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Seafood Crepes Mornay


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This is a classic, and by now very old fashioned, dish. It's a dish we frequently made many years ago, with one exception. I've always found cheese a heavy flavor with most fish and seafood. We'd use a rich veloute based on seafood stock and use a little lightly whipped cream to help the dish brown if were going to finish it under the broiler.

I don't have a recipe, but all of the components are in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volume One. It was quite a production in our house. The shrimp, mussels, scallops were all undercoked separately and combined with mushrooms cooked in butter and a little lemon juice. The broth from the shrimp shells and heads was combined with the rest of the cooking liquids to make the veloute, which was often enriched with cream.

It was wonderful, but today I might find it dull. We rarely make veloutes or use flour thickened sauces. I suppose it's just a changing taste. Even then however, I thought mornay sauces went better with ham and spinach than seafood, but I was a mimority and mornay was classic for scallops and other delicate seafoods.

Robert Buxbaum


Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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  • 4 weeks later...

You hit one of my old favorites.  I'll

move on to new stuff when any of it is

better than this old stuff!

I made some crepes:  To get them thin,

used thin batter, used a cast iron pan,

got the pan hot, using a wad of paper

towels, put a thin coating of light

cooking oil on the pan, poured in too much

batter, tilted the pan to coat the bottom

with batter and quickly poured back into

the batter bowl all that would pour, and

left just a film of batter in the pan.

For the part up the side of the pan from

the second pouring, removed that with a

rolling pizza cutter.  Made a big stack

and froze them.  Just thaw them gently --

frozen they last nearly forever.

For the seafood:  Just used fresh lump

back fin crab meat.

Made a 'Bechamel' -- simple, fast kind,

just flour-butter roux and hot milk and

without a long slow reduction.

For the sauce, started with

    5 T minced shallots

    2 C French Macon white wine

    1 bay leaf

    1/3 turn on pepper mill

    8 ounces bottled clam juice

For the wine, would recommend any

Chardonnay that had low sugar, high acid,

and delicate flavors.  Sorry California.

So, the clam juice is a simple substitute

for a light fish stock.  Of course, could

use a fish stock.  May want some mushroom

flavor:  Could toss in a few, just a few,

simple clean slices of white mushrooms

that don't smell like a cow pasture.

Simmer that stock for maybe 15 minutes to

mix the flavors and then strain.  Discard

the bay leaf and keep the shallots and any

mushroom slices and, perhaps, include in

the seafood mixture.  With the strained

stock, reduce to 1 1/2 C.  For some

applications, can poach raw seafood in

this stock, but here we're assuming that

the seafood is already cooked.


    8 T butter (your favorite kind)

    10 T sifted all-purpose flour

in a pot, say, 3 quarts.

With frequent stirring, heat gently to

melt butter and mix with the flour.  Try

to get this 'roux' all mixed and smooth

before the butter starts to separate.

With constant whipping, bubble slowly for

30 seconds to cook the flour.

Off heat, immediately, while the roux is

still hot, add the simmering stock all at

once, whip vigorously.  Sauce should be

very thick and very smooth.  At least near

sea level, pouring simmering water-based

liquid into slowly bubbling roux makes the

two go together nearly instantly and

nearly perfectly, nearly every time.


    1 1/2 C hot milk

Whip in gently and get to a smooth sauce

-- this is easy to do.  The hot milk goes

in nicely.


    1 C whipping cream

    4 egg yolks (from USDA Large eggs)

While whipping this mixture, slowly add

about 1/3rd of the hot sauce.  Here you

gently warm the egg yolks so that you will

get a smooth 'hot custard' sauce and not

scrambled eggs.  Then add this yolk

mixture to the remaining 2/3rds of the

sauce.  Whip together.

With constant whipping, bring to a simmer.

This sauce will easily separate:  To avoid

separation, be sure that are whipping

constantly whenever the temperature is

rising or near a simmer.  Only when the

temperature is falling or low can you be

very sure the sauce will not separate.

Note:  Here is where a stainless steel

whip is important:  With all this whipping

inside bowls and cooking pots, a chrome

plated steel whip will soon get the chrome

plating knocked off and leave you with a

rusty whip.

Correct for salt and pepper.  Good to do

lots of tasting, lots of tasting!  Need to

be sure, you know!

Then, add juice of maybe one lemon -- add

a teaspoon or so, whip, and taste.  The

lemon juice brightens up the whole thing.

As soon as you begin to notice the lemon

itself, that's enough -- want to keep the

mystery for your guests!

For the last of butter lovers, can have

some softened butter close at hand and

whip in a few T, one T at a time.  This

tends to make the sauce still less stable

but taste still better.

Moisten the seafood with the 'Bechamel'.

Maybe include the shallots and mushrooms

from the stock.  If the mushroom pieces

are large compared with the seafood

pieces, then cut the mushroom pieces.

On each crepe, place some of this

moistened seafood and roll to an

attractive presentation.  I just roll the

crepes and do not fold or tuck the ends --

not making an egg roll and don't need

something able to withstand deep frying.

