~ Parmesan Sherry Cream Sauce for Pasta/Seafood: Don't Debate It, Grate It -- It'll melt your heart away! ~
"Calling all cars, there's a woman in Happy Valley putting cheese sauce on her seafood". That sounds nonsensical because it is nonsensical and no self-appointed authority on Italian food (yes, Italians in particular get their panties in a bunch over this) is going to convince me otherwise. In certain circumstances I find the combination of pasta and seafood swimming in a sea of silky, smooth, cheese sauce sensuous and seductive. In fact, the food world is a better place because philistines like myself aren't afraid to break a culinary commandment once in a while -- especially one without any meaty purpose except to say "thou shall not". What???
Religion & tradition. For centuries the consumption of meat and dairy were forbidden on religious holidays and Fridays. On such occasions, fish and seafood were the logical replacement for meat and poultry. Since cheese is a dairy product, the few times a year and one day a week the family cook served fish or seafood, cheese was never a part of their recipe. Traditional fish dishes passed down from generation to generation contained no cheese because it was a rule, not because it didn't taste good. Hear me: I have nothing against religious tradition -- I've got plenty of cheeseless fish and seafood recipes in my repertoire.
Geography & economy. After considering the time period this rule was imposed, I think it to be brilliant. People naturally gravitate to warm climates near a source for water (rivers, lakes, oceans) where they can raise animals and grow crops to feed their family. Wherever you have a large populous, like it or not, you've gotta have a government, and, if you're in charge and want to stay in charge: you've gotta keep your people fed, and, money in the pockets of the people who sell food to people who don't grow their own. It's the economy stupid, and, in an economy in a warm climate with no refrigeration, eating fish once a week was the perfect control mechanism to encourage fisherman to deliver fresh fish to the dock on the same day each week. The fish didn't spoil and the fisherman had money in their pockets. It was a win/win situation.
Common sense & logic. Never say never, or, at least not to me. In this day and age, with the information superhighway and the ability to purchase and taste all sorts of exotic ingredients from all corners of the world at my fingertips, that attitude is unattractive. I will listen all day to someone banter intelligently about the history and customs behind a classic dish, but to no one who lacks the capacity to embrace thoughtful, inciteful ideas for an update or even a complete makeover (within culinary reason). It's all about striking the right balance, and, for me, seafood and certain cheese sauces play quite well together: I enjoy seafood alfredo, lobster mac & cheese, and, shrimp tetrazzini. I like a sprinkling of cheese on my linguini with clam sauce and my mussels marinara too. There is no food rule in the world that could ever prevent me me from eating properly-prepared lobster Thermidor either -- vive la France. Now ponder this: Parmesan crusted cod, halibut or tilapia is a tasty way to get your kids to learn to like fish. And, last but not least, don't even think about removing the cream cheese from my bagel with lox!
When in Rome, eat like the Romans and enjoy it, but:
Don't adopt a notion just because you've heard it from birth!
This is a nice, mild (not overpowering), versatile cheese sauce that works for my delicately-flavored fish and seafood needs. I usually make it with all cream, not fish or seafood stock, although a half cream, half stock version works great too. I season it with cayenne pepper for a bit of added heat, but, feel free to substitute white pepper. When I make seafood lasagna, I often add a half cup of minced onion too. We all know what a splash of sherry does to bring up the flavor of our crab, lobster, shrimp or seafood bisque -- it does the very same thing for this sauce. You can make it a day in advance too. Just reheat it gently on the stovetop or microwave, but be prepared to add additional cream (or stock) to thin it to the consistency you're looking for.
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon: garlic powder, cayenne pepper & sea salt
3 cups heavy cream + up to 1/2 cup milk, to control consistency
2 cups finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2-4 tablespoons sherry, to taste
Increase heat to medium and stir in the flour, nutmeg, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and sea salt. Using a large spoon or a small whisk, stirring constantly, cook until mixture (roux) is thick, smooth and bubbly, about 30-45 seconds. This happens really fast.
Carefully adjust heat to a gentle simmer (not too high or it will scorch) and continue to cook until smooth, thickened and drizzly, about 2 minutes. Turn the heat off.
~ Step 3. Sprinkle in the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Finely-grated cheese melts evenly and quickly. Stir until the mixture is smooth and ribbonlike, adding milk if necessary, or, just because you want the sauce a little thinner. Add the sherry, to taste. You will have 3-3 1/2 cups of silky-smooth, mild, well-balanced cheese sauce suited for fish or seafood:
Special Equipment List: microplane grater; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon or small whisk
Cook's Note: While I personally don't equate cheddar cheese or cheddar cheese sauce with fish or seafood, there are a lot of food enthusiasts who might. You can find ~ My Basic Cheddar Cheese Sauce for Vegetables ~ by clicking into Categories 4, 8, 14, 17 or 20!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 20140