Recipe of the Month: Coquilles St Jacques

When I was a newlywed girl in 1989, I met a neighbour, Jeanne, in our New Jersey town, who became one of my closest friends. She was a widow who loved to cook, and even more to feed people, and she taught me everything I know about being a host. She shared recipe after recipe with me, including this one for Coquilles St Jacques, and although I've since learned from our President that it's not at all a conventional recipe for this classic dish, it's the one that resonates with me, since it brings up 30-year-old memories of dinner parties around a shining table, surrounded by American friends. When I unearthed this card from my files last week, I saw that some long-ago cat had eaten quite a crucial corner of the recipe. It took a few tries to work out the missing instructions, but the result is a simple, elegant dish of supreme flavour and aroma. You can do as I did, if you like, and clean some large scallops for another dish, and save the beautiful shells for serving.

(Serves 4)

4 scallop shells for presentation, or small ramekins, buttered

360g/13 ounces bay (not sea) scallops

1 tbsp finely chopped shallot

Pinch of sea salt

Pinch of white or black pepper

155ml/3/4 cup dry vermouth

250ml/1 cup double/heavy cream

1 tbsp flour

4 tbsps whole milk

a few drops Tabasco

very tiny sprinkle paprika

a few drops lemon juice

flat leaf parsley, finely chopped for garnish

Place the scallops in a saucepan with the shallots, salt, pepper and vermouth. Bring to a boil and cover, then simmer for 2 minutes. Remove scallops and cook the vermouth until reduced by half. Add the cream and boil until reduced again by half. Combine the flour and milk very well with a whisk, then add to the sauce and simmer for a few minutes until the sauce is the consistency you want.

Divide the scallops among the shells, pour over the sauce, then sprinkle on the Tabasco, paprika, lemon juice, and parsley over each serving. Brown under a broiler or grill for a minute or two, or until lightly browned, watching carefully all the time. Serve immediately.