Lobster Potpie

NEW ENGLAND Lobster Potpie at the Griswold Inn, Essex. Puff Pastry lightens the recipe and puffs up the pie. (LINDA GIUCA / HARTFORD COURANT / July 17, 2008)

Executive chef Josh Berry respects the history of the venerable Griswold Inn, but don't ask him to rein in his creative juices.

"I like taking the traditional and updating it," says Berry, whose Griswold Inn Signature Lobster Potpie combines the old and the new. The savory potpie, usually made with beef or chicken, is a quintessential New England dish. "We've elevated it with lobster."

The pie appears frequently on the menu in the Inn's historic dining room or in the wine bar but changes according to the season. Summer ingredients in the filling include fresh tarragon and purple basil, fingerling potatoes and fennel. In the fall, root vegetables and wild mushrooms are paired with the lobster.

To update the pie, Berry replaced the pie pastry with puff pastry, which "lightens it up and puffs up nicely." He also lightened the white sauce that binds the succulent lobster and vegetables. While a classic filling is thickened with a roux — a cooked binder of flour and fat — the chef eliminated flour in favor of a natural reduction of tomato paste and wine enriched with a bit of heavy cream. Berry and Alan Barone, the inn's general manager and wine director, agree that a big chardonnay complements the pie, both in its preparation and at the table.

"In general, big, oaky chardonnays are not in vogue today," Barone says, "but when you talk about a dish that has lobster and cream and corn, you need a wine on the rich side. A chardonnay shows itself well." Barone chose a 2006 Acacia Chardonnay from California (please see "Wine of the Week," below) because its acidity cuts through the herbs and pastry, and such Russian River wines are not particularly oaky. When used in the filling, the wine adds a mineral quality and sweetness, Berry says.

Tips:

• Lobster is expensive, but "in this recipe, a little goes a long way," Berry says. Mussels, shrimp, scallops or fish can be substituted or added to the lobster.

• To cook lobster according to Berry's method, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Put the lobster in, and when the water boils again, cook for 7 minutes per pound. When done, shock lobster in ice water to stop the cooking process. Remove the meat from the tail, claws and knuckles, and reserve or chill up to 3 days.

• Always add fresh herbs toward the end of cooking. The herbs will lose their flavor if added at the beginning.

• The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled. The vegetable mixture also can be made in advance or frozen (do not add the lobster).

GRISWOLD INN'S NEW ENGLAND LOBSTER POTPIE

• 1 (1-1/2 pound) cold water lobster, cooked, shell removed (reserve the head for garnish)

•Olive oil

•2 garlic cloves, minced

•1 medium carrot, medium dice

•2 large celery stalks, medium dice

•1 large white onion, medium dice

•1 fennel bulb, medium dice

•1 tablespoon tomato paste

•2 cups chardonnay