Flounder and Maine Shrimp Brunch Tartlets
With the holiday entertaining season heating up in earnest now, brunch recipes will come to the fore. This recipe was developed as my contribution to "The Original Maine Shrimp Cookbook," published here in Maine by The Island Institute, a "membership-based community development organization focusing on the Gulf of Maine, particularly the fifteen year-round island communities off the Maine coast," according to their mission statement. "The Original Maine Shrimp Cookbook" was conceived as a way to support the Maine shrimp fishery by acquainting home cooks and chefs with new and old recipes for using these sweet little morsels. As regular readers of Stephencooks know, I look forward each fall to the appearance of the Maine shrimp in our fish markets and take every chance I can to work them into my menus while they are in season (roughly December to March), so I was happy to contribute to the book.
Of course, these little tarts are a bit of work but they really deliver flavor and satisfaction for that special holiday brunch. For me and others keeping glucose levels and keep weight under control it's no surprise that these are in the "proceed cautiously" zone (at 418 calories and 30 grams of fat per) but with only 20 grams of carbohydrate each they can fit in if you stay aware of the big picture on brunch day. A half-portion is always an option, too, if you find yourself picking your battles at the brunch table.
Flounder and Maine Shrimp Brunch Tartlets
Makes 10 tartlets.
The tart shells and filling can be prepared ahead of time, so all you need to do at party time is assemble the tartlets and bake. See notes in the Method section, below.
For the crust:
- 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 1 stick cold butter
- 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 6 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
- 3" piece of leek, white parts only, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/8" slices (about 1/4 cup)
- 3 thin slices pancetta, chopped (bacon may be substituted)
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- Salt and hot sauce to taste
- 30 leaves baby spinach
- 1 pound baby flounder fillets, skinless
- 1/2 pound Maine shrimp, peeled, uncooked (unshelled weight)*
- 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded
Equipment: 10 ramekins, capacity about 1/2 cup each
1. Preheat oven to 400º.
2. Place the flour, butter, shortening, and salt in a food processor and pulse several times until the mixture looks like coarse corn meal. Add the ice water and pulse the processor a few more times until the dough begins to clump. Do not over process. Dough will be crumbly.
3. Transfer the mixture to a plastic food storage bag. Working through the bag, quickly press the dough into a ball. Do not handle more than necessary. Refrigerate the dough in the plastic bag for at least an hour. (May be frozen at this point for future use.)
4. With a floured rolling pin, roll the dough to about 1/8" thick. Butter 10 ramekins and line them with the dough.
5. Tear off 10 pieces of aluminum foil in a size sufficient to line each ramekin. Lightly coat one side of the foil with butter or shortening and, with the greased surface against the crust, press the foil into the ramekins. Fill the foil with dried beans or rice to a depth of about an inch -- this will keep the crust from puffing when it is baked.
6. Bake crusts for about 10 - 12 minutes. Crust should just start to color. Allow to cool enough to permit handling and remove the aluminum foil and return the beans or rice to their container. The crust can be made up to four hours ahead of time. Keep covered until the dish is assembled. (Note: This is what is sometimes called a "blind-baked" crust – a crust that's partially baked prior to filling.)
1. Place a scant teaspoon of olive oil in a small pan and sauté the pancetta until starting to crisp at the edges. Remove to a small bowl. Add the leek slices to the pan and cook a couple of minutes on medium heat, stirring. Remove the leeks to the bowl with the pancetta.
2. In a separate bowl, beat the egg with a fork and add the cream and nutmeg. Add the cheese and stir to combine. Season to taste. (The filling may be prepared to this point ahead of time and refrigerated in a sealed container for up to a day. Allow it to warm on the counter for an hour before proceeding)
3. Line the walls of the ramekins with the spinach leaves. Cut each fillet in half lengthwise along the centerline. Form a ring with each fillet half and line the ramekins with the fillets (depending on the size and thickness of the fillets, some trimming may be necessary).
4. Place a teaspoonful of the leek/pancetta mixture in the bottom of each ramekin and then fill it with shrimp, mounding them above the top of the fillets. Sprinkle each shrimp mound with a pinch of salt.
5. Spoon the egg mixture over the cups. (The custard will expand while cooking so the cups shouldn't be filled to the brim with the custard mix.)
6. Cover the ramekins with foil and bake about 30 - 40 minutes in a preheated 375º oven, removing the foil after 20 minutes. The tarts are done when the crust is golden brown and the custard mixture is firm.
7. Allow the cups to rest and cool about 5 minutes. Run a thin knife blade around the edges of each ramekin, twisting slightly to separate the bottom of the crust from the ramekin. Cup a piece of waxed paper with one hand over the top of each ramekin and quickly turn the ramekin over to transfer the tart to the waxed paper. Then place the tart upright on a serving plate. Sprinkle with minced herbs or a pinch of paprika if garnish is desired.
(Optionally, serve the tarts in their ramekins.)
The tarts may be served warm or at room temperature.
*What are "Maine shrimp"? Maine Shrimp are. scientifically, Pandalus borealis.They live in the north Atlantic and in the fall and early winter, after spawning, migrate to inshore waters – allowing convenient harvest out of northern ports. Known as "Matane shrimp" in Eastern Canada (after the location of the principal fishery) and also as "Nordic shrimp" when they come from the waters of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. They are small and sweet and often available with heads on. Delicious boiled and peeled by the diners at the table. The heads and shells may be used for Red Shrimp Broth, a preparation that has a thousand uses.
If you don't have a source for fresh Maine shrimp, look for them in the frozen case, or use other small frozen shrimp. (Maine shrimp run about 40 - 50 to the pound, unshelled, so correspond to standard "Small" or "Extra Small" shrimp -- sometimes marketed as "salad shrimp.") Of course, larger shrimp may be chopped for use as a substitute.