Rep Note:
Shrimp Au Gratin
3 May 2019

¶ Coming across a recipe for shrimp au gratin in the old New York Times Cookbook — a mausoleum of delicate flavors and discarded techniques — I decided to give it a try without following it exactly. The recipe called for boiling aromatic vegetables, white peppercorns and a bay leaf in water, for five minutes, and then simmering raw shrimp in the liquid for four minutes, prior to shelling and deveining. The resulting court bouillon, strained, was combined in the usual way with flour and butter, cream and sherry, and even a little parmesan, to make a veloûté. The shrimp were to be covered with the sauce and baked in a 375º oven for an unspecified time, “until brown and bubbly.”

I made the court bouillon with mirepoix — equal portions of carrot, celery, and onion, diced (and sold in tubs that are too large by Fairway) — the shrimp shells, and the seasonings. Then I simmered the shrimp, for three minutes the first time and for two minutes the second. I considered omitting the simmering altogether. In an oven time that ran about half an hour (“until brown and bubbly”), the shrimp had plenty of time to cook — to overcook. But I went ahead anyway, because what I wanted was the sauce. Having added chopped parsley to the veloûté, I produced what I considered the perfect sauce for rice. Kathleen and I couldn’t get enough of it. But the shrimp were pretty rubbery. 

What to do? Next time, I’m going to stir the uncooked shrimp into the sauce and run the dish under the broiler. It ought to become brown and bubbly pretty quickly, perhaps in less time than it takes to cook the shrimp. Stay tuned. 

Working this out, I reflected that au gratin dishes, in which partially- or wholly-cooked ingredients are sauced, topped with cheese, and then finished in the oven, have disappeared from contemporary cuisine. No surprise: the ratio of herbs to spices has been nothing less than barbarically inverted in the search for excitement. I’m enough of a dinosaur to believe (with my tongue) that a nuanced sauce is the whole point of cooking. I’ve thought so ever since the revelation of a chicken sauté (I think it must have been) that I had as a child at a French restaurant that operated briefly in Bronxville. My father did not at all care for French food, so we went just the once. From that moment on, I deplored the plain-meat diet to which he subjected our household. It’s not enough to say that I learned to cook because the food at home was so lackluster. I have to add that, from time to time, and maybe even more often than that, I ate very well in restaurants. So I knew

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