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The first time I tasted Coquilles St. Jacques was in the fanciest restaurant in my small northern BC hometown.  It was my first parent-sanctioned date and it was a very big deal for the boy who emptied his wallet to buy us a truly grown-up meal.  The restaurant is still a great place for a celebratory dinner, the boy is still a good friend and Coquilles St. Jacques is still a personal favourite. 

Sadly, Coquille is another dish on a long list of outdated and cliché menu items, once considered haute cuisine, now just a pedestrian relic.  But, like so many of these unfairly maligned foods, it is less about the taste than about over-exposure.  It’s a lot like that song that you heard on the radio every two hours one summer that was then relegated to the long-weekend classics play list – you still enjoy it when you here it, you just don’t want to hear it every day.   I’m happy to play that old song today… though not the original.  Instead I’m going to play a modern cover.

Every time I’ve had Coquilles St. Jacques in a restaurant, and it’s been a goodly long time, it has been small scallops swimming in cream sauce, covered with mashed potatoes and served in a scallop shell.  I’ve had a few variations – one with shrimp, another with mushrooms, each with varying quantities of shallots and garlic, but for the most part they have never strayed too far from the theme.  This photo from the Impromptu Gourmet website is exactly as I remember that first Coquille.

Classic Coquilles St. Jacques

The funny thing is that Coquilles St. Jacques is generally understood as a specific preparation for scallops but it is actually a medieval name for the scallops themselves.  The scallop was the symbol of the Order of Saint James during the crusades and the scallop was so named the “shells of St. James.”  The Christian association with scallops is why you will often see them as part of Christmas dinner in France – though you may not see the creamy preparation we are so familiar with.

Just a little salt and pepper and they're ready for the pan

That’s enough food trivia. The real task is to update this classic.  My launching point is the weather.  It is far too warm for a bowl of cream sauce and I wanted to lighten the overall dish while maintaining the luxurious elements that make Coquilles so wonderful.  Instead letting my scallops swim in a pool of cream, I decided to grill them and let them wade in the shallow end.  Second, I traded the mashed potatoes for a ramekin full of Potatoes Anna nestled on a pile of wilted spinach.  I’m very fond of mushrooms with scallops and cream, so I grilled a few slices of portabello to finish the dish off.

The sauce is a basic white wine reduction finished with cream and is really open to adaptation.  Start by sautéing a finely diced shallot and two cloves of garlic in a couple of tablespoons of butter.  Once they’re soft, add a ½ cup of dry white wine to the pan and let it reduce by half.  Add a ½ cup of cream and salt and pepper to taste.  A little grated nutmeg is a nice touch and tarragon is a fantastic addition.  Heat the sauce through and reduce until thickened a bit. 

The scallops are beyond easy though susceptible to overcooking – be careful.  I like mine dusted with a little salt and pepper and seared in a cast iron pan with about a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil.    Make sure your oil is good and hot and that your scallops are dry before you put them in the pan.  A large scallop will take about 2 minutes per side.

Potatoes Anna is just thinly sliced potatoes layered with butter and salt.  I usually do mine in a cast iron pan, but I thought I’d give the ramekins a try this time just to get that nice little disc.  Use russets or another high starch potato.  Peel and slice them very thin – no more than a ¼ inch thick – this is a good time to pull out your mandolin.  For two people, you’ll need one medium sized potato and about 4 teaspoons of melted butter.  Butter the ramekin generously.  Fill with potato slices, drizzling a little butter and salting between each layer.  Bake in a 450 degree oven for about 45 minutes or until tender.

The spinach is pan sautéed in olive oil with a bit of garlic, salt and pepper.

Coquilles St. Jacques - The 2010 Remake

So there you have it.  A classic starter turned into an elegant dinner.  It has all of the elements of the traditional Coquille St. Jacques but with an added depth flavour from the pan seared scallops and the roasted potatoes.  I still love the old version, but I think if more restaurants offered up a modern variation, Coquilles St. Jacques could enjoy a renaissance of sorts. 

