tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 large garlic cloves, run through a garlic press (optional)
For the foil (the bed), topping & garnish:
1 1/2 cups duxelles (from above recipe)
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyère cheese
fresh thyme sprigs, for garnish
~ Step 1. In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter together with the dried tarragon and thyme over low heat. Whisking constantly, add the flour, bring to a boil and cook until thick and pasty, about 30 seconds. Whisk in the clam juice and wine. Adjust heat to simmer until thickened, whisking constantly, about 30-45 seconds. Remove the skillet from the heat and set to the back of the stove. Without wasting any time:
~Step 2. In a 4-quart saucepan, thoroughly whisk the egg yolks and cream together. Add all of the skillet roux to the egg/cream mixture. Place on stovetop over medium-high heat. Whisking constantly, cook until smooth and thickened, about 1-2 minutes. Season with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend (I add 10 coarse grinds of each). Remove from heat, cover and set aside.
~Step 4. In skillet melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over low heat. Add the garlic and shallots plus a scant 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Over medium-high, saute, stirring constantly, until garlic and onion softens without browning, 2-3 minutes. Add the scallops and adjust heat to saute until they are opaque and short of being cooked through, 5 minutes. Don't overcook.
~ Step 5. Transfer all of hot scallop mixture into the white wine cream sauce in the saucepan. Over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, bring the mixture to just steaming, not simmering or boiling. This will only take 1-2 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat.
Note: At this point, both the duxelles and the scallop mixtures can be refrigerated until ready to use, several hours or overnight. Return to room temperature, about 2 hours, prior to proceeding.
Let's talk serving size: As mentioned above, Coquille St. Jacques is a very rich dish and is typically served as a starter course. That said, a slightly-larger portion can be served as a small meal (a luncheon-sized portion). How many portions you get from my recipe will fully depend upon the size of your shell-shaped ramekins.
~Step 6. Portion the duxelles, 3 tablespoons, into each of 8, 5" shell-shaped-ramekins placed on a very large baking pan (or two smaller pans) that have been lined with parchment paper. Portion the scallop mixture evenly over the duxelles and top -- I use a 3-ounce ladle to do this. Top each portion with a generous mound of grated Gruyère cheese, about 3 tablespoons.
~ Step 7. Place the pan of Coquille St. Jacques 8" underneath preheated broiler and cook until bubbly and very lightly-browned on top, about 3 1/2-4 minutes. Over browning = over cooking.
Remove from oven and serve this decadence bubbling hot:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; large spoon; food processor; rubber spatula; 10" nonstick skillet w/lid; whisk; 4-quart saucepan w/lid; 2-cup measuring container; paper towels; large slotted spoon; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 8, 5", individual-sized, scallop-shell-shaped ramekins
Cook's Note: For an exquisite and memorable meal, especially appropriate for a festive Spring brunch, I love to serve Coquille St. Jacques with a small bowl of ~ Get Out Your Whisk & Make this Tomato Bisque ~, accompanied by a few ~ Meatless Mushroom Duxelles & Gruyère Crostini ~ You can find both recipes in Category 21.
"We are all in this food world together." ~Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)