Monday, August 25, 2008

Shrimp Newberg: Revived elegance

Lobster Newberg, along with Lobster Thermador, was the height of remembered elegance in my mother's family, nouveau riche 'Lace Curtain' Irish in New England. Of course by the time I entered the family, the Great Depression had wiped out all that except for the memories and the aura. But we still occasionally got some sort of seafood Newberg, for special. And I loved it. That was long ago.

I had forgotten about Newberg in the grown-up sensory overflow of Thai curries and tropical French and creating my own dishes. But it came back to mind seven or eight years ago as I was visualizing elegant snacks and appetizers for an Evening at Emory class. It was a success, but totally new to the generations represented in my class. I felt like somewhere between a cultural link to the past and a culinary fossil. But, truly, this is a classic that deserves revival, even if in toned-down form.

The elegant French-style dish was created as 'Seafood Wenberg' in the late 1870s or early 1880s at Delmonico's, the restaurant aristocrat of upperclass New York. It was apparently the sort of place where if you had to ask the price, you shouldn't have been there. The dish was named for a regular customer, a rich merchant, who allegedly developed it and got the restaurant to make it for him. But the name was changed to seafood 'a la Newberg' (not Newburg, by the way) or terrapin (turtle) a la Newberg after a falling out with the gentleman. I have modernized the recipe for Lobster Newberg, originally a luscious concoction of lobster, butter, cream, egg yolks, and sherry, by using lighter cream, replacing the three egg yolks (gasp!) with a little flour, and substituting shrimp for the lobster. But it’s still luscious.

The recipe will serve six people for the appetizer course, spooned onto small toasts, or four people for an elegant lunch when served with salted white rice or steamed potatoes. The richness of the dish would be balanced well by a good Chardonnay or perhaps a Sauvignon Blanc.

Shrimp 'Newberg' on French Baguette Toasts Delmonico/Vigorously modified by Tim

12 diagonal slices (1/4-inch thick) of baguette (French) bread
1 tablespoon finely minced parsley for garnish
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of white or black pepper
Small pinch of cayenne or 2 squirts of hot pepper sauce
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1 pound raw shrimp, medium sized, as fresh as possible, or bought frozen and defrosted just before using
4 tablespoons dry or Amontillado sherry
3 tablespoons butter, unsalted preferred
5 teaspoons flour
1-1/4 cups half-and-half or light cream

Toast the bread to golden brown and set aside. Mince the parsley and set aside. Measure out the spices into a small cup, and add 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Peel the shrimp, being careful as you take off the tail shell to leave the flesh of the tail attached to the shrimp (pinch the pointed end of the shrimp tail, then grasp the outer end of a flat tail to gently pull the shell off). Cut the backs of the shrimps and remove the veins. Rinse the shrimp in cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. Marinate with the sherry and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and set aside.

In a frying pan (traditionally the pan or chafing dish it will be served in) melt the butter with the flour over medium heat, whisking until it bubbles. Simmer, stirring with the whisk, about a minute and a half. Whisk in the half-and-half or light cream, and bring just to a simmer, whisking as the mixture thickens. Add the spice and salt mixture, and whisk it in.

Stir in the marinated shrimp plus their liquid. Stir gently as the shrimp cook. As soon as they are pink and firm (3 to 4 minutes), remove pan from the heat. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp. Taste the sauce and add a little salt, if needed.

Serve in the pan, dusted with minced parsley. Place two slices of toast on each diner’s plate, and spoon shrimp and sauce over the toast. Alternately, away from the dining table prepare the appetizer plates with two slices of toast each. Spoon shrimp and sauce onto them and dust the individual portions with parsley.

If presented as a luncheon, shrimp newberg was traditionally served inside a ring of lightly salted steamed rice or with steamed potatoes.

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