Bon appétit,


What a weird day! Seriously. How do spinach, waffles and nougat all end up sharing the same holiday? I could think of no way to combine the three that would result in anything that I would want to eat. And since I am attempting to eat healthier (upcoming Lemon Chiffon Cake Day notwithstanding), I decided that I would do Spinach Day. Besides, I really like spinach.  And it’s good for you (read about all the healthy stuff here) and it makes your teeth squeak which is just kind of cool and if you eat enough, chicks will dig you.  Just ask Popeye and Olive Oyl. Sadly, spinach is another one of those plants that is soaked in pesticides and ranks in the high middle of the worst of the Bad List so you should buy organic (and local) whenever possible.  Which leads me to today’s dilemna…

There has been no spinach worth having to be found in any of my favourite food shopping haunts. Trust me.  I’ve been looking for days.  Why is there no locally grown organic spinach around right now?  Oh, I don’t know.  Maybe because it’s still March. Even my favourite greenhouse isn’t producing yet (probably because they try to rely on the sun for light and heat instead of electricity). So here I sit, thinking longingly of long, warm, sunny days that will produce good to eat stuff like spinach and tomatoes and bell peppers and … *sigh*  I suppose I could have bought frozen spinach and made something with that. In fact, it’s not actually a bad option for the following reasons: (1) unless it’s really insanely fresh baby spinach, I don’t like raw spinach; and (2) it takes a LOT of spinach to make a decent amount of cooked spinach. For recipes requiring large amounts of cooked spinach, like spanokopita or lasagna, frozen spinach is an acceptable shortcut if you don’t mind the pesticides (unless you can find organic frozen spinach which I can’t recall seeing ever).

So I didn’t buy any spinach this week. Which means I did not prepare and eat any spinach for today’s post.  Which makes me sad.  Today I worked late and on the way home I contemplated making one more last ditch attempt to find some spinach worth eating.  I was even willing to cave in and buy some crappy, pesticide-laden, imported from who-knows-where spinach.  But then I remembered what the wilted, muddy looking stuff masquerading as spinach at the grocery store yesterday looked like and decided to skip it and race home just in time to have some fun time watching my kid play in the bath instead.  Pause here for gratuitous cute kid shot:

I will attempt to make up for the lack of Sexy Spinach Shots (nice alliteration eh?) by sharing with you a recipe for a very simple, very beautiful Japanese spinach dish called Oshitashi.  Whenever I try out a new Japanese restaurant, I like to order their oshitashi. Besides the quality of the sushi rice, the sunomono vinaigrette, the miso broth and the tamago, the oshitashi is a pretty great marker of the quality of the restaurant.  It’s all about how the spinach is cooked.  When you get around to finding some good spinach and making this dish, you will forgive me I’m sure.  I modified this recipe slightly from one I found in a little book I have called (surprise, surprise) “Japanese Cooking” by Peter and Joan Martin, Gramercy Publishing Company, New York ©1970.

1. Wash 1 lb. spinach really well and do not remove stems unless they are tough. Using twine, tie the spinach in bunches by its stems.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and then put the spinach in, pushing it under the surface of the water, and cook for 2 – 3 minutes.  Remove from the hot water before the bright green colour fades and run cold water over it to cool it quickly.

3. Squeeze out the excess water by rolling the spinach up in a bamboo sushi mat and squeezing firmly until the spinach holds together in a cylindrical shape.  Discard the twine and cut the spinach cylinder into sushi size pieces.

4.In frying pan, lightly toast 3-4 tbsp. white sesame seeds until golden. Crush in mortar and set aside.

Dressing Option 1 – As per the Martins’ book: Mix together 2 tbsp. light soy sauce & 1/2 cup dashi broth.  Pour over spinach, garnish with dried bonito flakes.

Dressing Option 2 – B’s “I-don’t-have-any-dashi-and-I-like-sesame-seeds” Substitute: Mix together 3 tbsp. light soy sauce, 2 tbsp. mirin and 1/2 tsp. sugar.  Add sesame seeds.  Pour mixture over spinach, garnish with bonito flakes if you have them and enjoy!

I also found this recipe which relies on marinating the spinach instead of cooking it and I think it sounds really great.

That’s all for today.