Although originally French in origin, Italians in Montreal have adopted Coquilles St-Jacques as their own and has become a classic Christmas Eve appetizer!
The first time I enjoyed Coquilles St-Jacques was at an Italian association banquet with my husband and it was love at first bite! Where had this dish been all my life? Despite the french name, my husband was convinced it was an Italian dish. At the Italian banquet hall he worked at as a waiter during his teenage years, it was commonly served at weddings. The waiters would all pray that there were extra for them to wolf down at the end of their shifts!
Origins of Coquilles St-Jacques
Coquilles St-Jacques is a French dish. Tranlated in English this means “shell of St-James”. After some research, I read that the scallop shell symbolizes St-James. According to legend, when the remains of St-James were being transported from Spain to Jerusalem, a knight’s horse fell into the water and emerged covered in scallop shells.
Interesting, however I’m still not certian what that has to do with scallops served in a shell! But you can read more about St-James here.
Regardless of the origins of this dish, the Italian population of Montreal has adopted it as their own and added an Italian twist to it. More specifically the topping of mozzarella cheese as opposed to the original gruyère cheese.
At my house, Coquilles St-Jacques has become a Christmas Eve tradition, served as an appetizer. In fact it is the only dish on my menu that has never changed throughout the years. Here are a few other favorite fish and seafood dishes that would be great for your Christmas Eve dinner!
How to make Coquilles St-Jacques :
Prepare the potatoes:
Boil 1 lb of potatoes (about 3 large potatoes) until tender. I prefer russet potatoes.
Prepare the bechamel sauce:
This easy white creamy sauce is made with only 3 ingredients: butter, all-purpose flour and milk.
Melt the butter in a small sauce pan on medium heat (1). Do not allow it to brown. Whisk in flour until it forms a thick paste (2). Slowly whisk in milk and stir (3). Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens (4). Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Set the bechamel sauce aside.
Prepare the seafood mixture:
While the potatoes are boiling, rinse and pat dry scallops and shrimp. If using frozen seafood, defrost completely and pat dry.
In a large skillet sauté onion until transluscent. Add thinly sliced mushrooms and continue cooking until all their water has evaporated.
Add shrimp and scallops and cook for a few minutes. Pour in white wine and cook until it has mostly evaporated.
At this point, if there is a lot of liquid in the pan you may choose to drain it. Pour the seafood mixture in a large bowl and stir in the prepared bechamel sauce. Add a handful of freshly chopped parsley.
Divide the mixture among 4 scallop shells.
Mash the boiled potatoes and add salt and butter or olive oil, as you prefer. Pipe the mashed potatoes around the seafood mixture using a pastry bag or in a pinch, place the mashed potatoes in a plastic freezer bag and snip off the end.
Top with shredded mozzarella cheese.
Bake in a 350F preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbling. You may turn on your broiler at the end of cooking to brown the cheese if you wish. Serve hot.
Watch my step by step Coquilles St-Jacques making video!
Tips and suggestions for making Coquille St-Jacques:
Can I add other types of seafood to my Coquilles St-Jacques?
- Crab meat or pollock may also be added to the seafood mixture.
Can I top with other types of cheese?
- Gruyère cheese can be substitued for the mozzarella in this recipe.
What can I use if I don’t have scallop shells?
- If you don’t have scallop shells, ramekins may be substitued. Another alternative is to bake the entire recipe in a casserole dish and serve buffet style.
Can I prepare Coquilles St-Jacques ahead of time?
- The seafood mixture and bechamel sauce can be prepared and refrigerated a day ahead. On the day of serving, prepare the mashed potatoes and assemble just before baking.
Can I freeze Coquilles St-Jacques?
- Yes, definitely! Coquilles St-Jacques can also be frozen once assembled but prior to baking. Defrost in the refrigerator the night before baking.
Now you’re all set to enjoy Coquilles St-Jacques this Christmas Eve or any other occasion! If you try out this recipe, please tag me with your photos with @mangiabedda or #mangiabedda on Facebook or Instagram. Buon appetito!
- 1 lb potatoes about 3, peeled
For the bechamel sauce:
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 cup cup milk
- pinch of salt and pepper
For the seafood filling:
- 340 grams medium sized shrimp about 16, peeled and deveined
- 340 grams small scallops
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small small onion diced
- 1 cup mushrooms sliced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup white wine
- handful freshly chopped parsley
- 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese or gruyère if you prefer
- In a medium sized sauce pan, place potatoes and cover with water. Bring to a boil, add salt then lower to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender.
Prepare the bechamel sauce:
- In a small sauce melt the butter on medium heat. Add the flour and stir with a whisk until a paste is formed. Gradually whisk in the milk, stir and bring to a boil. Cook until the sauce is has thickened.
Prepare the seafood filling:
- Meanwhile, rinse the shrimp and scallops. Drain well and pat dry.
- In a large skillet, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add onions and sauté until softened. Add mushrooms and cook until they have released their water and it has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
- Add shrimp, scallops and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Pour in white wine and cook until it has evaporated. At this point, drain the seafood if there is a lot of liquid in the pan. Tranfer seafood to a bowl.
- Pour the sauce over the seafood and stir to combine. Stir in chopped parsley.
- Preheat oven at 350°F. Divide the seafood among 4 scallop shells placed on a baking sheet.
- When the potatoes have cooked, mash them as desired with milk, butter or olive oil and salt. Place the potatoes in a pastry bag with star tip or in a freezer bag with the tip snipped off. Pipe the potatoes around the seafood filling.
- Top each shell with shredded mozzarella.
- Bake for about 20 minutes until the cheese is bubbling. If desired, at the end of cooking time broil for a minute or two to brown the cheese. Serve immediately.
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