When it comes to French scallop recipes, there aren’t many dishes more indulgent than coquilles St. Jacques. The scallop is served in its own shell, lying waiting to be discovered underneath a creamy blanket of sauce, like hidden treasure below the sea.
Coquilles St. Jacques translates as ‘St. James’s shells’ or ‘St. James’s scallops’, and is named after Saint James, who is often associated with scallop shells.
The scallops are poached and lightly fried before being returned to their shells, and topped with sliced mushrooms.
Next, they are drowned in a rich sauce of double cream, white wine and mushrooms, sprinkled with breadcrumbs, and placed into a hot oven to bubble away until cooked.
Some versions of this French scallop recipe also include finely sliced potatoes and a touch of grated Parmesan, but I left these out. The indulgently creamy, wine-flavoured sauce really warms the cockles – it’s like comfort food with class.
Only a few years ago, I was pretty squeamish about seafood. Something about the appearance and texture of shellfish just put me off even tasting it. How times have changed. I first tried clams when I went to Lagos, Algarve in 2016. Pork and clams is a popular Portuguese dish, and it certainly won me over. Since then, I’ve become a lot more adventurous when it comes to seafood. Only last week, I tried fresh crab claw for the first time while judging for the North East Wales Year of the Sea Food Challenge. I couldn’t quite get the hang of the crab cracker, but once the waiter had kindly done the honours for me, I took great delight in digging out the soft flesh from inside the claw.
Scallops are my favourite shellfish. I’ve experimented with a few scallop recipes but I’ve never tried poaching them until now. It was actually fairly easy, although I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed cleaning them myself. I bought my scallops fresh from E. Ashton Fishmongers in Cardiff Market for £1.25 each, and they cleaned the shells out for me.
Making coquilles St. Jacques can be a little fiddly at first, especially if you’ve never poached scallops before, as it’s important to get the timings right. Give the recipe a good read through beforehand and prepare the ingredients before you begin cooking. Enjoy this indulgent seafood dish as a starter, or as a light lunch. It goes very well with a glass of sauvignon blanc!
Coquilles St. Jacques
One of the most indulgent of all French scallop recipes, Coquilles St. Jacques ('St. James' shells) consists of poached scallops served in their own shells, smothered in a creamy, white wine sauce and sprinkled with breadcrumbs, before being baked in the oven until golden.
- 4 scallops with shells
- 75 g mushrooms sliced
- 80 g butter
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 egg yolk beaten
- 125 ml white wine
- 1 onion chopped
- 200 ml double cream
- 2 tbsp golden breadcrumbs
- pinch salt and pepper
Bring 300ml water to a simmer in a medium-sized saucepan and add the chopped onion and seasoning to form a broth. When the water starts to boil, add the white wine.
Carefully place the whole scallops (including the roe) into the water and poach for three minutes.
Remove the scallops from the broth, set them aside and reduce the heat.
Melt 30g butter in a frying pan and sautée the mushrooms until tender.
Add the scallops to the frying pan and cook them for a minute or two each side, until golden. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
Meanwhile, melt 50g butter in a small saucepan and add the flour. Strain the broth through a sieve and add it to the pan, whisking it until smooth and ‘velvety’.
Whisk the egg yolk with the double cream, remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the creamy egg mixture.
Place each scallop back into its (cleaned) shell, surround it with mushrooms, and pour the sauce into the shell. I filled mine almost to the brim.
Sprinkle with golden breadcrumbs
Bake for 10 minutes in the oven on gas mark 7-8/220°C.
Tips for the perfect coquilles St. Jacques:
Get your timings right when cooking the scallops - you don’t want to overdo them!
If you’re buying your scallops fresh from a fishmonger, ask them to clean them for you.
Buy your scallops on the day you intend to cook them, so you can be confident they’ll be fresh.
Make sure the shells are clean of dirt before you start cooking, so you don’t have to wash them as you cook.