On Friday night, I am ashamed to admit, I grew a little ratty with my gentleman friend. There was absolutely no reason for this, good or otherwise, and for the record I am very sorry for it. What set me off was that we didn’t know what to have for dinner. The G-man had an excellent suggestion for chicken, but it involved a marinade and so was best left for the next day, in my humble opinion. Not that I expressed my opinion in a humble, or sensible, manner. Instead I huffed, and said I’d see what I could come up with from the shops. A ludicrous reason to get shirty but that’s what happens sometimes – I get an attack of the huffs. I’m sure that is a surprising revelation to all (and/or sundry) but there you have it. To make up for this needless huff – which passed within minutes, I’d like to point out – I decided to make something extra nice for us. Something I’d use fancy plates for. Some day I might learn to express my emotions as clearly with words as I already do with food; in the meantime, I can only hope that everyone involved understands about the food language and forgives me my short-tempered shortcomings.
I had some smoked salmon in the fridge, which I’d picked up on a whim earlier in the week but never opened. Before anyone gets to thinking that I’ve gone all posh, it was smoked salmon trimmings, that came in at less than £1 to buy. I like to buy smoked salmon this way – it is, as advertised on the packet, great for cooking as well as still being very tasty to eat as-is. It is also usually thinner than the proper gear, which means you don’t get the same richness or texture that is off-putting to some people. Anyway, I had a packet in the fridge, but what really got me thinking was passing the fish cabinet and seeing langoustines in there. I had never cooked with langoustines before, but there was a recipe for them on the LC website that I was keen to try out, so I picked some up. I decided then that we’d have a two course seafood dinner, and bustled round to pick up a few other bits to complete the menu.
Given that it was already approaching seven o’clock while I was still in the supermarket, I didn’t want to make anything that would be too time-consuming and leave us starving hungry for hours. To that end, I went for a very simple starter – smoked salmon with cream cheese, cucumber and rye and spelt bread. The rye and spelt bread just happened to be in the bakery section, I’d have gone for some other kind of grain or whole wheat bread if it had been there. I knew I could knock that together in practically no time, and so I did. I also served up some butter because I knew that I’d want at least one bit of buttered bread, just to get a clearer idea of the taste of the rye and spelt, you understand. We also had lemon juice to sprinkle over the salmon, but my lemon juice container is by no means chic enough to belong in this picture, being as it is a giant plastic lemon, with a bright green cap. I suppose I could have decanted some but that would have been a bit overly fussy for my liking.
Gentleman that he is, G had brought round some wine to go with dinner, so we polished off a wee glass of that while we ate the smoked salmon. We then had our second, surprise course, that I had set cooking while I prepared the smoked salmon plates. I said above that I had bought langoustines, and the first thing I did when I got home was shell them as I didn’t know how long that would take me, having never worked with them before. They did make me a bit squeamish, as I’d bought them whole and they were looking right at me form the packaging. I even convinced myself that they were moving when I had my back turned. It was like an episode of Doctor Who, but with shellfish. Don’t blink, I told myself. After I’d shelled and cleaned out the first one, though, I felt less nauseated by the process, even though I did sustain minor injuries from it’s sharp, pointy teeth shell. I don’t have any pictures of the preparation, I’m sure everyone is glad to hear, but what I did was remove the claws and legs, twist off the head, then detach and remove each segment of the main shell. I could then clearly see the vein that runs up the back of the langoustine, as in any other shellfish of this nature, and could pull it out in one go, which was excellent and made cleaning them a lot easier. Once I’d done all this, I was left with a pitiful amount of meat – I had been prepared for this eventuality, but it’s still very little reward for a lot of effort. Looking at the pile of discarded shell made me want to make a bisque with it, to get my money’s worth (although in fact they were only a couple of quid). However, as I’d never made a bisque before and didn’t want to go to the trouble of looking it up, I freestyled it. Here is the recipe that I used:
- one tin of tomatoes
- shells, heads (with eyes and brains removed) and claws of four langoustines
- 1 tsp dried dill
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- several turns of a mill containing salt, pepper, garlic and chili
- two small garlic cloves, peeled and roughly crushed
- 1tbsp cream cheese
- flat leaf parsley, to garnish
I blended up the tin of tomatoes and sieved into a small pot, to which I added all the other ingredients except the cream cheese and simmered for half an hour. Just before serving, I strained the soup to catch the garlic and the shells, then melted in the cream cheese and seasoned with black pepper before garnishing with a leaf of parsley. If I was making it again, I’d chop the parsley and scatter over, as it’s fresh taste was a nice counterpoint to the rich soup.
Altogether now – ‘Oooooooh! Counterpoint!’
Alright, glad we got that out of our systems. Here’s the soup, which was served in little ramekins as there wasn’t very much of it once it had reduced for that long. I added a little boiling water to make it go further but it was nice not to have too much of it, as the flavors were strong and we still had our pasta course to go. I was extremely pleased with it, given that it had been completely made up on the spot, without the usual deliberation that I put into my recipes. It felt good to cook that way, it seems like the older I get the more I plan my meals and it was nice to be spontaneous for a change.
Once we had finished our tiny soup, with another glass of wine, I made the langoustine tagliatelle. The recipe for this is here if you want to check it out – I enjoyed it, although I didn’t execute it perfectly. Be careful not to over cook the chili and to use a milder type, as the heat really gets soaked into the oil and is in danger of overpowering the subtle seafood flavours. I like the way it looked, too – I’m a huge fan of simple pasta dishes like this, I always think they look really elegant and appetising. I’ve taken an extreme close up of this one to show you – I added a sprinkle of black pepper over the top, and served with parmesan.
All in all, I was really pleased with the three courses that I put together at short notice. They weren’t perfect – the soup and smoked salmon are really two first courses, although perhaps if I’d served it first in an even tinier cup I could have called the soup an amuse bouche and gotten away with it. I enjoyed using the langoustines and would do it again, even though they are more work and more dangerous than other seafood, that sort of added to the fun, Except when one of their big long antennae slapped back and stuck to my wrist as I was twisting its legs off – cue full-body shudder there, I must admit. Look at this one, extending his claws in a mute plea… ‘Please, don’t twist off my legs, and my head… Don’t eat me…’. Tough luck, Mr Langoustine, you’re too sweet and delicious. Gies those legs aff ye.
Tunes: As I made this, and I promise you it wasn’t a conscious decision, I was listening to Reel Big Fish’s Favourite Noise album. I can only imagine that my subconscious knows that I find matching tunes to food more difficult than I originally thought I would, and is helping me out with it. At any rate, I had a good old dance about the kitchen until the G man came in and I subdued myself somewhat. My favourite RBF song is this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BJAlCQjLC0 but they also do a smashing cover of Come on Eileen, thus combining my love for ska punk with my love of eighties pop. I love a good eighties cover, me.
Movie: I’m going with Sean of the Dead. The langoustines are a bit gory to prepare, contain brains and might not be to everyone’s taste, but in the end they are sweet and rich with flavour, the way the film is rich with warmth and humour. Also, if you’re not careful with the soup, you’ll get red on you. This clip always makes me laugh out loud – check the hand actions on Pegg. I think that when it comes right down to it, and you’re faced with a zombie or other such mind-blowing peril, the swear words just don’t cut it and all you have left to say is ‘oooh he’s got an arm off!’. That’s not to say that there is no bad language in this clip, Nick Frost delivers as ever, so be warned: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1BXs48X8u8&NR=1