The langoustines that I managed to get hold of were feisty old things, nothing like the sad little pink ones that line supermarket fish counters around Christmas time. These were almost like mini lobsters, with great big claws that they weren’t afraid of having a go with. I certainly had to be careful not to trap a finger! Despite their size, the actual yield of the langoustines was pretty small, and especially at the price they were it was important that I used as much of them as possible. The shells, combined with the sweet flavour of the gurnard bones made an intense sauce. The smell that came from that lot caramelising in the pan had me salivating. When it came to the claws, I drew inspiration from something I’d seen Philip Howard make on the television a few years ago. He had found himself in the enviable place of having a glut of disused langoustine claws, and instead of wasting them, he scooped out the meat and deep fried them. The technique itself was a fiddly one, but well worth it as the crispy bits of soft langoustine that I was left with were really good.
With the cooking of the langoustine tails themselves, it was another lesson previously learnt. On other occasions I had hard-fried the tails and found them to seize up in texture, with the tendency to overcook very quickly. By slowly cooking them in butter, this whole process was much gentler and controlled. In taste there was no comparison; they were buttery and soft and just melted in the mouth.
Gurnard is another ingredient that I’ve been desperate to use. At work they are such a difficult fish to sell, and it’s purely because they look so different to everything that customers are used to buying. I think there’s a certain charm to their big heads and overslung mouths, and certainly when it comes to flavour they really are delicious. Their flesh has a sweet, almost shellfish flavour that certainly is attributed to their bottom-feeding diet. Their bones also give a huge boost to soups and stocks. For a cheap fish they are so underrated.
There are lots of different elements going on in the rest of the dish, but everything comes together on the plate. The key is to be as prepared as possible and to make whatever you can in advance. There is quite a bit to do right at the end, and as long as you are well organised and have plenty of space it’s easily achievable.
6 live (or freshly dispatched) langoustines, peeled; shells, claws and heads kept
For the gurnard:
1 medium gurnard, filleted, pin boned and carcass kept
1 knob of butter
A squeeze of lemon juice
For the crispy claws:
4 of the langoustine claws
3 tbsp plain flour
1 egg, beaten
4-5 tbsp panko flakes
Oil for frying, approx. 1 litre
For the shellfish sauce:
The bones from the gurnard
The shells, heads and spare claws from the langoustines
1 fennel bulb, finely chopped and any spare fronds reserved
1 leek, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 lemon, zest only
3 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tsp tomato puree
A splash of brandy
500ml fish stock
1 knob of butter
For the butter-poached langoustine tails:
The peeled, deveined tails from the langoustines
250g unsalted butter
For the lemon mayonnaise:
2 egg yolks
A splash of white wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 lemon, zest and juice
200ml rapeseed oil
For the leek oil:
The top green leaves from 1 leek
4/5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ a lemon, juice only
For the charred leeks:
1 large leek or 4-6 baby leeks
½ a lemon
Make the leek oil the day before serving. Put the green leek ends into a food processor and pour in the extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and a little seasoning. Blend well until a fine paste is achieved. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate overnight. Once the oil has infused, strain through some muslin into another bowl. Discard the mushed leek. Cover and set aside until needed.
For the lemon mayonnaise, put the egg yolks, vinegar, lemon zest, mustard and a bit of seasoning into a small food processor and blitz well. With the engine still running, pour the rapeseed oil in really slowly. When the oil has all been emulsified you should have a thick mayonnaise sauce. Squeeze in the lemon juice and let down with a little water if necessary. Taste and adjust the seasoning/acidity then transfer to a plastic bottle and refrigerate.
To make the shellfish sauce, heat up a little oil in a large saucepan. When at a medium-high temperature, add the langoustine shells and the gurnard bones. Colour well on all sides, then add the fennel, leek, garlic, carrot, fennel seeds, paprika and lemon zest. Turn the heat down slightly and soften the vegetables. Stir in the tomato puree and continue to cook for another couple of minutes. Turn the heat back up and pour in the brandy. Burn off the alcohol and reduce slightly. Tip in the tomatoes, pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes and then strain the liquid through a sieve into another saucepan. Discard the fish and vegetables. Bring the liquid in the new saucepan back to the boil and reduce until only 6-7 tablespoons of thickened liquid remains. Take off the heat and stir in the knob of butter. Set aside until needed.
Pre-heat the oven to 180⁰C.
For the charred leeks, heat a griddle pan up until smoking hot. Add a little oil, then fry the leek until well charred on all sides. Transfer to an oven tray and roast for about 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Peel away the burnt outer layer and slice what’s left roughly lengthways (into about 6 pieces if using one large leek). Squeeze over the lemon juice and season well.
To prepare the langoustine claws, carefully break and peel away the shells to reveal the meat inside. Scrape the meat away from the cartilage so that you are left with 4 long, soft strips of flesh. Arrange two plates and a bowl on the work surface. Put the flour and panko onto the plates and beat the egg into the bowl. Season each element. Coat the claws in the flour first, before dipping in the egg. Finally transfer to the panko plate and roll around until well covered.
Just before cooking the fish and shellfish to complete the dish, get everything else ready. Reheat the sauce and warm up the leeks if necessary. Make sure your finishing garnish is ready to go.
Preheat the frying oil in a saucepan until it reaches 180⁰C.
Melt the butter for the langoustine tails in a small saucepan and heat until just below simmering.
Pour some oil into a non-stick frying pan and heat to a moderate-high temperature.
When the melted butter is at temperature, season the langoustine tails and lower them into the pan. They should be fully submerged. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cook through really gently for 5-6 minutes.
While the langoustines are cooking, fry the fish. Season the gurnard fillets and lay them skin-down in the hot pan, holding them down for a few seconds to stop them from curling. Cook for 2-3 minutes depending on the thickness, until the skin is crispy. Turn the fillets over and add the butter to the pan. Remove the pan from the heat, and continue to baste the fish with the butter for a minute or so. Finally season again and squeeze over the lemon juice.
At the same time as finishing off the other elements, fry the langoustine claws. Lower them into the hot oil and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until crispy and golden brown in colour. Transfer to some kitchen paper to drain and sprinkle with a little salt.
To plate up, arrange some of the leeks around one side of the plate. Dot around a few blobs of the lemon mayonnaise and add three of the langoustine tails and two of the crispy claws. Arrange the fillet of gurnard on top before spooning over some of the shellfish sauce and a small spoonful of the leek oil. Finally finish off with the nasturtium leaves and the fennel fronds.