This one is my Mom’s original recipes and I have adapted it with just a few small tweaks. I am looking at (as I type) at the original recipe, with side notes, as printed and distributed to the five kids and families in a collection of family recipes compiled into what we all affectionately call “The Red Book”. It’s been around, and heavily used for what I think is close to fifteen years, if not longer.
This one is a real keeper. It was made as the Christmas Eve dinner for many years and it’s the first thing that I ever made for Michele; it was on our first date, a few moons ago. It’s elegant and creamy, and the sherry addition just about puts it over the top. Mom used to trim the crusts from white bread slices, butter them on one side and sort of push them down into muffin/cupcake tins and slow bake them at about 275° F until they are golden brown on the points and warm and moist in the middle: toast cups! Frozen puff-pastry shells work real well, too!
Any combination of about three pounds of assorted seafood: Medium shrimp, cooked, peeled, and deveined, fresh scallops (sea or bay), white fish, lobster meat, or lump crab meat
2 cups water
2 cups of white wine
1 jar of clam juice
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
1 bay leaf
1 TBSP fresh dill, chopped, or 1 tsp dry dill
A pinch of salt
4 TBSPS flour
4 TBSPS butter
½ pint of half-and-half, or heavy, cream
½ cup of cooking sherry
Fresh grated nutmeg, just a couple of pinches
Salt and fresh ground white pepper to taste
Toast cups, or puff-pastry shells
Make a stock with the water, wine, clam juice, onion, peppercorns, bay, dill, and salt in a large saucepan over medium to low heat. Bring just to a simmer, and poach your various seafoods according to the length of time it takes to cook each type. A general rule of thumb would be the firmer cooking first and the more tender-fleshed last. Shrimp take longer than fish, depending on the thickness of the cut of fish, and scallops cook really fast. They are usually tender cooked in about two minutes. The general idea, give or take a couple of minutes, is that you want all of your seafoods to be done at about the same time and you want to treat them all as gently as possible. When done, strain the stock to separate the fish from the liquid, leaving only the liquid. Reserve the stock liquid and pick the bay leaf, onion, and peppercorns from the fish. Cover the fish to keep it warm.
In another large saucepan, melt the butter over medium to low heat, being careful not to burn it. Sprinkle the flour into the melted butter and whisk together. Let the mixture foam and cook until it just begins to turn a light golden brown. Add the cream and the sherry, stirring after each addition to make sure there are no lumps. Slowly add some of the fish stock to your white sauce until it reaches a creamy, gravy-like, consistency. Season the sauce with the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. (If you use black pepper here, the small black specks will show in your sauce, which can be visually misleading.) Add the seafood to the sauce and gently stir in to avoid breaking up the seafood into a whole mess of tiny fish flakes. Stir from the bottom of the pot, with a spatula, to fold the sauce into the seafood. Simmer for a few minutes more to make sure that it is heated through. Serve hot in toast cups or puff-pastry shells. Enjoy!
Since this blog is based on comfort and low stress food preparation, I try very hard not too over-complicate or to feel compelled to insist on too much of anything. However, there are a few basics that you should master and be able to produce with a few simple ingredients that are on hand. A good basic white sauce is one of these items.
Found throughout all kinds of culinary venues and recipes (Macaroni and cheese, tuna noodle casserole, and New England clam chowder to name just a few), a basic white sauce is truly a universal launching point for all kinds of tried and true traditional recipes as well as a launching point from which you can indulge your creative side and be able to experiment with a stable and reliable base.
Adjustable by quantity and by base ingredients, this sauce operates on the premise of equal parts of a fatty substance (butter, olive oil, vegetable oil, shortening, bacon grease, lard) and flour cooked together with liquid added, thickening it. The flour can be cooked to varying degrees of readiness prior to the liquid being added with its cooked color being the indicator for the appropriate time to incorporate it into other liquids or other liquids into it. Most notably are the four basic kinds of roux (pronounced: “roo”) that are used in Cajun and Creole cooking as a thickener in recipes like gumbo and jambalaya. These are classified as white, blond, brown and dark brown rouxs. These are typically made ahead of time and stored for later use in recipes. Usually, the darker a roux becomes the less it is used for thickening (as the cooked flour begins to lose its thickening properties) and the more it is used for flavor.
A few classic white sauces are:
- Béchamel Sauce, which is traditionally cooked with butter, the milk is pre-heated to scalding (just before boiling), and the sauce is lightly seasoned with nutmeg.
- Mornay Sauce, your basic white sauce with cheese melted into it
- Aurore Sauce is a tomato-cream sauce using tomato paste whisked into a Béchamel Sauce, used with eggs, fish, and chicken
- Dijonnaise Sauce is a mustard-based sauce using Dijon style (or other mustard) whisked into a Béchamel Sauce, used with fish and ham
Basic White Sauce
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3-4 cups milk (depending upon the final use of the sauce and the desired thickness)
Salt and Pepper to taste
In a medium-to-large, heavy saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. It’s hot enough to add the flour when a pinch of flour added to it bubbles and foams. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 or 7 minutes. Stir as needed and be careful with your heat. I have burned a few of these by not paying attention to my heat. After the 6 or 7 minutes you should not be able to smell a raw flour smell; it should be more of a “nutty” smell.
Add the milk to the butter/flour mixture a little bit at a time, whisking as you go, until smooth. Let it come to a bubbly low boil. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, stirring constantly, and then remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside until ready to use. If color integrity is ultra-critical in your end use for this sauce, you will probably want to use a ground white pepper for your seasoning. For a béchamel, try a couple of pinches, about a ½ teaspoon, of nutmeg stirred in at the end, as well. (Fresh grated is much better than pre-ground!)
Have some fun with this sauce. It truly can be considered a first step towards many wonderful comfort-able-food adventures. Enjoy!