Saturday, September 29, 2012

Worthy of the Barley Neck Inn, circa 1983

When I was a very little girl, Cape Cod was a lot less built up than it is today.  In particular, nice restaurants (as opposed to tiny fried fish and clam shacks) were often quite far from my grandmother's home in quiet Falmouth. But the Barley Neck Inn* wasn't just a "nice" restaurant.  It was truly fine dining, in a quintessential New England setting, a sea captain's house built in the late 1800s.  Back in those days, you used to dress up for this sort of thing, and the Barley Neck was formal.  I can still hear my grandfather complaining bitterly about wearing a tie, while my Nana would tell him to stop fussing with it.  We would drive a solid hour out to Orleans; it was an occasion and I loved it.  Going out to a fancy dinner was just about one of my favorite things.  In truth, I was a precocious brat who would have been insulted if a place had a kid's menu, much less invited me to select from one. I don't remember too much about the specifics of the menu probably because when I was little I was a creature of habit, more even than I am now and I likely ordered the same thing every time.  My favorite appetizer was artichoke hearts au gratin which came in its own little casserole dish and was completely heavenly.  I'm fairly sure that the piece de resistance was Beef Wellington (sweet heavens how I love Beef Wellington).  It was that kind of restaurant.  Classic dishes, New England dishes, but never banal, the chef clearly knew how to innovate. (e.g. my grandfather's favorite was a cauliflower and clam chowder).  While I could never tell you if they featured a shrimp (more likely lobster, considering New England's seafood supply) pot pie, it's certainly the kind of dish that would have fit in perfectly: elegant, rich, well-executed and with a classic Cape Cod spirit.

*Don't bother looking it up, the horror show currently bearing the name has no resemblance to the fine old institution.

This makes two hearty main dish portions.

puff pastry (I needed 1/3 of a sheet) - thawed
1 lb shrimp, cleaned, deveined and chopped into bite-sized pieces
3 T butter
3 T flour
1/2 C white or yellow onion chopped fine
1/2 C mushrooms (I used baby bella) chopped
2 t Old Bay Seasoning
2 T vermouth or dry white wine
1/3 C milk
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 400 F.
Prepare a baking sheet by covering it with foil and placing the two oven safe dishes you plan on using on top of it.  It will be much easier to pull a pan out of the oven instead of two smallish dishes.  I used these Pyrex baking dishes of my Nana's that are marked 12 oz.  They're smaller than a bowl, but bigger than a ramekin.

In a large skillet, melt your butter over low heat.  Add the flour and whisk to make a thick paste.  Allow this (the roux) to cook for 3-4 minutes until a nice warm goldeny-brown color.  Add the onions and mushrooms and stir to incorporate them with the roux.  Cook for 5-7 minutes over medium heat until they are soft. Add the shrimp and toss with the Old Bay Seasoning. Increase the heat for medium high.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.  When the shrimp have lost their translucence (honestly, you're going to bake them later, they'll be cooked, don't worry about it) add the vermouth and continue to stir or whisk until the liquid is sort of absorbed to make a sauce.  Then add the milk and continue stirring a bit.  Give it a few minutes to thicken.  Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper accordingly (mine needed quite a bit of salt).

On a well floured surface, roll out the puff pastry and cut two pieces that will fit the top of your baking dishes. Spoon your thickened pot pie mixture into the bowls, top with the puff pastry and place in the oven.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  You want the top to be golden brown and puffed up.  Serve immediately.

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