Hebridean langoustines – three ways

The supreme quality of seafood available in the Outer Hebrides is hard to compete with and I feel ashamed that I have yet to champion Hebridean seafood by featuring it in a recipe so far (except mussels, of course).

I am thinking specifically about crustaceans. Recent posts highlighting super-fresh Crustacea by My French Haven (langoustines) and Food, Frankly (crayfish) have further served to remind me to do so, as well as a superb meal cooked for us by friends at the weekend and featuring a star dish of lasagne with local crab.

Langoustines – King of Crustacea

My King of Crustacea award goes to langoustines (Nephrops norvegicus), also referred to variously as scampi, Norway lobster and Dublin Bay prawn. Prawn, the local name here, is confusing nomenclature as they are more closely related, and have a flavour and texture similar but superior to lobster.  Eaten when fresh, langoustines have the sweetest most delicate flavour of all crustacea and indeed, are sublime, but they should be fresh i.e. live when you acquire them.

The life of the langoustine

Langoustines are found where there is suitable muddy sediment, the habitat in which they construct and occupy burrows where they spend most of their time. They can be found in shallow coastal waters a few metres deep, including sea lochs and up to water depths of more than 500m to the west of the Outer Hebrides at the edge of the continental shelf.

They are opportunistic predators and scavengers feeding on marine worms, other crustaceans and molluscs. Females mature at about 3 years old. Mating takes place in early summer, with spawning in September .  The ‘berried’ females carry the eggs until they hatch the following spring.  The planktonic larvae develop, metamorphosing through several fascinating larval stages, before settling on the seabed about 2 months later.

The Outer Hebridean langoustine fishery

The fishery is extremely important economically for the Outer Hebrides and has been growing since the 1960’s.  Scotland contributes to about 1/3 of the total catch of langoustines worldwide.  Here in the Uists, a good proportion of the catch is made by small local boats using creels, mainly in coastal waters.  This method of fishing is more sustainable than trawling since it causes less ecological damage as it is more selective.  The prawns are also of very high quality as they are less damaged and stressed than trawled specimens. The Scottish Government consider this fishery to be healthy around the Outer Hebrides.

The main markets are for export and most of the stocks caught here are transported live to Spain and France and also to a number of discerning hoteliers and restaurateurs on the UK mainland. Vehicles carrying live prawns can be seen leaving on the ferries most days.  For residents, you have to know where to intercept this prime export at source before it leaves the island.  I am fortunate to have a friend with a langoustine export business, so my prawn quarry is easy to find. I consider it foraging by proxy.  Visitors to the island are likely to have to do a bit of homework to pin down some langoustines while here. While I am familiar with ecology of this species, my friend had provided fascinating insights into the live langoustine business here on the island and beyond.

Cooking with langoustines

Freshly cooked langoustines

There is no doubt that langoustines are luxury produce and therefore are very expensive, especially around Christmas and New Year, when market demands are high and they are in good condition.  Last time I saw them for sale in Glasgow they were £35 a kilo – and that was for dead cooked prawns.  Buying them dead is not without risk as they can be like cotton wool inside and quickly lose their sweetness if they have been sitting around for too long.

I get about 2 kilos at a time and tend to make several meals out of them to celebrate the luxury.  Langoustines are graded according to size and the bigger they are, the more in demand and expensive they will be.  I tend to go for medium/large.

First, out of respect for the animals, they need to be dispatched quickly.  I have a huge pot that I fill with tap water and bring this to a rolling boil.  I place a few prawns in at a time, leave them for about 2 minutes and remove them.  Some recipes I read suggest plunging them into ice-cold water once removed but I think this waterlogs the flesh and risks losing some flavour.  Provided they were only in the pan for a couple of minutes, yes, they do continue to cook a bit, but letting then cool at room temperature seems to work.

The most recent batch I had served me well to make 3 meals and I made absolutely certain nothing went to waste.

Langoustine salad with hot garlic butter, parsley and lemon dressing

This is a recipe I have used for many years and is a variation on a Nick Nairn recipe from his book Wild Harvest 2. Once you have peeled the prawns, this recipe is quick, easy and the flavour combination brings out the sweetness of the prawns.

