Monday, July 14, 2008

21. Coquilles St. Jaques (p. 320)

In honor of Bastille Day, I decided to make a classic French dish. Coquilles St. Jaques (Scallops with Mushrooms in White Wine Sauce) is about as classically French as you can get.

This recipe is very fussy and time consuming. But, I wouldn't have it any other way. Sometimes you have to work hard for really great food, and this dish is worth all the effort. Even though the recipe is complicated, The Book's instructions are clear and easy to follow. I never ran into any trouble. This also wasn't a cheap dish. A pound of sea scallops costs a king's ransom at Whole Foods. And when you're making a dish like this, you can't skimp on quality, so when the recipe calls for Parmigiano-Reggiano, you've got to get the real stuff.

This dish is all about the sauce. It starts with simmering white wine, water, onion and a bay leaf. Then in with the scallops for just a few minutes (they cook pretty fast). As they cook, the scallops take on the flavor of the wine, and in exchange, they impart their uniquely sweet taste on the sauce. What a great trade. Out with the scallops, reduce the sauce, then strain out the onions and bay leaf, and set it aside. The mushrooms are sauteed in butter and set aside. And if it wasn't French enough yet, here's where it gets tres Francais. You make a roux of butter and flour (a first for me!) and then whisk in the reduced wine sauce. This then gets slowly whisked into a mixture of cream and egg yolk. The result is a rich, silky, creamy and fragrant sauce. The scallops and mushrooms are combined with the sauce, divided into scallop shells or ramekins (I used ramekins because I couldn't find any shells), topped with breadcrumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and broiled for a couple of minutes to make a nice crust.

Coquilles St. Jaques is traditionally served in scallop shells in honor of St. James, one of the Twelve Apostles, whose symbol is the scallop shell. According to legend, the apostle saved a knight covered in scallop shells. Pilgrims making their way to St. James's shrine at Santiago de Compostela in Spain carried scallop shells with them. Along the way, the pilgrims stopped at houses, churches and abbeys and asked for a donation of as much food as would fit in a shell. If they got a shell-full of Coquilles St. Jaques, they'd be happy and satisfied pilgrims. Chances are, however, that Medieval pilgrims would get a scoop of oats or barley.

My photo above doesn't do this dish justice. I'm in a fight with my oven lately. It's taking too long to heat up, but once it gets going, there's no stopping it, so it sometimes gets too hot. As a result, the crust on my Coquilles got a little more browned than I wanted (OK, it burned a litte). The blackened top aside, this is probably the best thing I've made in The Project so far. The scallops were sweet and tender. The cheese and breadcrumb crust was crisp and delicious. And the sauce! The sauce was rich without being overbearing. It was velvety and smooth and the flavor was amazing. This was truly a special meal, worthy of a special occasion.

Happy Bastille Day!
Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité!

Date Cooked: July 13, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Pretty Hard
Rating: A

1 comment:

Melissa Bach Palladino said...

Oh Adam--just you wait. By the time you're half way through this book you'll look back with fondness on the time you thought roux was complicated. ;-) (and just wait til you get to the millions of recipes that require homemade caramel)

There are thermometers that hang from your oven rack--I suggest you get one. That way you know what's really going on in there and can adjust the knobs up top accordingly.