Of course, when rolling, have the side of

the crepe that was cooked first -- the

more attractive side -- on the outside.

Pick a suitable bake and serve dish:  In

my case, I have a Corning dish with inside

width about the same as the crepe

diameter.  So, can put the rolled, filled

crepes in parallel, one layer, side by

side, with the long dimension of the rolls

horizontal and perpendicular to the long

axis of the dish.  Also, to get a better

looking dish, and to have the assembly

hold together better, it's also good to

put the exposed crepe 'flap' down, that

is, next to the bottom of the dish.

Warm in an oven.

When the filled crepes are warm, pour over

the hot sauce.  Top with some grated Swiss

cheese.  Place under broiler until top

starts to brown.


Last time did this, my mother discarded

her usual decorum and used her right index

finger to clean the baking dish -- passed

the KFC test!

The egg yolks make the sauce a nice light

yellow.  The egg yolks also make the sauce

a 'hot custard' with a nice texture.

With this much butter, cream, egg yolks,

shallots, no wonder it's good.

This cooking is from a style where we take

the seafood, chicken, or whatever, cover

it with 'Bechamel', wrap it with crepes,

cover it with the yellow sauce, top it

with cheese, and brown the top of whole

thing.  So, the seafood, etc., becomes

very thoroughly hidden and enclosed.  This

fact may offend the seafood, but it

doesn't offend me.  I just think the whole

thing both looks and tastes good.

Still, dishes that let the seafood be

visible on its own can also be attractive.

So, you could get a dinner plate about 3

feet in diameter, or, maybe that's the

radius, cover the plate with a thin layer

of the yellow sauce, use the white sauce

in a plastic squeeze bottle to draw Rococo

swirls in the yellow sauce, then drag

through the point of a knife, arrange the

seafood in a small high pile in the

middle, top with a few shreds of crepe,

arrange 12 slices of Kiwi fruit on the

edge of the plate to make a clock face,

call the photographers, pass out the

photographs to the politically correct

food police, give the plate to the kitty

cat Paul, and then go back and eat the

original version.

Can also do the sauce with chicken stock

and onions, pour over cooked chicken.

Cubed breast meat from roasted chicken can

work well.  Might include some pearl

onions, fluted mushroom caps, and

carrots -- 'Blanquette de' Oven-Stuffer!

Can also poach seafood, e.g., scallops, in

the stock, make the sauce, pour over the

scallops for 'Coquilles St. Jacques

Parisienne'.  Here you are supposed to

include some mushrooms.

Can also poach fillets of fresh low oil

white fish, make the sauce, and pour over

the fish.  There are famous names for this

sort of thing.

Also, when poaching seafood in the stock,

especially fish, due to the time needed to

make the sauce, better to do a 'phase

shift' of the recipe:  Make the sauce,

poach the fish, serve the fish and sauce

right away, and save the poaching liquid

for the next batch of sauce.

Also can get excellent results with

somewhat less butter fat:  Can use milk

instead of the whipping cream.

And, can eliminate the egg yolks -- can

get good results, e.g., with roasted

chicken, and the sauce can now be quite


Can also start with, say, raw frozen

chicken breasts, poach, and continue much

as above.

Also, it's possible to get some shockingly

good results with much less fat and much

more careful use of the flavorings:  So,

might explore not mincing the shallots but

slicing them nearly paper thin, something

like might do for a transparent sample on

a microscope slide.  Once you find a good

way to do that, with suitable equipment,

razor blades, etc., let us all know the

details!  So, get a lot of surface area,

and flavor, per unit weight of the

vegetable.  And, might use vegetables from

the onion family other than just shallots:

Might work with leeks.

These white sauce things, with butter,

cream, egg yolks, are fairly easy to do,

with ingredients that are easy to get, can

taste darned good, and are lots of fun.

Brown sauce things might be better, still,

but can be much more work and present some

problems in getting ingredients.

What would be the right food and wine to go with

R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

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What a wonderful conclusion to my year-long search for these highlights of my first fabulous feasts in NYC. I am going to make time to re-create them.

T'is not in fashion that make man better be (to parphrase B. Jonson).

And a Happy Valentine's Day to you!

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Have fun with it.

Some additional notes:

Some people call the yellow sauce a 'Parisienne'.

The proportions I gave for the Parisienne sauce are

precise, but I did not give corresponding

proportions for crepes, seafood, or Bechamel sauce.

So, you may have some ingredients left over.  But,

the amount of Parisienne is enough, or maybe a

little more, for a home-style baking dish full of

rolled filled crepes.

In the Parisienne, after you add the 1 1/2 C of

liquid to the roux of 8 T of butter and 10 T of

flour, the result is THICK.  That's okay because the

next step is to add some hot milk, and then you will

get back to something that will pour.

For a Bechamel, see nearly any French cookbook.

Some books will suggest a long slow reduction,

filtering, etc., but I don't bother with that.

