scallops: the king of shellfish

Scallops with mash, mushrooms and breadcrumbs make a sumptuous treat - and they're in season right now in the south west

 

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Lindsey Bareham

 

Whenever I buy scallops (in season right now in Cornwall), I ask the fishmonger for the shells. You can use them to hold nuts and dainties. They clean up beautifully, are dishwasher safe and keep indefinitely.

There are many delicious ways to eat scallops on the half-shell, but poached in white wine with fish stock, with lemon and thyme-scented button mushrooms, held in a rich cream sauce with a piping of crisp mash and buttery breadcrumbs, is one of the best. Although scallops are not a cheap option, Coquilles St Jacques is an economical way to eat them and has the “wow factor”. For a dinner party, you can make it ahead and finish it in the oven.

 

The size of the shells will dictate whether you serve your guests one or two - and if you can't scrounge shells from the fishmonger, it can be made on saucers. The other inessential item that helps presentation is a piping bag: it is satisfying to squeeze a wall of mashed potato around the inside edge of the shells. At a pinch you could cheat with a plastic bag. Choose one made of strong, heavy-duty plastic and snip off the corner. The finale, once the filling is in place, is a thin layer of breadcrumbs tossed in melted butter. They cook to a different type of crisp from the piped mash and protect the filling from the heat.

 

For this recipe the scallops are cut into chunks unless they are very small, so it doesn't really matter what size they are. Frozen scallops give off a lot of liquid as they defrost, so give them a gentle squeeze and then pat dry with kitchen paper before cooking. If, like me, you enjoy the contrast of creamy scallop roes with the dense, sweet meat, look out for British king scallops. They are in limited supply and in great demand. When planning the rest of the meal, bear in mind that Coquilles St Jacques is surprisingly rich and filling.