French Seafood Starter Recipes: Coquilles St Jacques en gratin or pesto?

French Seafood Starter Recipes: Coquilles St Jacques en gratin or pesto?

A savory yet delicate seafood starter? The Coquilles St Jacques 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. And with a creamy sauce on top, you might even get the kids to try it!

The French 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 to cook Coquilles St Jacques: Au Gratin or with Pesto?

There are many ways to prepare the scallops: raw, marinated, fried or grilled. But one of my favorites has to be Coquilles St Jacques au gratin, where it is cooked with a creamy sauce and breadcrumbs.

My other favorite is Coquilles St Jacques with pesto sauce, which has a bit more kick to it, and has the added benefit of being gluten-free, lactose-free and alcohol-free. I’ve included both versions in the recipe below, so 2 for the price of 1!

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!

What to serve with Coquilles St Jacques

In terms of meals, Coquilles St Jacques is usually served as a starter. 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, or Reisling from Alsace will be excellent.

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

Recipe for Coquilles St Jacques

Recipe for Coquilles St Jacques

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

An easy starter, with scallops as the star.

This recipe for Coquilles St Jacques en gratin, as well as a 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
  • 1/2 cup of crème (heavy cream)
  • 1/4 cup of white wine
  • 1/2 cup of grated gruyere cheese
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • Pinch of Salt
  • Pinch of Pepper
  • Box of Breadcrumbs
  • Few sprigs of fresh parsley


Coquilles St Jacques en Gratin

  1. Soften the butter and mix in the grated shallots
  2. Add the cream, white wine, salt and pepper to the mixture.
  3. Bring the mixture to a boil for 5 minutes while mixing.
  4. Add the gruyere to the sauce, and whisk in to let it melt.
  5. Place the scallops on the shells and add prepared sauce on top.
  6. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs and a small amount of parsley on top of the sauce and the scallops.
  7. 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.)
  8. Serve while warm.
  9. Bon appétit!


Coquilles St Jacques with pesto sauce

If you prefer a gluten-free, lactose-free, and alcohol-free version here is the recipe for Coquilles St Jacques with pesto sauce.

  • Substitute the cream for 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • Substitute white wine for two tablespoons of lemon juice.
  • Substitute the cheese and breadcrumbs for 1 clove of crushed garlic
  • Add two sprigs of basil (or 5-6 leaves of basil)
  • Mix the olive oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic, salt, pepper, basil and parsley in the blender.
  • Add the sauce on top of the scallops and bake for 15 minutes at 200C (400F°).

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 196 Total Fat: 10g Saturated Fat: 6g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 4g Cholesterol: 30mg Sodium: 256mg Carbohydrates: 14g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 1g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 8g
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!

¹ Featured Image: Sarah Pflug – Burst Shopify

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