Pancake Tuesday. For many years I did not understand the concept. I knew that there was some kind of tradition of using up eggs before Lent by making pancakes, but in my American way I assumed they meant pancakes, you know the sweet thick ones that we eat in America for breakfast. It wasn't until I met my English husband that I realised that what they really mean is Crêpe Tuesday. I still don't understand the bit about using up eggs (surely they would be allowed, and even encouraged as a good source of protein over Lent?) but at least I now know you don't have to have breakfast for dinner to be culturally correct.
And every year we have crêpes on Shrove Tuesday. I suppose it's a good thing; I rarely think of making crêpes and they are easy, cheap and delicious. Each Shrove Tuesday I vow to make more of them in the coming year...and promptly forget.
Well, this year things will change! For one thing, I have another good recipe to add to the usual ham and cheese and mushroom varieties.
Actually, this recipe is a loose adaptation of one of my favourite Nigel Slater recipes, for his Fish pie. Because you don't have the potatoes to balance the heavy creaminess, I added more wine to the sauce and using crème fraîche instead of cream would also be a good idea. Unlike most recipes, the garnish on this one was essential - we both agreed that the salmon eggs on top gave it all a welcom sharp flavour. So be generous with your fish eggs.
Traditionally, savoury crêpes are made with buckwheat flour. This works okay with hearty fillings such as ham and cheese, but I prefer a plain white batter with seafood. This is also useful when cooking at home because it means you can use the same batter to whip up a couple of Nutella crêpes for dessert!
For the crêpe batter:
1 cup milk
2/3 cups flour
1 Tbs melted butter
a pinch of salt
For the filling:
12 large cooked shrimp
2-300 grams smoked haddock
1 1/2 cups milk
a heaping spoonful of crème fraîche
1 cup wine
1 Tbs flour
1 Tbs butter
2 Tbs chopped chives
1/2 cup salmon eggs
Whisk all the batter ingredients except the butter until all the lumps have disappeared and the mix is slightly frothy. Whisk in the melted butter and then set aside the bowl for at least an hour. Ideally, you should leave it two hours but that isn't always practical on a week night. If necessary, you could always make it up the night before and put the batter in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
To prepare the filling, put the haddock in a small sauce pan with the milk. If it doesn't quite cover the fish, add wine or water until it does. Bring almost to a boil and let it simmer for ten minutes or so until the fish is opaque. In the meantime, peel the shrimp. Take the haddock off the flame and once it is cool enough to handle, fish out the fish and remove the skin and any bones. Reserve the milk in a bowl, and rinse out the sauce pan. Melt the butter in the pan and when it begins to froth add the flour. Whisk quickly to incorporate the flour and when it turns dark yellow slowly begin adding the haddock milk. Keep whisking to keep the mixture smooth and add all the milk. Then add the flaked haddock, the shrimp cut in bite-sized pieces, a glass of wine, the chives. Stir in the crème fraîche. Give the mixture a generous grinding of pepper and taste it. It might need a squeeze of lemon or a little more wine to liven the flavours.
Once the batter has rested, heat up your crêpe pan. I don't actually have a true crêpe pan; I just use a nonstick low-sided frying pan. An omelette pan, in fact. It works well enough, with a good spatula to flip the cakes. To test if the pan is hot enough, dash a couple of drops of water onto the surface. If they dance across the pan, it's ready. Pour a scant 1/4 cup of batter onto the surface and swish the pan around to spread the batter. If you have a nifty little wooden batter spreader, use it - lightly - to spread the batter into the bare corners. (If you do have one of these items, place it in a bowl of water between uses to keep the batter from hardening on it.) If your pan is hot enough it should only take about a minute for the crêpe to cook on one side. Carefully flip it and cook the other side about 45 seconds. Flip onto a plate so that the pretty (first) side is down. Don't worry if the first one looks terrible - they always do. It takes a second attempt to get a feel for the process. Make up all the crêpes - it should make nine or ten, a generous dinner and dessert for two.
To fill the crêpes, place them on a plate, spoon about a half cup of the filling in a line down the center and fold over the two sides. If you fill them immediately with hot filling after making the crêpes, you shouldn't need to reheat them. If you have waited, you might want to throw the cakes back into the hot pan for a moment before removing each one to a plate and filling it.
Garnish with a couple of stalks of chive (optional) and a generous spoonful of salmon eggs (highly recommended).
If you and your dinner partner eat seven or eight fish crêpes, you should have a couple of crêpes left over for dessert. Put each one in a hot pan and add a generous spoonful of Nutella. As the crêpe heats, use the back of the spoon to spread the Nutella around a bit. Fold in quarters and consume immediately!
Note: in case any of you are wondering why I'm blathering about Shrove Tuesday two full days after the event, it's because we had some Internet "issues" here in the Paris TMC office...happens to all of us sometimes I guess!