Coquille St Jacques, feminine noun (une coquille, la coquille, des coquilles) (pronounced ko-ki-y) (no particular stress).
Une coquille = a shell. Une coquille St Jacques = a scallop shell, or a scallop, but the meat of the scallop alone is called une noix de St Jacques. Un coquillage is a smaller shell, the type you find on a beach.
The scallop shell, the coquille St Jacques is so called because it has been the symbol used since the 12th century by pilgrims walking to St Jacques de Compostèle. A carved scallop shell is to be found on the front of houses used by pilgrims at stopover points. The history is too long to set out here, look it up, it’s very interesting.
Widely used in French cuisine, very seasonal, coquilles St Jacques can be cooked in such a variety of ways and are so delicious that they are a real gift to the cook.
My recipe today is for St Jacques au thé vert = scallops in green tea, which is based loosely on a recipe I found in my frozen food store’s magazine; it just gave me the idea.
In France, the coral of coquilles St Jacques is highly prized. I know that in some other countries it is not. Whatever the reason, the coral certainly makes for a better and more exciting presentation.
Be careful what type of scallops you are buying; there are several types which call themselves scallops but which are not as big or as flavoursome (particularly the very tiny ones). I have used large French pecten maximus. They are the very best when you need whole molluscs for presentation, big and fabulously tasty. Chlamys opercularis are smaller but still sweet tasting. These are better used when making sauces or vol au vent (puff pastry cases). Zygochlamys patagonica come from Argentina and are similar to opercularis. The ones you are most likely to find in North America are Placopecten magellicanus from Canada. These are large and have good flavour when fried, poached or steamed. Don’t overcook scallops. They should be seared or steamed, coated in sauce and served rapidly.
For two people you will need:
- 6 large coquilles St Jacques
- 1tbs Japanese Sencha or Gyokuro green tea, or another variety of your choice, but they must be high quality leaves
- a mixture of snow peas, broad beans, soy beans and water chestnuts (I can buy the mixture already done and frozen (at Picard Surgelés for readers in France), you may probably have to mix your own), about 200gr per person in all. Don’t miss out the water chestnuts, they give a good crunch.
- 1tbs Kikkoman soy sauce (do not use just any old soy sauce, you’ll ruin your recipe)
- 1tbs olive or peanut oil
- 1 large tsp honey
- salt, pepper
- If they are frozen, soak the coquilles St Jacques in the fridge overnight in a mixture of milk and water. If you have fresh ones, use them as they are.
- Make an infusion of green tea: 1tbs in 20cl of water not quite at boiling point (boil a kettle, wait two minutes, then pour). Filter the tea after 3 minutes, keep the leaves.
- Prepare your vegetables, whether fresh (steam for 15 minutes) or frozen (a couple of minutes in the microwave). Divide between two bowls, add a little salt and pepper, and keep warm.
- Pat the scallops dry. In a hot, non stick pan, sear the coquilles with no oil or butter, for about 1 minute on either side. Take them out of the pan and put them to keep warm with the vegetables.
- To the pan add the oil, soy sauce, honey and tea, and cook briskly to reduce to a syrup.
- Replace the coquilles St Jacques in the pan and cook briefly, not more than a minute altogether, turning to coat in the syrup.
- Transfer them back on top of the vegetables, add any juice left in the frying pan, sprinkle with a few of the tea leaves you kept on the side. These are actually quite good, and you may find you want to add a few more.
Cooking the scallops briefly in the syrup discolours them because of the soy sauce. If you prefer not to have them discoloured, sear them for a shade longer, and do not put them in the syrup. Just place them on top of the vegetables and pour a little syrup on top.
This is an unusual and delicate dish, suitable as a starter for a classy dinner party, or as a main dish (if I were doing it as a main dish, I’d add some cooked udon noodles in the bowl under the vegetables).
Drink green tea to accompany, of course.