Ingredients

1kg live langoustines, cooked

50g unsalted butter

2 garlic cloves

2 tblsp lemon juice

zest of 1/2 lemon

a few handfuls of mixed salad leaves

2 tomatoes, seeds and skin removed, flesh finely diced

a handful of chopped parsley

salt and pepper

Method

  • Prepare the cooked langoustines by removing the flesh from the tails.  Keep all heads, claws and shells.
  • Melt the butter with the garlic and lemon zest for a few minutes to tone down the garlic a bit.
  • Add lemon juice then season with a little salt and pepper.
  • Heat this dressing until just boiling, add the prawns, parsley and tomatoes and mix well.  Serve with the mixed leaves, and some fine homemade bread to mop up the dressing.

lango salad

.Split and grilled langoustine with chilli, lime and coriander

This recipe couldn’t be simpler, and with a hot grill or barbecue, is ready in about 3 minutes. Enough for 4 people as a starter, 2 as a main course, but I could easily eat the whole kilo myself…..

Ingredients

1kg of langoustines, cooked

2 garlic cloves, crushed

juice of a lime or a lemon

1 large red chilli, finely chopped

a bunch of chopped coriander

4 tblsp of rapeseed oil

a few turns of pepper

Method

  • Mix the chopped coriander, chilli, garlic, lime/lemon juice, pepper and oil together.
  • Split the langoustines down the centre, place on the grill pan and drizzle over the dressing.
  • Cook under a hot grill for 3 minutes, or until just hot.  Serve with lemon/lime wedges.

Split and grilled prawn delight

Split and grilled prawn delight

Langoustine bisque

This recipe is more time-consuming and complex than the last two but uses the remains of the whole animal to provide an outstandingly rich and decadent bisque.

Shells form the previous two recipes ready to use in the bisque

Shells from the previous two recipes ready to use in the bisque

Ingredients

40g butter

1 onion, finely chopped

2 stalks of celery, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

1 red chilli

1/2 fennel bulb, sliced

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

2 bay leaves

juice of a lemon

a pinch of saffron

1 tblsp of brandy

a small bunch of parsley

1 tblsp tomato puree

1.5 litres of water

500ml fish or shellfish stock

small glass of Noilly Prat

150ml of double cream

Simmering of bisque underway

Simmering of bisque underway

Method

  • Heat the butter until foaming and gently fry the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, chilli, fennel, bay leaves until the onions have softened a bit.
  • Add the Noilly Prat and cook until reduced by half.
  • Add the shells, heads and claws of the langoustines to the pan, crushing them to extract a lot of flavour.  I use a potato masher to do this.
  • Add the fish/shellfish stock and water, tomatoes, tomato puree, most of the parsley and saffron.  Allow to simmer gently for an hour or so.
  • Sieve the mixture into a clean pan, again squeezing all the flavour from the langoustines and add the brandy, cream and lemon juice and season, as required. Heat gently.
  • Serve and garnish with parsley and swirl in some cream.

Langoustine bisque is served

Langoustine bisque is served

lango grill

Wild Hebridean salmon with lemon nasturtium ‘caper’ butter sauce

It was a privilege and proud day indeed when The Man Named Sous caught his first wild salmon on a trip over the Sound of Harris to the Obbe Fishery, Leverburgh, Harris.  This fishery has a number of lochs and pools around the village.  The one which yielded the salmon ‘The Mill Pool’ sits in an incongruous setting, right next to the Co-op car park.  In fact, it is so close to the car park that you have to cast pretty carefully or risk snagging a vehicle, or worse still, the ear of an unwary shopper. Pretty surreal, considering almost all the fishing we do is in wilderness areas of North Uist!

Given the conservation status and fragility of wild salmon populations, good fishery management means at the Obbe, you can only keep one salmon and one sea trout in any outing, all others caught must be safely returned.  So it was that The Man Named Sous carefully landed his 4 lb 5 oz salmon next to inquisitive shoppers and to the whoops and cheers of his Swiss fishing companions.

