Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Magic Pan Redux

In the mid 70s, when my sister Robin was studying the harp at Boston University and I was just beginning my career as an advertising copywriter, we lived together on the first block of Marlborough Street. (Trust me, it was not the ritzy address it is today!) Just two blocks over, on Newbury Street, was one of our favorite restaurants, the iconic Magic Pan, scene of many wine-soaked ad lunches and festive dinners with our mother. (I much preferred it to the creperie just a few blocks away on Boylston Street, where the fare was much more authentic, as I discovered to my dismay, the first time I ordered crepes in France.

Like fondue in the 60's, crepes were a dish of an era. Eventually, the Magic Pan went out of business; though we hung on for a while longer, making our own with the crepe maker our father had given Robin one Christmas. It wasn't until many years later, when our parents moved to Portsmouth, and we discovered the small Maine shrimp, that we remembered just how much fun it was to make crepes.

The shrimp reminded me of my favorite Magic Pan crepes, the Coquille St. Jacques, which despite the name were made with shrimp and mushrooms, in addition to scallops. (Despite being gone for nearly 20 years, the Magic Pan has a fanatically loyal fan base of customers and employees who have a web site called the Magic Pan Project, where you can find all sorts of recipes. It's where I learned that the recipe for spinach souffle crepes begins "Take Stouffer's frozen spinach souffle..."!)

Armed with with our trusty crepe maker and an understanding of the basic ingredients: béchamel sauce, sherry, gruyère cheese, we set out to recreate the Magic Pan Coquille St. Jacques crepes -- minus the mushrooms and ironically, the scallops. It was a hit, and we've made them once a year or so ever since.

Robin uses the crepe recipe in From Julia Child's Kitchen, and I use Julia's béchamel recipe as a foundation for making the sauce. Then we briefly saute the shrimp in butter and shallots, fold them into the sauce along with the sherry and the cheese, sprinkle a little parsley and more sauce on top, and voila, the magic is back!

Crepes Au Maine Baby Shrimp
(Makes 12 crepes)

For the crepes: (From Julia Child's Kitchen)
3 "large" eggs broken in a 4-cup measure (or a bowl)
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup water, plus droplets more if needed
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons dark sesame oil or peanut oil, plus peanut oil for greasing the pan.
1 cup Wondra flour

Note: you'll also need a wire whip, a 5 1/2 inch pan, preferrably non-stick, and 24 wax paper squares, 6 inches to a side to keep the cooked crepes separate.

This recipe makes more crepes than you'll need, which means you need not despair if it takes you a bit to get the hang of making them. You can refrigerate or freeze the leftovers for another use.

1. Beat eggs to blend whites and yolks, then beat in liquids, salt, and oil; gradually beat in flour. Let stand 20  - 30 minutes (or longer, if need be, in the refrigerator.)
2. Place pan over moderately high heat and brush lightly with oil. (This is usually only necessary for the first crepe.) Test temperature of the pan with a few droplets of water. It should sizzle when ready.
3. Pour 2 tablespoons of batter into a ladle or big spoon, then, grasping the handle of the pan -- use a pot holder or better yet, a heat-proof sleeve -- pour the batter into the center of the pan. Immediately tip the pan rapidly to spread the batter all over the bottom surface. Set directly on the burner -- bubbles should appear immediately, if not the pan is not hot enough.
4. Cook about a half minute or until an edge when lifted is brown underneath; when you shake the pan hard, the crepe will usually come loose. Flip the crepe over on its other side. Cook 15 to20 seconds more. (This is the inside of the crepe, so don't worry if it doesn't brown.) Place a wax-paper square on a plate and slide the crepe onto it and cover with another wax paper square.) Don't worry if the first crepe is not a beauty -- it may take several practice crepes to get the right temperature, batter amount, and technique. Crepes should be no more than 1/16 inch thick, and they should be light and delicate in texture, with enough body to hold together, so they can be rolled and filled. If batter is too thick, you can thin it by beating in more water by droplets. Repeat with remaining batter.

For the sauce (From Julia Child's Kitchen)
(Makes 2 cups)
2 cups milk (heated to just below simmer)
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper to taste
2 ounces gruyère
1 tablespoon dry sherry
(Note: I add a tablespoon of minced shallot as the butter melts)

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter, add shallots (if using), then blend in flour with a wooden spatula. Stir over moderate heat until butter and flour foam together for 2 minutes without coloring more than a buttery yellow. Remove from heat, pour in all the milk at once and beat vigorously with a wire whip to blend roux and liquid. Add salt and pepper. Blend in cheese and sherry. If the sauce is too thick, you can add a little more milk.

For the filling:
1 tablespoon butter
1 lb. Maine shrimp, shelled and cleaned
1 large shallot, minced

1. Saute the shallots in butter until just soft. Add the shrimp and heat until just warm.

To finish the crepes:
(If desired, you can add 1 oz. of parmesan cheese to the sauce that goes on top of the stuffed and rolled crepes and sprinkle the finished dish with minced parsley.

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
1. Coat the shrimp mixture with sauce, so it is creamy, but not soupy. Reserving remaining sauce, adding 1 oz. of parmesan, if using.
2. Lay each crepe worst side up. Spread with a genereous amount of filling, keeping in mind how many crepes you are making. Fold  and arrange in a greased ovenproof dish, big enough to hold all crepes in a single layer. Top the crepes with the remaining sauce and heat in oven for ten minutes, then serve, topped with minced parsley, if desired.