French Seafood Starter: Coquilles St Jacques (Gluten-free Recipe)

Scallops sound intimidating, but it couldn't be simpler. Get the gluten-free recipe for coquilles st jacques with pesto, including tips on how to serve it, drink accompaniments, and much more.
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A savory yet delicate seafood starter? The Coquilles St Jacques en pesto is perfect. Known as scallops in English, (but it just sounds better in French, doesn’t it?) they will add a touch of refinement to any meal. A recipe that is easy to prepare, healthy and delicious with a tangy sauce on top, you might even get the kids to try it!

The Christmas Tradition

The first time I had it was at Christmas with the French side of my family, so I tend to always associate it with Christmas. But there is no need for any such restrictions, in France you can buy it all year round at Picards’ (a frozen grocery food chain)!

Fresh scallops, however, are more of a winter tradition. In France, the fishing season for scallops starts in October, so they are peak freshness in December, right on time for Christmas. The tradition goes back to the pilgrims of Saint Jacques de Compostela (hence the name) who crisscrossed France and Spain with the shells around their neck.

While we don’t focus much on seafood at Christmas in North America (hello turducken!), in France there is usually at least one seafood item on the Christmas meal menu, such as scallops, smoked salmon or lobster.

☞ RELATED POST: Your Guide to a traditional French Christmas Dinner

Different ways of cooking

There are many ways to prepare the scallops: raw, marinated, fried or grilled. But one of my favorites has to be Coquilles St Jacques with pesto sauce (or the French pistou), which has a bit of a kick to it and has the added benefit of being gluten-free, lactose-free and alcohol-free.

My other favorite is Coquilles St Jacques en gratin, where it is cooked with a creamy sauce and breadcrumbs. That one is obviously not gluten-free, since it has breadcrumbs. And if you like, here is a scallops and pasta in pesto sauce recipe to serve as a main dish.

Now I’ve seen a lot of recipes where mushrooms, potatoes or leeks have been cooked into it as well. You can, of course, it would make the starter heartier, but I’m keeping with the traditional French recipe which was meant to emphasize the freshness and delicateness of the scallops. Too many ingredients and the scallops will drown!

☞ READ MORE: ABC of French Cuisine (the Food Dictionary)

Frequently asked questions

What to serve with it?


In terms of meals, Coquilles St Jacques is usually served as a starter.

For the main, consider a mushroom risotto or a garlic spaghetti (with aïoli) to complement the scallops. And for dessert, perhaps a crème brûlée?

What drinks to serve it?

two wine glasses

Paired with some fine champagne, you will certainly raise a few “la di das!” at a sophisticated dinner party.

If you don’t care for champagne, try a white wine which has been chilled in the fridge. A Sancerre from France’s Val de Loire, Chablis from Bourgogne, or Reisling from Alsace will be excellent.

☞ READ MORE: Easy Guide to the French Wines

coquilles st jacques au pesto starter recipe

Recipe for Coquilles St Jacques in Pesto

Yield: 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

An easy recipe starring scallops, that is usually served as a starter.

This recipe of gluten-free Coquilles St Jacques with pesto will please both kids and grownups alike.


  • 4 Coquilles Saint Jacques (i.e. 4 scallops) drained and patted dry in open shell
  • 1 tablespoon of grated shallots
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1 clove of crushed garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • Pinch of Salt
  • Pinch of Pepper
  • Add two sprigs of basil (or 5-6 leaves)
  • Few sprigs of fresh parsley (6-7 leaves)


  1. Soften the butter and mix in the grated shallots in a saucepan at a low temperature.
  2. Mix the olive oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic, salt, pepper, basil and 4 leaves of parsley in the blender.
  3. Bring the mixture to a boil for 5 minutes while mixing.
  4. Place the scallops on the shells and add prepared sauce on top.
  5. Sprinkle the rest of the parsley on top of the sauce and the scallops.
  6. Bake the scallops in the oven for 15 minutes at 200C (400F°) until it turns golden brown. (If scallops were frozen, cook for an additional 10 minutes.)
  7. Serve while warm.
  8. Bon appétit!


The above quantities are for 1 serving of coquilles st. jacques per person. Adjust quantities if you wish to serve more.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 192Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 8mgSodium: 61mgCarbohydrates: 10gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 2g

Note: We are not certified nutritionists and these estimates are approximate. Each individual’s dietary needs and restrictions are unique to the individual. You are ultimately responsible for all decisions pertaining to your health. This website is written and produced for informational purposes only.

So whether you are making some scallops for Christmas, or just because, cheers to us all and bon appétit!

If you enjoyed that article, you may enjoy reading about more classic French appetizers and provençale recipes that are easy to prepare.

Bon appétit and à bientôt!

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French Seafood Starter: Coquilles St Jacques (Gluten-free Recipe)

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