There were whoops and cheers in our kitchen too when the catch of a salmon was revealed to me – plus a sea trout as well.  The question is how to you honour such a wonderful fish?  It has such delicate flesh and flavour that is unrecognisable from that of farmed Scottish salmon, which I admit I have very mixed feelings about.

No Scottish food blog would be complete without a salmon recipe, would it? Simple is best.  Although a bit decadent for a Monday night, last week we enjoyed the last pair of six fillets from the fish.  It was a moment to reflect on what an honour it was to enjoy eating genuinely wild Scottish salmon these days, especially in the Outer Hebrides where catching one is no mean feat. It was also important to relish the moment.  It will most likely be a very long time before the experience comes round again.

Wild Hebridean salmon with lemon nasturtium ‘caper’ butter sauce

Like many people, I always have a super-abundance of nasturtiums at the end of the summer.  The leaves are used to make pesto and are added to salads with the flowers.  Still, there is always more than enough to collect all the seed I need for the next year and lots left over.  The quandary of what to do with the seeds was solved when, while flicking through the River Cottage Handbook No 2: Preserves, I found a novel way to preserve the seeds, and just at the right time of year. It is remarkable how similar preserved nasturtiums taste to the flower buds of the genuine Capparis plant and all but lose their peppery power.

Nasturtium ‘capers’

Take the green seed pods from your nasturtium plants at the end of the growing season, while they are in optimal condition and before they start to yellow.  Some seeds have a reddish tinge and they are fine to use. The recipe in the Handbook calls for 100g, but this is a lot to aim for, so if you have less, cut ingredients proportionately rather than miss out.

Ingredients

15g salt

100g nasturtium seed pods

A few peppercorns

200ml white wine vinegar

A few seasonal herb sprigs (optional)

Method

  • Dissolve the salt in 300ml water to make a light brine and leave the seeds in the brine for 24 hours.
  • Drain and dry the seeds, pack into small sterilised jars with a few peppercorns and herb sprig of your choice. Leave 1cm at the top for the vinegar.
  • Cover the pods with the vinegar and seal with a vinegar-proof jar lid.
  • Store for a few weeks before using.

Cooking the salmon

Use farmed if wild is unobtainable – check the quality/credentials of your source for environmental and welfare standards. The fish should be cooked only for a short period and rested to retain a soft, translucent centre.

Ingredients

Salmon fillets  -1 per person

Salt and pepper

ground nut or other flavourless oil

Heat oven to 80C

Method

  • Heat a griddle pan until hot, but not smoking – you are aiming for crisp, seared but not burnt skin.
  • Put a small splash of oil in the pan, score the skin a few times and season with salt and pepper.
  • Add the fillets to the pan, skin side down.  Leave without interference for 3 to 4 minutes until the skin has crisped. Moving them around before this will most likely result in soggy/broken skin.
  • Carefully turn the fillets over and cook the flesh side for around 30 seconds then place the pan containing the fillets in the oven at 80oC.
  • The fillets will continue to cook through while resting in the pan for a maximum of 5 minutes.  This will give you time to make the sauce.

Nasturtium ‘caper’ lemon butter sauce

This sauce is very simple and is just about instinct and using your palate to balance the few ingredients, to your taste. The butter makes it rich and thick. The lemon adds zing and the nasturtium brings piquancy.  I would normally add a splash of Noilly Prat at the beginning and let the alcohol cook off, but I have ran out at the moment. In this case, I used approximately these amounts:

Ingredients

1 tblsp. nasturtium ‘capers’

juice and zest of 1/2 a lemon

30g unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes

generous handful of parsley

salt and pepper

Method

  • Add the lemon juice and zest to a small pan, heated to medium/hot.
  • Add the capers, as the contents start to fizz slightly, add the cubes of butter a few at a time, whisking them into the sauce.  Season with salt and pepper.
  • Throw in the parsley, stir gently and serve immediately over the fish.

I served the salmon with a warm salad of Anya potatoes with caramelised shallots, sherry vinegar and rapeseed oil.  The carrots were shredded and tossed in Dijon mustard, orange juice with a splash of cider vinegar, rapeseed oil and pepper.

Wild thing, I think I love you....

Wild thing, I think I love you….