(Oct. 16, 2020) What does creamy mac and cheese, tortilla chips smothered in spicy nacho sauce and luscious cauliflower au gratin have in common? If you guessed a decadent cheese sauce, you are correct.
A cheese sauce is actually a bechamel sauce (white sauce) flavored with cheese.
For those who are not familiar with a bechamel sauce, it is one of the French classic “mother sauces” that is commonly used in French cuisine.
The basic ratio of a bechamel sauce is three ounces of fat (butter) to three ounces of flour to form the roux. This ratio of roux will thicken up to a quart of milk.
It is imperative to have the correct ratio of butter to flour. The butter coats the flour and helps prevent lumps. However, too much fat can split the sauce and result in an oily mess.
Adjustments to the amount of roux and dairy will directly affect the texture of you sauce.
In addition, the types of dairy will also affect the thickness of your sauce. For example, one might decide to use half milk and half cream as opposed to milk.
A whisk is mandatory. There is no way a large spoon can compete with the series of wire loops that are unique to a whisk.
Finally, remove your bechamel sauce from the stove before you add your cheese. If you add the cheese to the sauce and it should come to a boil, the cheese will split and your sauce will become grainy.
There is one little secret when making a basic bechamel sauce. If for some reason you cannot dissolve all of the lumps, simply strain it through a mesh strainer and continue with your recipe.
Over the years, au gratin has lost some of its popularity.
One reason is au gratin recipes are time consuming, and they are generally presented as a side dish. But au gratin dishes can easily be turned into an appetizer.
As residents of the Eastern Shore, we love our seafood. Seafood au gratin served with toasted baguette slices is sure to be a hit with family and guests.
If your taste buds fancy cheese and seafood, you will enjoy this first course.
The following recipe calls for shrimp, scallops and crabmeat.
Purchase frozen shrimp and scallops to cut down on the cost. Frozen scallops and shrimp are perfectly acceptable: remember, they are going to be combined with other ingredients and cooked in a thick, velvety sauce.
In addition, 51-60 count shrimp are smaller and less pricy. You will be cutting the shrimp in half and there is no reason to buy large, more expensive shrimp.
Crabmeat is optional and lump should be your only consideration. I am a huge fan of claw meat, but it will get lost in the richness of the au gratin.
Five cups of seafood may sound like a lot, but the proteins will shrink as they are cooked, especially the shrimp. You do not want your guests searching for morsels of seafood.
Scallops and shrimp contain a considerable amount of natural juices, so it is important to cook them partially before adding them to the au gratin mixture.
By precooking them, you are able to remove the excess liquid. Otherwise, your creamy au gratin will become soupy.
Dry sherry or white wine is a must. Sherry is a classic pairing with cheese and seafood, but has a very pronounced essence to it. If you are not used to cooking with it, add it gradually.
Seafood base will accent the seafood in this dish, but the addition of chicken base will give your cheese sauce more depth of flavor.
Seafood and chicken base can be purchased on Amazon and are very affordable. The holidays are around the corner; it’s a good idea to have seafood, chicken and beef base on hand.
The art of entertaining is embellished with surprises. Seafood au gratin is perfect for special occasions.
The cooler temperatures of the fall and winter are a great opportunity to expand one’s menu with au gratin dishes. Seafood au gratin is mouthwatering and makes for a memorable course. Enjoy!
Seafood Au Gratin
3 cups shrimp (51 to 60), cut in half
2 cups bay scallops
2/3 cup lump crabmeat (optional)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup sweet onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup combined red, yellow and orange bell peppers, finely diced
1 stalk celery, including the leaves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup half and half
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon each seafood and chicken base
4 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups assorted cheeses such as Monterrey Jack, Pepper Jack and white cheddar
3 tablespoons dry sherry or dry white wine
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon white pepper, ground nutmeg
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground mustard
kosher salt to taste
3/4 cup unseasoned panko breadcrumbs
toasted baguette slices or favorite crackers
1. Remove shells and cartilage from crab meat and shrimp. Rinse shrimp and scallops in cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
2. In a small sauté pan over medium heat, sauté scallops and shrimp for about 4 minutes in 2 tablespoons butter. Remove proteins and place on a plate lined with paper towels.
3. Wipe small sauté pan clean with paper towels. Add 2 tablespoons butter and cook garlic, onions, peppers and celery over medium-low heat until vegetables are soft. Strain to get rid of any excess liquid.
4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
5. In a medium sauce pan (with a heavy bottom) over medium-high heat, add the remaining butter (3 tablespoons) and combine with flour to form a roux.
Gradually add half and half and milk, and whisk until lumps are dissolved and sauce is thickened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add seafood and chicken base, sherry and lemon juice and mix well.
6. Remove pan from heat, add mascarpone, mozzarella and assorted cheeses and blend until thoroughly incorporated. Add remaining seasonings and proteins. This is the time to taste the au gratin and adjust seasonings if necessary.
7. Place seafood au gratin in an 8-inch by 8-inch casserole dish. Sprinkle panko on top and bake for 25 minutes. Finish off under the broiler for an extra crispy coating. Allow seafood au gratin to sit for 5 minutes and serve with toasted baguette slices or favorite crackers.
Secret Ingredient – Learning. “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
– Benjamin Franklin