"What a wonder life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner." Colette

Apr 18, 2020

Coquilles Saint-Who?

I don't cook, but I never said I can't cook.  Everyone knows cooking for one is tiresome, and yesterday I proved it to myself again.  Three hours to cook and clean up a meal I scarfed in under 10 minutes but boy, was it worth it:  Aunt Cathy's Coquilles St-Jacques a la Parisienne.

I spent the summer of 1973 in West Berlin and Marseilles, visiting my aunt and uncle stationed in the still-walled city and my aunt's relatives in the south of France.  Pretty heady stuff for a 17-year old.

On a daily basis I watched Aunt Cathy whip up French dishes as easily as most people scramble eggs.  However, she only made this scallops and mushrooms in a white wine cream sauce once since the recipe is somewhat involved.  I'd only made it once myself ages ago; but while glancing through my old recipe box recently I pulled out the three front-and-back cards to prepare it once more before I die; otherwise why keep the cards?

Don't be daunted; the way I cook is like the way I drive, so for most people this dish should take one-third the time it did for me.  I will say that it took me a couple months to accumulate the ingredients on my SNAP budget; and when I found a bag of frozen scallops for $5 in Walmart I felt like I'd won the lottery.

I made my own chicken broth (water and carcass simmered with some celery stalks for 1/2 hour) and had it frozen, waiting.  I didn't want to pay the ridiculous price for a whole container of peppercorns when I only needed 10; so I looked up how to remove the top of those McCormick disposable pepper grinders.  Unfortunately I was too rough with the screwdriver and had to pick out the glass slivers; but buying a new pepper grinder was still cheaper than a bottle of peppercorns.

I picked up a tiny box of white wine and worried the bag of fresh celery would go bad before I was ready.  On the home stretch, my grocery order the other day included the bay leaves, shallots, heavy cream and fresh parsley.  I borrowed a cup of flour from a neighbor last week.  I don't have the clam shells traditionally used to bake and serve plus I only use my toaster oven but I gave it the old college try.

Sis reminded me that it was Good Friday for the Greek Orthodox, my Aunt's faith; so even though fasting is traditional, preparing her fish dish was fitting.  I like to think she was patiently watching my fiasco in the kitchen, just like she did 47 years ago.  I'm certain it'll be easier for you. (Note: recipe in my aunt's words.)

Coquille Saint-Jacques a la Parisenne
Scallops with mushrooms in white wine sauce, serves 6 (appetizer servings)

1-1/2 cups thoroughly degreased fresh or canned chicken stock, or water
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
3 sliced shallots or scallions
3 celery tops with leaves, cut in 2-in pieces
4 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
10 whole peppercorns
2 lbs whole bay scallops, or frozen sea scallops, cut into 1/2 inch slices
3/4 lbs. fresh mushrooms, sliced (or canned)

Preheat the oven to 375F.  In a heavy 3 to 4 qt. saucepan, bring the stock, wine, shallots, celery, parsley, bay leaf and peppercorns to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.  Strain this court bouillon through a sieve into a 10 to 12 inch enameled or stainless-steel skillet.  Add the scallops and mushrooms, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.  Transfer the scallops and mushrooms to a large mixing bowl.  Quickly boil the remaining court bouillon down to 1 cup.

Sauce Parisienne

4 Tbsp. butter
5 Tbsp. flour
3/4 cup milk
2 egg yolks
1/4-1/2 cup heavy cream
Few drops lemon juice
1 tsp. salt
White pepper
1/4 cup grated imported Swiss cheese

In a 2-3 qt. enameled or stainless steel saucepan, melt butter over moderate heat.  When the foam subsides, lift the pan from the heat and stir in the flour.  Return to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute or two.  Do not let this (roux) brown.  Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour in the reduced poaching liquid and the milk, whisking constantly.  Then return it to high heat and cook, stirring the sauce with a whisk.  When it thickens and comes to a boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer slowly for 1 minute.

(I apologize for not providing nice how-to photos, but I was busy orchestrating this process.)

Mix the egg yolks and 1/4 cup cream together in a small bowl, and stir into it 2 Tbsp. of the hot sauce.  Add 2 more Tbsp. of sauce, then whisk the now-heated egg-yolk-and-cream mixture back into the remaining sauce in the pan.  Over moderate heat bring the sauce to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 30 seconds.  Remove from heat and season with lemon juice, salt and pepper.  The sauce should coat a spoon fairly thickly; if it is too thick, thin it with more cream.  With a bulb baster, draw up and discard any juices that may have accumulated under the scallops and mushrooms.  Then pour in about 2/3 of the Sauce Parisienne and stir together gently.

Butter 6 scallop shells set on a baking sheet or in a broiler pan, or 6 shallow 4 inch baking dishes, and spoon the scallop mixture into them.  Mask with the remaining sauce and sprinkle with cheese.  Bake the scallops in the top third of the oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until the sauce begins to bubble; then slide them under a hot broiler for 30 seconds to brown the tops if desired. Serve at once.

If I can do it, you can.  I own a 2-qt Martha Stewart saucepan and one of those square, gold fry pans you see on TV, and they worked fine.  I kept mixing up the order of the recipe cards and must have re-read them 25 times because I felt like a complete novice faced with a challenge.  No matter; nothing curdled and it all looked like it was supposed to.

I did misread the directions and only had a one-pound-bag of scallops instead of two, but that was plenty for the amount of sauce and I can't imagine adding more than another 1/2 pound.  'Course I might have added too many mushrooms since I couldn't figure out how much of the container was 3/4 lb so I threw in the whole thing.  Follow my aunt's directions but mine worked, too.

Fresh scallops probably taste better than budget frozen.  Also, I can't stand Swiss Cheese and couldn't figure out a substitute; so I sprinkled the top with Parmesan and added some Paprika for color.  Set my toaster oven to 375 degrees and watched it, then did a quick broil.

I had my doubts when I taste-tested, but yum...  The sauce is to-die-for.  Try it for a special occasion, and let somebody else do the dishes.

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