WITH the slightly warmer months upon us, it’s a great time to start lightening things up.
Shellfish are great ingredients to include in a simple lunch or a quick supper, and this is the ideal time of year for them. At the restaurant, we buy ours from the west coast, where the Gulf Stream warms the crystal-clear water.
I know that for many of you, cooking shellfish will feel a bit intimidating, but it’s one of Mother Nature’s most delicious crops. Once you’ve got to grips with the basic processes, you’ll open the door to an array of quick and easy dishes.
Here’s my top tip: always buy shellfish alive, as it’s the best way for you to ensure it’s fresh. Also, try to glean as much information as you can about provenance from the stallholder or fishmonger. I like to know the name of the boat, and the stretch of water our shellfish comes from. This might seem over-zealous, but caring about these things helps to support the small-scale day-boat owner. And I’d encourage you to buy creel-caught prawns and lobsters, as the dredging method is devastating the sea floor.
So, once you have your live crab or lobster at home, what do you do? First, you’ll need a large pot of water boiling away. The most humane way to handle your live shellfish is to place it on a tray in the freezer for ten minutes to put it to sleep. Then add it to your water and lightly simmer until cooked.
Langoustines can be halved lengthways when removed from the freezer, seasoned with salt, smeared with a little garlicky butter, then grilled for five to eight minutes.
The best things in life nearly always seem to be the simplest, so enjoy these shellfish recipes.
1 large Scottish creel-caught crab, alive
4 slices good sourdough
enough butter to spread onto toast
a few drops lemon juice
1 tbsp fresh mayonnaise
salt and pepper
a few sprigs watercress,salad leaves or rocket
a drizzle cold-pressed
1kg prawn and/or crab shells
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 stick celery, roughly chopped1 fennel bulb, roughly chopped
250g mixed fish, such as hake, pollock or salmon tails, cut into inch cubes
a large handful of mussels
100ml double cream
4 tbsp good mayonnaise
30ml Pernod or Ricard
1 tbsptomato purée
2 pinches saffron
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 tsp peppercorns
1 tbsp rapeseed oil, plus extra for the mayonnaise mix
salt and pepper
4 slices good bread for toasting
2 litres organic whole milk
1kg unrefined caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla essence, or a pod split and scraped
This is a firm favourite at the restaurant. Ask your stallholder or fishmonger for prawn heads or crab shells as well as fish pie mix. The old Scots name for this crab soup is partan bree, or the French would call it a bisque.
1 In a hot oven, roast the shells for about half an hour on a roasting tray, until you can smell them.
2 Meanwhile, on the hob, heat the rapeseed oil in a large pot and fry the carrot, onion, celery, half the fennel, peppercorns and bay leaf until golden. Then add the tomato purée and keep frying to cook out the purée. Add the roasted shells and cover with water. Simmer on the hob, stirring occasionally and making sure there’s always enough water. After a couple of hours, push the stock through a fine sieve, ensuring no shell remains.
3 Place a clean pot on the hob, add the Pernod or Ricard and reduce by half. Now add the stock, and reduce by half again until strong and rich. Incorporate the cream and a pinch of saffron to the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce further for a few minutes until it looks creamy. Then add in the fish and the mussels in their shells and cook on a gentle heat (do not boil now, as the fish will break up and go mushy).
4 Whilst your bread is toasting, make a rouille by mixing together the garlic, mayonnaise, saffron and a squirt of rapeseed oil. If you have a spoonful of leftover mash or bread crumbs, you can also add this to the mix.
5 Taste the soup and season to taste. Serve in warmed bowls with dollops of rouille and the remainder of the fennel on top (if you like that aniseed flavour), and toasted bread on the side.
CRAB SALAD ON TOAST
Truly my favourite shellfish. Remember to scrape all the brown meat from inside the edge of the shell. You’ll find the white, sweet meat in the claws. Combine the two and you’ll be in heaven.
1 Place your crab in the freezer for 10 minutes to put it to sleep. Place a pan of water (enough to cover the crab) on the hob to boil, add a pinch of salt. Then fully submerge the crab in the boiling water and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the water and cool in a sink of cold, running water. After about 5 minutes, take to a work surface and remove the claws.
2 Once the claws are removed, turn the crab onto its back and push its undercarriage away from the main shell. Be warned: this is a messy job. Then scoop the brown meat from the main shell and place in a bowl.
3 Crack the claws with a hammer or the back of a big knife and, using a skewer, remove all the white crab meat. Add this to the brown meat.
4 Check through the mixture to make sure no bits of shell remain, season with salt and pepper, then mix in a few drops of lemon juice and the mayonnaise. Set to one side.
5 Slice your sourdough, spread both sides with lashings of butter and grill (don’t put in the toaster) until evenly brown on both sides.
6 To serve, arrange the toast on a plate or wooden board, and carefully spoon the crab mixture on top. Then top with watercress or salad leaves. Finish with a drizzle of rapeseed oil and a twist of pepper.
Light, very addictive and probably one of my simplest recipes for ice-cream. It’s so easy, you could get the kids to make it – supervised of course. Don’t feel restricted by vanilla when making the “jam” – use any spice you like.
Makes roughly 2 litres
1 First, make a milk “jam” by boiling the vanilla, sugar and half the milk together until reduced by half, stirring all the time to ensure it doesn’t burn. This should take 45 minutes to an hour. Then pass the mix through a fine sieve and add to the remaining milk.
2 Allow the mix to cool, then churn in an ice-cream machine until rich and velvety. If you don’t have an ice-cream machine, put the mixture in a tub in the freezer and remove every 20 minutes or so to give it a good stir until it resembles ice-cream.
3 Serve with shortbread or langues de chat biscuits and new-season berries, or even a drizzle of melted chocolate.