2 More Ways to Make a Plate Look Better

I decided to hit #3 (use white plates for simplicity) and #4 (use different plate shapes) with one stone. The meal: Coquilles St. Jacques à la Parisienne. The plates: two wavy square bowls I scored for $5 each at TJMaxx.

A quick glance through my Gallery (yes, I do update it every so often) will prove to you that Alex and I are currently using dishes we inherited or collected from our days in college. Which means they’re mismatched and quite colorful. On colored plates, Louis Eguaras says they are “effective attention getters” and the style of the plate should match the style of the food, “such as country cuisine with rustic plates.” I’m not totally sure what style our rainbow plates would be – whimsical? or the floral Corelle dishes – maybe a casual meadow or backyard garden? In any case, you know that I don’t limit myself to cooking “whimsical meadow meals” (I’m not even sure what would qualify as such) so, by Eguaras’s advice, I’ve been way off the mark, even in this, this, this, this, and this plate makeover. Needless to say, these white beauties were a welcome addition to our kitchen cabinets.

I like the way that the simplicity of the white creates a blank slate and lets the food be the star. I also like that these particular white dishes have a curvy, wavy shape to them that mimics oh, I don’t know, the ocean? which seems especially fitting when serving a seafood dish, don’t you think? Eguaras adds that using different plate shapes is good when “round plates are too expected.” Because, you know, round was so last season.

I kid. Anyway. I discovered that instead of going shopping for normal splurge items like a new dress or pair of shoes or handbag or a video game or whatever normal people do, I buy food. And today it happened to be scallops and a bottle of white wine. And so, inspired by one of the meals I ate in France, I consulted Julia Child and made Coquilles St. Jacques à la Parisienne, which is basically scallops poached in white wine and smothered with a velvety sauce of the poaching wine, butter, milk, cream, and egg yolks.


Why yes, I did obnoxiously take a photo in a restaurant in Lyon. I labeled the photo as Fricasse St. Jacques in my notes. You can see it's the scallop (including its pink roe), rice, and asparagus, drenched in a cream sauce.

I was not able to take many photos of the making of this dish because it requires a fair amount of attention and multitasking, but here’s the recipe in case you’re interested in turning your next shopping splurge into an edible one.

Coquilles St. Jacques à la Parisienne (adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

*Click here for an interesting story about the origins of the dish (as well as an alternate recipe) – literally St. James’s shells (and no, he was not a mermaid man).

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. This is for your pasta (I used Spaghetti). Because there’s going to be a lot going on later on, I recommend going ahead and cooking it, draining it, and drizzling it with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking and just let it be on stand by until you need to plate it.

– 1 cup dry white wine (I used a French Chardonnay)
– pinch of salt and pepper
– 1 bay leaf
– 1 green onion, finely chopped
2. Simmer in medium saucepan for about 5 minutes.

– 6 cremini mushrooms, sliced
– 12 sea scallops
3. Add the mushrooms and the scallops to the wine. Return to a simmer. Cover with a lid and let it be for 5-6 more minutes. (I didn’t have the right sized pan so I had to cook the scallops in one batch and the mushrooms in a second batch).

– 3 tablespoons butter
– 1/4 cup flour
4. While the scallops are doing their thing, melt the butter in another saucepan over medium-low heat. When it’s melted, add in the flour and whisk together. Let it cook together to make your roux (the thickener for the sauce), whisking often. Julia advises letting it bubble and froth for 2 minutes without coloring (if you let it go for a long time it will turn brown in color as the flour cooks. We’re looking for a lovely golden color).

5. After 5 minutes in their wine bath, spoon out the scallops and mushrooms and let sit on a plate covered with foil while you prepare the sauce. Turn up the heat for your saucepan that has the wine and let it boil down a little. Then, off the heat, add it to your butter/flour pot, followed by 3/4 cup milk. Return to the heat and bring to a boil.

– 2 egg yolks
– 1/2 cup heavy cream
6. Whisk together in a large glass measuring cup. Once the sauce has come to a boil, add it slowly to the egg/cream mixture, whisking as you go. You’re trying to slowly raise the temperature of the eggs so they don’t curdle or scramble when you heat them with the rest of the sauce. I found it best to drizzle in one ladleful of hot sauce at a time to the glass cup in which I was whisking constantly. When you have about double the amount of liquid in the glass measuring cup as you started with, it’s probably safe to pour the whole thing back into the milk saucepot and return to a boil for 2 minutes or so.

7. Add some salt, pepper, and a drizzle of lemon juice. Then strain the sauce (or don’t) to filter out those bits of green onion and any other clumps. Stir the scallops and mushrooms into the sauce then pour over a small serving of noodles. Eat warm and right away.

*Note: Technically, this is not the way Julia Child suggested finishing the recipe. You could, if you wish, pour the saucy scallops and mushrooms into little gratin dishes, dot with some butter and swiss cheese and stick ’em under the broiler for 5-7 minutes until the sauce is browned. Obviously there are many variations. I was trying to create something that more closely resembled what I ate in France.

So, it looks like there’s only one more tip left to cover in my quest to try Eguaras’s eight ways to make a plate look better. I wonder if it’s possible to create a dish that incorporates all 8 tips? What do you think? Would you consider hunting down dishes on the cheap to have some variety in the way your dishes are served? Are you a fan of a particular style or color of plate?

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4 thoughts on “2 More Ways to Make a Plate Look Better

  1. Kat Martin says:

    Really enjoyed this post!!

  2. Peter says:

    I got so fed up with the choices available that I started making my own. Now I’m happy, and much more inspired.

    • jkelliott says:

      There certainly are a lot of choices out there. But your work is beautiful! What an incredible way to make the whole experience of eating even more personalized!

  3. […] Use negative space 2. Avoid flatness 3. Use white plates for simplicity 4. Use different plate shapes 5. Use strong geometries (that’s this one) 6. Use counterpoints […]

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