My cooking tends to focus on functional food: simple, wholesome, and affordable dishes. Even with this focus, everyone should have a few impressive dishes in their repertoire. So I quickly jumped on board last Saturday when my aunt was jonesing to make a specific recipe from the previous week’s New York Times Magazine. It was Ina Garten’s riff on Coquilles St. Jacques: bay scallops served in individual ramekins, swathed in a creamy mushroom-shallot sauce, and topped with breadcrumbs and gruyere cheese. The whole thing is baked in the oven until the components morph into a decadent seafood masterpiece.
Obviously, the dish sounded delicious; plus it gave me an opportunity to cross something off of my foodie to do list: a trip to Santa Monica Seafood for the scallops. Santa Monica Seafood is a market and restaurant that has been a Westside establishment since 1939. They focus on quality and sustainability, and I have been looking for the right excuse to go since I moved into the neighborhood. Coquilles St. Jacques certainly seemed worthy, and Santa Monica Seafood was indeed an impressive operation. A huge U-shaped counter boasts a bounty of seafood, each item labeled with its origin and serving suggestions. The woman who helped me was honest and knowledgable, and the cashier even included an icepack for my drive to ensure the freshness of my purchased bay scallops.
Putting the dish together is simple, and Ina advertised the recipe as one that was ideal for entertaining because it can be prepped in advance. The scallops can be served in individual cassolets, or in a larger baking vessel. First, a mixture if prepared of fresh breadcrumbs, copious Gruyere, parsley, and olive oil. Then, a velouté (stock thickened with a blonde flour-butter roux) is made, and augmented by some heavy cream. Ina jazzes her sauce up with a touch of curry powder, and I fully support this addition. Next mushrooms and shallots are sautéed in butter, and finished with brandy. The shroom mixture is then added to the sauce. The sauce is certainly a home run. The mere opportunity to sneak a spoonful of sauce while cooking is worth the price of admission. Last, the scallops are divided equally between serving dishes, and draped with the mushroom cream sauce, and topped with bread crumbs. At this point, you can either bake and consume immediately, or you can store your little scallop-laden gifts in the refrigerator, in the event that you are preparing for a fabulous dinner party.
We baked some immediately, and some the following day, and I can assure you the dish comes out exactly the same regardless of your timeline. The flavor of the dish is perfect. The breadcrumbs brown beautifully, oozing with cheese; the brandy, mushrooms, and curry meld inscrutably; the scallops are cooked to the perfect doneness. However, there is a problem. The mushroom sauce and the moisture from the scallops join forces the result is far too wet and drippy. The seafood lends a lovely oceanic tilt to the sauce’s flavor, but it is awkwardly runny. I have retraced my steps with a fine tooth comb, and I can assure you that my aunt and I followed Ina’s recipe down to the last detail. This is highly unusual for me, but my aunt is a staunch recipe-follower, and I was trying to behave myself. In this case, I’m so glad did because I can absolve myself from guilt. Despite the fact that Ina did not specify it, I even patted the scallops dry with paper towel prior to assembly. Of course, the recipe is salvageable. It simply needs a reduction in liquid. Below, you will find Ina’s recipe with my suggestions noted in parentheses. If you follow my suggestions, you can expect your sauce to be thick (possible a little gloppy), but rest assured that issue will temper in the oven. I cannot over-emphasize how good the flavor was, but the soupy factor was definitely not what we expected. The sauce can certainly be sopped up with baguette, but it is still seems off.
Ina Garten’s Coquilles St. Jacques (as written by the New York Times)
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ cups seafood stock, clam juice or low-sodium chicken stock (Psycho says: reduce to 1 cup)
- 1 cup heavy cream (Psycho says: reduce to 3/4 cup)
- ¼ teaspoon curry powder (Psycho increased to 1/2 because she loves curry)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 3 large shallots, peeled and diced, approximately 1 cup
- 12 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stems discarded, sliced
- ¼ cup brandy or Cognac
- 1 ½ cups fresh bread crumbs (approximately 6 slices white bread, crusts removed, finely chopped or pulsed in a food processor)
- ¼ cup minced flat-leaf parsley
- 5 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 pounds bay scallops, or quartered sea scallops, abductor muscles removed
- Set a saucepan over medium heat, and melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in it. When it foams, add the flour, and cook for approximately 4 minutes, whisking constantly. Add the stock, and whisk again, until it is smooth and thick. Add the cream, curry powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bring the sauce just to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
- Put 3 tablespoons butter in a large sauté pan set over medium heat. When it melts and foams, add the shallots, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are clear and tender, approximately 5 minutes. Add the sliced mushroom caps, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until they have released their liquid and are just starting to brown. Add the brandy or Cognac, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the alcohol has mostly evaporated. Add a teaspoon of salt to the mixture and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, and stir again to combine. Add mushroom mixture to the cream sauce, and set aside.
- Combine the bread crumbs, parsley and Gruyère in a large bowl, stir to combine, then moisten the mixture with the olive oil, stirring again to combine.
- Use last tablespoon of butter to grease 6 1 1/2-cup gratin dishes. Divide the scallops evenly among them and top with equal amounts of the cream and mushroom sauce. Top each gratin dish with a handful or two of the bread-crumb mixture. Place dishes on a sheet tray, cover gently with foil or plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to a day.
- When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 400. Remove cover from sheet tray, and place in the oven for approximately 20 minutes, or until the tops are lightly browned and bubbling and the scallops are cooked through.
January 18, 2015