Tuesday 27 September 2016

Prawn stars: Rachel Allen's love of langoustines

We have the best prawns in the world, according to seafood supremo Rick Stein, and Rachel Allen is in wholehearted agreement. Photography by Tony Gavin

Published 15/06/2015 | 02:30

Rachel Allen says the Dublin Bay prawns are the royalty of the species. Photo: Tony Gavin
Rachel Allen says the Dublin Bay prawns are the royalty of the species. Photo: Tony Gavin
Pan-fried prawns with garlic, chilli and coriander

One of my very favourite ingredients has to be the prawn. And that's not just any old frozen, imported prawn I'm talking about; rather, the king of prawns that we have right here all around the Irish coast - the Dublin Bay prawn. Also known as langoustine or the Norway lobster, the prawn is right at home here in the fresh, cold waters of the Atlantic and the Irish Sea. And it's the biting-cold sea that we have to thank for the sweet, delicious flavour that is like no other in the world. Seafood supremo Rick Stein claims Dublin Bay prawns to be the best in the world, and I, for one, wholeheartedly agree.

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It's definitely true to say that fabulous, fresh Dublin Bay prawns do come with a slightly hefty price tag, which is why I suggest saving all the heads and shells and making a prawn bisque (a rich prawn soup) to make a second recipe out of what would otherwise be discarded. There is not just a huge amount of flavour in the shells, and especially the heads, but when they are crushed and sieved, they give the soup a lovely texture that is unique to bisque. I love to serve it with croutons, or just fingers of buttered toast.

The risotto recipe opposite was inspired by something that Isaac and I ate many years ago in a restaurant called Kampa Park in Prague. When we got home, we tried to make something similar, and it's now a recipe that I adore, and come back to time and time again.

The recipe for pan-fried prawns with garlic, chilli and coriander, also opposite, is super-quick to prepare and divine for a starter; I've had many versions of something similar in both Mexico and Guatemala. However, there are times when I just feel like nothing but simply cooked prawns. Boiled for just two minutes in salted water (one tablespoon of salt to every two pints of water), drained and eaten with home-made mayonnaise: now that's a serious treat.

Pan-fried prawns with garlic, chilli and coriander

Serves 4 as a starter.

You will need:

20 prawns, tails with shells (and heads too, if you wish) still on, see my Tip, below

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped coriander

1 lemon

Cut the prawns in half lengthways through the shell. Place a large frying pan or a wok on a high heat. When it's really hot, add in the olive oil, then the prawns, and cook them for 3-4 minutes until the shells turn light golden. Then add in the finely chopped garlic, the finely chopped chilli and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Fry until the prawns are cooked and the garlic is golden. Tip into a wide serving dish and scatter over the chopped coriander. Cut the lemon into wedges and serve with the prawns.

Prawn bisque

The bisque can be made and stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours. It can also be frozen for up to three months.

Serves 4-6.

You will need:

25g (1oz) butter

150g (5oz) finely chopped shallots

2 cloves of crushed garlic

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

450g (1lb) heads, claws, tail shells of prawns

2 x 400g (14oz) tins of tomatoes, chopped or 800g (1lb 12oz) ripe tomatoes, chopped

400ml (14oz) light chicken or fish stock

1 teaspoon sugar

200ml (7fl oz) cream

2 tablespoons brandy (optional, but very good)

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Put the butter in a saucepan on a medium heat, allow it to melt, and when it is foaming, add the finely chopped shallots and the crushed garlic. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cover with a butter wrapper, if you have one, or some greaseproof paper, and a lid. Turn the heat down to low and cook gently to sweat the shallots. This should take about 7-8 minutes.

While the shallots are cooking, use a rolling pin to crush and bash the prawn heads, claws and shells into smaller pieces. They don't need to be too small, but the more broken up they are, the more flavour you'll extract from them.

