A view of the sea in Normandy

I grew up within minutes of the Bay of Bengal, which I experienced through the sights and sounds of the beach in Chennai (Madras), India – it was my image of a beach. I have also seen cows lazily grazing on grass. But, recently, when I saw green pastures dotted with cows on steep cliffs overlooking the vastness of the North Atlantic Ocean in Normandy, I held on to the railing beside the tiny church where I was standing to adjust an image in my mind.

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Varengeville-sur-Mer, Normandy

 

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Here is a recreation and adaptationof a home-cooked dish that I was served in Normandy:

Scallops (or a firm fleshed fish cut into cubes)

Béchamel or white sauce made with the best milk and cream

A creamy textured cheese that will blend well with the cream (optional)

Vermouth or white wine

Spinach

Tarragon (optional)

Salt and pepper

Shallow buttered oven-proof dish

Steam spinach until soft and cooked. Poach scallops for a few minutes until just cooked and tender in a mixture of vermouth and water with some chopped shallots, tarragon, salt and pepper. Set the scallops aside, reduce cooking liquid and strain before using it to make the béchamel. Layer some of the cooked spinach in the oven-proof dish, place a few scallops, and finally cover with enough sauce. Broil in an oven or use kitchen torch to brown the top.

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In French, le coquille refers to the shell, and Saint Jacques to Saint James. There is even description of a symbolic relation between the two words, but, together, Coquille St.Jacques, refers to the classic French dish of scallops in a rich cream sauce, one that celebrates the sea and dairy of Normandy.

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Reference:

 1. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol.1 Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck

18 thoughts on “A view of the sea in Normandy

  1. Amrita

    My mouth is watering! You'll have to re-create this magic when you come visit. Julia Child in-text annotation appreciated, someday you're going to be the one cited 🙂

    Reply
  2. Sudha Sankar

    Beautiful story telling Bala. Invokes beautiful pictures in the mind(much aided by your photos).
    Set me thinking about dishes I prepare where history and geography meet. The Kerala fish molee is my first choice - Arabian Sea fish still caught in the old Chinese nets, prepared with rich coconut cream from the ubiquitous coconut palms, and given the extra zing with the lemon that was an import to Kerala by Vasco Da Gama from the Mediterranean.
    Thanks for setting me thinking about various dishes we eat on a daily basis that have interesting stories to tell.

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Thank you. Does the experience through food feel different than that through visual art during moments when history meets geography?

      Reply
  3. Sarah Copeland

    I remember visiting there and a nearby garden at Bois de Moutiers which had a very large and stunning collection of hydrangeas. Beautiful scenery. Monet painted there, no wonder!
    Anything smothered in cream sauce is OK by me but fresh scallops in Normandy. Sublime!
    When I make this dish I always add a little heat(spice) just enough to cut some of the richness but not that you would know it was there.

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Yes, the relationship of Monet (and Braque) to this area was intriguing to witness, especially the way it was portrayed. I will make note of the garden you mention.

      Thanks, chef for the tip on the spice, I actually add some on occasion after reading Julia Child's book - now, I will remember to do so even more.

      If someone who wishes to try a cream sauce is lactose intolerant, what are the options ? Coconut milk? Almond milk ?

      Reply
      1. Sarah Copeland

        I would use coconut milk or a mixture of lactose free milk with a flavourless oil in a 50/50 ratio. Grapeseed oil is one I am partial to. The coconut milk is somewhat thinner but you can cook it down to the consistency that works for your sauce. Bala, I really don't have too much experience with this, I made thousands of Coquilles St. Jacques at my bistro but I always used 35% cream. I can't recall even once anyone asking for a lactose free version. Have never tried almond milk for a cream sauce to date. Must experiment with that idea.

        Reply
        1. Bala

          Thank you. The topic came up recently over a meal for a friend who likes dairy and cream sauces but can be intolerant to lactose. It lead to the question: does more than half the adult population that is intolerant to lactose, completely avoid lactose, or is there an alternate way for them to enjoy cream sauces.

          Reply
  4. NIRMALA

    My idea of beach is our dear Marina with sandy shores and yen number of vendors selling short-eats.' I am sure you can hear thenga maanga pattani sundal' (coconut, raw mango, peas snack) when you think of beach in chennai.I first saw stretch of green grass spread like carpet practically on the sea shore at Mahabalipuram Raddisons. Unlike your description of nature this is man-made but still stole my heart. It brings back memory of Pavithra and I , just the two of us celebrating her birthday in 2009 by the waves and the pastures.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. You have the ability to transport us to places you have seen.You should think of writing a travel log.It will be such a hit. How I wish Padmini was here to read your blog and comment.

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Thank you. Growing up I do not recall eating seafood and dairy together. Do you think the cuisine of Tamil Nadu would do well to try this combination?

      Reply
      1. NIRMALA

        It would be interesting. Yogurt is used in north Indian cooking particularly for kebabs while marinating. You have got me thinking and I plan to cook fish with curd (yogurt).I have had curd (yogurt) rice and prawn masala and also with fish fry and fish curry. I think it is a great combination. I am looking at cooking a gravy with palak,tomato, green chilli and curd and seer fillet. Will revert back with the result.

        Reply
        1. Bala

          Thank you. The use of fermented dairy (as opposed to non-fermented dairy like cream) with seafood as you mention is interesting.

          Reply
  5. Mathieu Letellier

    Thank you Bala for sharing your impressions and pictures of Normandy ! It is good to read that you had a nice (and sunny??) experience. It makes me think I should go back soon to Normandy, to meet the same feelings again and also to travel more in order to expand a little bit my knowledge of foreign "terroirs". I am curious to read your next stories. Hope you're well!

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Thank you for all the Normandy suggestions, Mathieu! Just as you question, the weather in your terroir was not always sunny. As a matter of fact, the day some of these pictures were taken, there was a light drizzle the entire day, but it didn't prevent from enjoying what was around us!

      Reply
  6. Mireille

    en plus des coquilles Saint-Jacques -pour moi...dommage la béchamel...trop lourde...- as -tu vu le cimetière marin de Varengeville????

    more scallops - for me…it is a pity the béchamel…too heavy…- have you seen the seamen cemetery in Varengeville?

    Reply
    1. Bala

      La béchamel peut être lourde mais pour moi j'aime un peu de sauce avec les coquille St Jacques.

      Oui, j'ai vu le cimetière marin de Varengeville à coté d'l'église!

      The béchamel can be heavy but for me I like a little bit of sauce with the scallops.

      Yes, I saw the seamen cemetery beside the church!

      Reply
  7. Sibel

    Also try it 'à la Provençal': sautéed in olive oil, with white wine, garlic, shallots, bay, thyme, some piment d'Espelette- it is light, colorful and delicious!

    Reply

I look forward to reading your thoughts...