Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Sudden Craving for Coquilles St-Jacques - October 2, 2010

One cold, autumn day, my mum had a sudden craving for something.  This normally isn’t a problem, but this time, she didn’t know what it was called.  Piecing together her descriptions, I concluded it could only be the totally retro dish, Coquilles St-Jacques.

Baked Coquille St. Jacque 1

This picture may not seem like the dish to you, but it certainly resembled the one in my mum’s memories.  You see, she first had the dish at a buffet dinner somewhere in Québec years and years ago, and she has apparently been craving it ever since.  We started this cooking adventure with the notion that it was a seafood chowder, topped with mashed potatoes and cheese.  I don’t think the cheese is authentic, but we were aiming to recreate the dish from my mum’s memory.  If she says there’s cheese, then there’s cheese, damn it!

We went over the game plan, and everyone got started on their assigned tasks while my mum went out to the grocery store for the missing ingredients.

Fish for Coquille St. Jacque

We had a few filets of frozen white fish (the name escapes me now), so we cut it into small, bite-sized chunks.  I was a little skeptical about whether or not it would hold together in a chowder once fully cooked, but everyone assured me that it would not fall apart.  We dusted this lightly with salt.

Christine's comment: I think the it was basa fish. I can't confirm it, but for some reason, that type of fish pops up in my head.

Shrimp for Coquille St. Jacque

Next, we prepared the shrimp.  We normally have shrimp in our freezer, and so mom peeled and deveined them.  It was quick work to cut it up, and toss it with the fish.  While it’s not pictured, my mum also added two handfuls of scallops to the seafood bowl.

Herbs for Coquille St. Jacque

My brother went outside to pick fresh herbs and came back with what looks like thyme, oregano, and maybe a little rosemary.  We minced this up and set it aside.

Onions for Coquille St. Jacque

I finely diced three or four small onions.  It didn’t matter that we used yellow and red onions, since it was all cooked down in the end.  This provided the body to the chowder.

Pot of Coquille St. Jacque

We sautéed the onions and half of the minced herbs in about half a cup of butter until softened.  A tiny sprinkle of salt and a quarter bottle of white wine (Lindeman’s Bin 65 Chardonnay, if you must know) later, we then began a roux, adding about a quarter cup of flour.  It’s a rich stew, to be sure!  Once that began to thicken, we added half and half cream.  We added another quarter bottle of wine, a little more flour to thicken it up some more, and salt and pepper to taste.  It was divine.  Once we doctored the chowder to our desired consistency, we gently stirred in the seafood and remaining herbs and turned off the heat.

Yes, the directions are all over the place, but with three people cooking one dish in the kitchen, it was confusing.  Before we added anything, we had to check and double-check to make sure no one else had already added the ingredient to the pot.

While all of this was going on, my brother made mashed potatoes and shredded the marble cheddar cheese for the topping.

To assemble the dish, we spooned the chowder into scallop shells that my mum bought years ago specifically to recreate this dish.  Then we flattened a spoonful of mashed potatoes and used it to seal the chowder.  This step helped mitigate any ugly spillage in the oven.  With a sprinkle of cheese on top, the coquilles were ready for the broiler.  Since everything was cooked, we were only browning the top for the textural contrast and appealing presentation.

Baked Coquille St. Jacque 2

Once out of the oven, we served it with a small side salad of baby spinach, diced red peppers, and the remaining cheese.  It was such a luxurious Saturday night dinner at home, and it certainly satisfied my mum’s cravings.  The dish was so successful that Christine’s been asking for it ever since!

I tried not to have any expectations, but I couldn't help but worry about how fishy it would taste. I'm not a fan of clam chowder, especially when Lucy makes it (she uses all the clam juice there is). So when everything was finished being broiled, I attempted to eat it with an open mind.

I was blown away at how good it was. You can taste the individual ingredients in the sauce, but at the same time, all the individual flavours complemented one another. I really liked the wine in the sauce, too. I don't usually drink/enjoy alcohol, so if I were to make this by myself, I wouldn't have added any. But now, after tasting the coquille St-Jacque that we made, I will definitely add white wine - only after a quick recommendation by Lucy. So not only was the sauce amazingly good, but the seafood was cooked to perfection! I can't wait to make it again!

I could see this being added to our larger family dinners (Christmas, Thanksgiving), but only if it was made in advance.  It’s quite a bit of assembly work for a few spoonfuls of chowder.  We’ll see if it makes an appearance at Christmas.


  1. Is it possible to have an actual list of ingredients??

  2. Seafood wise: scallops, basa fish fillets and shrimps
    Herbs: thyme, oregano, rosemary, bay leaves
    Onions, half and half cream, flour, butter, pepper, white wine (Lindeman's Bin 65 Chardonnay), potatoes, parmesan cheese (for mashed potatoes), and marble cheese for the top.

    Since we just tossed in the ingredients and adjusted everything on the fly, I can't give you the actual amount that we put in of each item. Hope that helps.


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