Once the shallots have softened, add in the bashed-up pieces of heads, claws and shells, and cook, uncovered (stirring regularly) with the heat turned up for about 6-8 minutes, until you can smell the shells slightly toasting and see them turning light golden in colour.

Add in the tinned chopped tomatoes or the fresh chopped tomatoes, whichever you're using, the light chicken stock or the fish stock, whichever you're using, and the sugar and cook over a high heat for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes have softened completely. Pour the bisque into a liquidiser or food processor and whizz it up for a few minutes to break up the prawn shells.

Pour the bisque through a sieve into a clean saucepan and place on a medium heat. Add the cream and the brandy, if you are using it, and season to taste with some more salt and freshly ground black pepper. You may need to add a pinch more sugar if you're using tinned tomatoes. When it's hot, sprinkle the bisque with the chopped parsley and serve.

Prawn and Saffron Risotto with Dill pesto

This recipe was inspired by something that Isaac and I ate in a great restaurant called Kampa Park in Prague.

Serves 6.

For the dill pesto, you will need:

4 tablespoons chopped dill

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

50ml (2fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

For the risotto, you will need:

1-1.2L (1¾-2pts ) light chicken stock

110g (4oz) butter

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

75ml (3fl oz) white wine

20-25 raw prawns, shelled

1 onion, finely chopped

400g (14 oz) risotto rice (Arborio, carnaroli or maratelli)

A pinch of saffron

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

50g (2oz) finely grated hard cheese, such as mature Coolea or Parmesan

First, make the pesto. Whizz the chopped dill, the crushed garlic and the extra-virgin olive oil together in a food processor and season to taste with some salt. Add more extra-virgin olive oil if the pesto seems too thick - it should be a nice drizzling consistency. Set aside.

Next, make the risotto. Put the light chicken stock into a saucepan and bring it to a simmer. Keep it gently simmering away while you make the risotto. Make sure that the stock isn't at a rolling boil for the 35 minutes or so that it will take to cook the rice, otherwise it will reduce a lot and be very strong, and you'll need more liquid.

Melt half the butter in a frying pan with the crushed garlic and 2 tablespoons (30ml (1fl oz)) of the white wine. Add the prawns and cook them in the garlic butter and white wine for 3-4 minutes, until they are opaque. Remove the prawns onto a plate and set them aside.

Cook the finely chopped onion in the remaining garlic butter and wine mixture on a low heat with the lid on. Then, remove the lid and add the risotto rice and the saffron and cook for a minute, stirring. Next, add the remainder of the white wine and boil for 1-2 minutes until most of the wine has evaporated. Add a ladleful of simmering stock (about 110ml (4fl oz)) to the rice, and season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Cook gently until this liquid has been absorbed, then add another ladleful of hot stock. Repeat this process until the rice is just cooked and the texture is how you want it. It may take anything from 20 to 35 minutes to cook. I like my risotto still to be a bit juicy - if it is too dry, it will taste stodgy and be heavy. You might not need all the stock, or you might need a little extra.

Add the finely grated Coolea or Parmesan, whichever you're using, and the reserved prawns in garlic butter and serve the risotto in bowls with a drizzle of the dill pesto over the top.

Rachel recommends

To make a really great home-made mayonnaise, just put two egg yolks in a bowl with one dessertspoon of white-wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard and a pinch of salt. Mix with a whisk, then, very slowly, in a thin drizzle, pour on eight fluid ounces of oil (a combination of six fluid ounces of sunflower oil and two fluid ounces of extra-virgin olive oil), making sure to whisk all the time. The mixture will gradually thicken as it emulsifies, giving you a creamy, delicious sauce to serve with your freshly boiled prawns.

Feel free to add other ingredients to ring the changes, such as chopped herbs and greens like basil, watercress, coriander, tarragon or rocket, or olives, tomatoes and anchovies.

Rachel's tip

When a prawn is good it is sweet, succulent and just sings of the sea. The fresher the prawn, the better it is, so make sure to check out what your local fishmonger has in stock and order ahead,  if necessary.

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