I suggest putting the Bechamel together much as I

described for the roux and hot reduced stock for the

Parisienne.  That is, have the roux bubbling slowly,

then, off heat, add the hot milk all at once, then

whip vigorously.  Should go together nearly

perfectly and look fine.  Also, such a Bechamel is

quite stable.

For the "hot milk", as you likely know, we should

not actually boil milk -- that's a no, no.  But, for

"hot milk" might get it up to, say, a 'simmer'.

Better instructions would give you a temperature in

F, but I believe you get the idea.  Or, when the

milk looks like its threatening to start to boil,

then that's hot ENOUGH!

In the early part of the Parisienne, I described a

stock and then said to reduce to 1 1/2 C.  And, I

mentioned that in some applications might poach in

this stock.  Okay, but I meant poach BEFORE the

reduction, not after.

Also, may want to be careful about some of the

poaching applications:  It is possible to poach,

remove the seafood, strain out the vegetables, and

have a rather dark brown liquid.  This can taste

fine, but if you want a really nice yellow

Parisienne, you may be in trouble.

So, just what is left in the pot after poaching

seafood can vary in color and likely also in flavor.

But, if you are going to start with cooked seafood

and not poach, then your Parisienne should be a nice

bright yellow.

I didn't give a recipe for crepes, but just look in

any of the usual suspects.  I do recommend that the

batter be thin.  So, make the batter as suggested.

If it is not suitably thin, then add some milk.

Also, as the batter sits, it tends to get thicker --

add some milk.

For getting thin crepes, which is supposed to be

desirable, I do recommend the trick I gave of

pouring in too much batter and then pouring out the

excess.  That is, this is better than pouring in the

minimum about of batter that will coat the bottom of

the pan and then just leaving all that batter there.

Or, somehow, pouring in too much, pouring out all

that will pour, and leaving just a film leaves in

less batter, and gives a thinner crepe.

You asked for a Mornay sauce, and all I said about

cheese was to put some grated Swiss cheese on the

top which is not really a Mornay sauce.  I'm not

sure you really want a lot of cheese in the dish.

Also, the Swiss cheese I mentioned becomes mostly

just decoration.  You should only sprinkle on a

little, again, mostly just for decoration.  So the

cheese is decorative because it has some shreds

which can contrast with the very smooth sauce.  The

reason for using Swiss cheese instead of some other

cheese is that the flavor of Swiss is mild enough

not to interfere with the rest of the dish.

Browning the top is also mostly just for show.  And,

depending on your broiler, it's not always easy to

do.  Better put, usually it's TOUGH to do.  And, the

Swiss cheese does not brown beautifully.

And, you shouldn't expect that a Parisienne under a

broiler will brown easily or nicely, and, if you

heat it too much, then it will separate.  The idea

of putting in some whipped cream to get something to

brown more easily can help.

As you likely know, some restaurants got tired of

struggling with such browning, got cynical but

productive, and just light up a torch and give a few

passes.  I believe that they are using propane.

I suggest you not ask for much in effect from either

the Swiss cheese or the browning.  The dish can work

out fine just omitting both the Swiss cheese and the


You will note that my instructions are to get the

filled crepes hot in the oven then pour over the hot

Parisienne.  That is, we do NOT try go heat the

Parisienne in the oven.  The reason is, if a

Parisienne is cold and we want to heat it, then we

should be whipping it as we heat it; if we just heat

it in the oven, then it will likely separate.

Sometimes I will make a dish with Parisienne, put in

small individual serving dishes, and refrigerate.

Then, to eat, I heat in a microwave.  That can work

with no more than a little separation.  But, even

with microwave heating, the sauce texture will not

be so good and a little stirring will usually get it

back to nicely smooth again.

I mentioned adding soft butter one T at a time:

Possibly surprisingly, that the butter be soft

instead of cold seems to be important.  The soft

butter can go in nicely; cold butter put in, even

with lots of whipping, still may not go in so well.

The added butter does make the sauce still less

stable; the added butter is not needed for an

excellent sauce; and these days people like to hold

down on the butter.  So, I suspect that you will not

be adding this butter; but if you do, then be sure

it is soft.

A Parisienne is a bit unstable but also beautiful

and delicious; being careful to work around the

instability is worth it.  The easiest way to handle

the instability is to have the serving dish with the

filled rolled crepes hot in the oven, have the

Parisienne in the pot and just put together and

still hot, pour the Parisienne over the crepes,

grind over an ounce or so of Swiss cheese, rush it

to the center of the table, sit down, and dig in --

no delays.

Also, for a crepe pan, I would use only a cast iron

skillet with a machined interior and with inside

diameter what I want for my crepes.  But, I have

such a skillet (no, it's not for sale!), and they

are no longer sold.  So, without such a skillet,

guess you will have to use maybe an aluminum saute

pan, some non-stick pan, or who knows what.  But,

crepes are NOT sensitive things; actually, with no

more than a little experimentation, you should do


Hope you enjoy it.  Do it a couple of times for

yourself before you do it for your guests!

What would be the right food and wine to go with

R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

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