Last week I had a few days off work on holiday, but used this time to really relax with no plans to travel anywhere. Instead I just had a lovely enjoyable few days pottering around London and cooking. It was really nice to get out and visit some of the cracking local independent food suppliers that are normally closed when I get my days off on Sundays and Mondays.
On Tuesday I took the bus down to Victoria Park where I placed an order with brilliant fishmonger Jonathan Norris. He is someone who I have spoken to many times on Twitter, mostly for help about what is in season etc, but it was great to finally pop in and say hello in person. Since I moved to Stoke Newington I haven’t been down to the area too often, but Katie used to live in Victoria Park and I really do love it round there. I’ve many happy memories of ogling at sausage rolls in the window of the Ginger Pig and breakfasting by the lake at the park pavilion. It’s such a foodie hub and you can get nearly anything in that tiny handful of shops.
On this occasion I had ordered oysters. Now I am the first person to put my hand up and say that I’m not wild about eating raw oysters. It’s not the taste, I’m just not too keen on the texture, and they’re not something that I take that much pleasure from eating. But like I said about bone marrow in the previous blog post, I’m sure that this is a transitional thing and I will end up eventually liking them. But in the meantime, I know that there are other things that you can do with them and I was determined to make something nice. I liked the idea of gently cooking them with a creamy, chowder like soup.
I thought that this would also be a good occasion to have a go at making a veloute. It’s always something that I’ve associated with fine dining and have been nervous to attempt to make this super smooth, decadent soup. For Christmas I was fortunate to be given a number of great cookbooks, including the huge and insanely good Square Cookbook by Philip Howard. I knew that oyster veloutes existed, and when looking through the index for pointers I was pleased to see that there was a recipe for that very thing. I have used the veloute recipe in that book as the base for the one I made here, although Phil used his as part of an amazing starter with eel, salt cod and caviar. I haven’t quite gone that far here, simply deep frying some oysters to contrast the texture and adding some lightly pickled cucumber to give the acidity that is much needed in this creamy dish.
Freshness is of the utmost importance when it comes to oysters. I would only really eat them on the same day as buying them, and only from a decent fishmonger. This is the joy of getting to know good local food suppliers, as you can learn loads about seasonal food and really trust that the produce that you get is top quality; a far cry from the majority of supermarkets.
For the crispy oysters:
1 small handful panko breadcrumbs
2 tbsp flour
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for deep frying, about 1 litre
For the poached oysters:
For the veloute:
3 medium leeks, finely sliced
1/2 onion, finely sliced
1/2 floury potato such as maris piper, finely sliced
250ml whole milk
1 large tbsp creme fraiche
For the pickled cucumbers:
1x 3” piece of cucumber
100ml white wine vinegar
3 tsp sugar
5 black peppercorns
For the lemon and tarragon oil:
100ml olive oil
1 small handful tarragon
1 lemon, zest only
For the sauteed leeks:
1/2 a leek, julienned into thin 2” sticks
1 large knob butter
Salt and pepper
Firstly make the lemon and tarragon oil. Put the oil, tarragon and lemon into a small saucepan and gently warm up, but not enough to start frying the flavourings. Turn off the heat, cover the pan with clingfilm and leave to cool down and infuse. Transfer to a squeezy bottle and set aside. This is best done a day in advance to let the flavours mix into the oil.
To make the veloute, heat the butter in a large saucepan on a medium heat. Add the leeks, onion, potato and seasoning and cook for 6-7 minutes, until softened. Pour in the water, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the milk and creme fraiche and bring back to boil then pour the liquid through a sieve into a bowl. Spoon about a quarter of the leeks, onion and potatoes into a food processor with the strained liquid and blend really well until very smooth. Discard the remaining leeks. Strain again and set aside to cool. This part can be done in advance.
While the veloute is cooking, make the pickled cucumbers. Peel the piece of cucumber and cut in half, then scrape out the seeds with a spoon and discard. Carefully cut into an even fine dice and put into a small bowl. Pour the white wine vinegar into a small saucepan with the sugar and peppercorns. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the peppercorns and pour over the cucumbers. Mix well with a spoon and set aside to cool.
Julienne the leeks for the garnish and fry gently for 10 minutes in the butter and a little seasoning until softened. Keep warm and set aside.
Heat the frying oil up in a heavy medium saucepan to 170ºC.
Slowly reheat the veloute up to just below boiling.
Fill a small saucepan with salty water and bring to the boil.
To make the crispy oysters, set up two small plates and a bowl. Beat the egg into the bowl and put the panko and flour respectively on the other two plates. Season each part. Open two of the oysters, keeping them as intact as possible and draining the liquid. Gently roll the oysters in the flour, then dip into the egg before moving to the breadcrumb plate and covering.
Open the 8 oysters for the veloute and put into the food processor.
When the oil is hot, water boiling and veloute up to temperature it is time to finish the dish. Put the 4 oysters into the boiling water, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for two minutes. At the same time, lower the coated oysters into the hot oil and deep fry, turning occasionally until golden brown, about a minute. While this is happening, tip the veloute into the food processor over the oysters and blend really well until combined and frothy. Taste and season if needed.
To plate up, make a little mound out of the cooked leeks and place in the middle of the bowls. Pour some of the veloute in and position the poached oysters in the ‘moat’. Spoon a little of the pickled cucumber around each side and put the crispy oysters on top of the leeks. Drizzle a bit of the lemon and tarragon oil around the bowl and serve quickly.