October 21st is my mum’s birthday. After she died in 2003, my brothers and I established a tradition of preparing her favourite dish – coquilles St Jacques – on October 21st each year. It’s become a way of marking the day – and of connecting with one another. It isn’t always possible, but more often than not, we all sit down to this meal on her birthday.
Coquilles St Jacques was pretty sophisticated fare in small town northern Canada in the 1970s. Especially when it was served in scallop shells, the way my mum did. While it is traditionally presented this way, mum’s recipe had strayed somewhat from the classical version. Instead of lightly sauced and gratinéed scallops browned under a hot grill, her coquilles St Jacques is creamy seafood sauce that is ladled over steamed rice. Challenging for a child to eat on a teetering scallop shell.
Mum’s recipe comes from the Good Housekeeping Fish and Shellfish Book, an artefact from the 1960s that has clearly seen heavy use. There are some puzzling aspects to the recipe, such as the boiled scallops that appear in the list of ingredients. Not sure you can even buy those now – or that anyone would want to…
Unsure whether Adam would be back from Helsinki in time to eat with us, I decided to produce four individual portions, that could be heated on demand. I reduced the quantity of sauce, upped the amount of cheese, and filled individual shells before grilling each portion. Here’s the amended recipe:
Coquilles St Jacques
For the sauce:
- 2 Tb butter
- 2 Tb flour
- 1/2 tsp mustard powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- a pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 2 Tb parsley, chopped
For the scallops:
- 2 Tb butter
- 1 Tb olive oil
- 1/2 a small onion, finely chopped
- 400g small uncooked scallops (or 300g uncooked scallops and 100g cooked small prawns)
- salt and pepper
- 1 Tb flour
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- To make the sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat. Add the flour, mustard powder, salt and cayenne and stir to make a roux.
- Slowly add the milk, stirring all the time to prevent lumps. Cook until the sauce is thick and velvety, then remove from the heat and stir in the Worcestershire sauce and 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Set aside.
- Pat the scallops dry with paper towel. (If you are using large scallops, slice them crosswise 1/4″ thick.) Season with salt and pepper and toss with the flour, shaking off any excess.
- In a small frying pan, heat the butter and oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about five minutes.
- Increase the heat to medium high and add the scallops. Brown for two minutes, then add the white wine. Simmer for five minutes until the sauce is reduced and clinging to the scallops. (Add the cooked prawns at this point, if using.)
- Fold the scallop mixture into the sauce and spoon into four buttered scallop shells or small ovenproof dishes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan and place under a hot grill until golden and bubbling.
- Serve with steamed rice.