Thursday, 2 April 2015

Raw British shellfish with marinated cucumber, basil and Sicilian lemon

Recently I’ve taken a bit of a step back with my cooking. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy trying out new and complicated techniques and spending hours putting a dish together. But often the food that I like to eat the most relies on simple flavour combinations and good produce. Italian food is my favourite by far, and more often than not comes in the form of a few ingredients, cooked well and arranged rustically on a plate. 

For this dish I drew inspiration from photos of typical Venetian appetisers; little plates of raw shellfish to be picked on with drinks before the main meal gets underway. Beautiful arrangements of little red prawns, clams sitting in half shells and plump queenie scallops, all dressed with the best oil and lemons. This is such a huge contrast to this country, where everyone seems shit scared of any fish or shellfish that hasn’t been cooked to within an inch of its life. For an island that produces such an abundance of wonderful, fresh shellfish we don’t half have a bonkers attitude towards it.
The weather is still holding a chill and we’re still bang in shellfish season. We’ve been getting some fantastic, energetic langoustines at work recently, and it’s always tempting to just split one in half, lash it with lemon juice and guzzle it down. More unusually, we’ve also had a good run of spiky sea urchins. These always rouse questions, curious and often squeamish looks from our customers. Then someone who knows all about them will come along and often snap the whole lot up. The bright orange roes are a bit funny to scoop out for the first time, but the taste is amazing. Like the best oyster ever with a soft, melting texture. 

I didn’t want to add too much to accompany such simple and delicate produce. The thin slithers of tangy cucumber give an additional crunch but allow the flavours of the sea to shine.
Stating the obvious I know, but if you do try and replicate this then you need to get hold of the freshest shellfish, all of which must be alive.
Serves 2

1 large live langoustine 
2 live sea urchins 
6 live clams
For the marinated cucumber:
½ a cucumber, peeled and very finely sliced lengthways 
½ a Sicilian lemon, zest and juice 
½ a tsp of dried chilli flakes 
10 basil leaves, torn 
A good glug of extra virgin olive oil
To finish:
A squeeze of Sicilian lemon juice 
Basil leaves 
Black pepper

First marinate the cucumber. Mix the lemon zest and juice, chilli flakes, basil leaves, olive oil and a good pinch of seasoning in a bowl. Peel the cucumber then cut in half and slice lengthways. Arrange the slices on a piece of kitchen paper, then top with more paper and press to absorb any excess liquid and dry the cucumber. Toss the slices in the dressing and leave to marinate for an hour. 

Prepare the shellfish just before serving. Use a butter knife to gently open the clams, similarly as to how you would open an oyster. Discard the empty shell halves. For the sea urchins, use a strong pair of scissors to cut a circle around the top of the mouth. Drain away any water from the shells. Split the langoustine lengthways with a sharp knife. Remove the claws and clean the head and stomach line.
To serve, lay slices of the cucumber on the bottom of each plate. Place half a langoustine to one side, then arrange three good pieces of sea urchin alongside. Place the clams around the urchin, then scatter over some basil leaves. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice, a little of the cucumber dressing and a crack of pepper.

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