You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2010.
What’s a spot prawn anyways?
Spot prawns are the largest of the 7 commercial species of shrimp found in Canada’s west coast waters. The prawn’s body colour is usually reddish brown or tan with white horizontal bars on the shell and distinctive white spots on the first and fifth abdominal segments. Large females can exceed 9 inches (!!) in total length.
Is that a girl prawn, or a boy prawn on my plate?
Spot prawns are protandric hermaphroditic meaning that each prawn initially matures as a male and then passes through a transition stage to become a female. In British Columbia, spot prawns usually live for about 4 years, starting their lives as males and maturing at one year of age. They function as mature males for 2 years and then transform into females in their final year of life. [So, that had nothing to do with eating spot prawns, but the biology geek in me just had to share!]
What do the conservationist have to say about spot prawns?
Wild, trap-caught, B.C. spot prawns are a SeaChoice “Best Choice” option based on the five sustainability criteria used for our fisheries assessments: inherent vulnerability to fishing pressure; status of wild stocks; nature and extent of discarded bycatch; effect of fishing practices on habitats and ecosystems; and effectiveness of the management regime. Horray – guilt free dining!
MOST IMPORTANTLY: What do spot prawns taste like?
The spot prawn is known for its sweet, delicate flavour (without a hint of fishiness) and firm texture. The fresh spot prawns I have had this year are amongst the best prawns I have ever eaten. Spot prawns are nothing like the bland and mushy tiger prawns that are imported here from asia. Vancouver magazine named spot prawns their 2008 Ingredient Of The Year.
So, did you eat them or what?
Oh, I ate them. And ate them again. Let’s recap the last few weeks:
Meal #1 – Fine Dining: Spot Prawn Spaghetti
This was part of an overall stellar meal at Zambri’s – a victoria restaurant institution, and one of my favorite places to have dinner. This dish was very simple and very very delicious. Think fried hot peppers and golden garlic, some bread crumbs, the prawns and a whole lot of browned butter. Divine.
Meal #2 – Homemade – BBQ Spot Prawn Scampi
A few weeks after the meal at Zambri’s I found myself on the docks in Lund, a little town on the Sunshine Coast. I was in Powell River visiting my friends Janet and Graham, who also happen to love good food. Graham took me down to a boat where we bought 2 pounds of live spot prawns for $12!
Taking my precious cargo home, we put the prawns in a pot and into the fridge, hoping the cold would stun them. This gave me a chance to check out the prawns in more detail. They are surprisingly colourful, and have a wicked sharp serrated beak/nose–something to be careful of if you are handling them in your home.
From the fridge they went right onto the BBQ for a few minutes, while I prepped this scampi sauce (hmmm… maybe I love spot prawn season because I also love butter!?). From the BBQ, the were heaped on a platter and instantly devoured by five hungry people. Nobody seemed to mind taking the heads off – it’s surprisingly easy, and kind of satisfying in a “eat what you kill way”. Don’t forget to keep the heads and the shells for stock.
Meal #3 – TENTATIVE: Garganelli Pasta with Spot Prawns and a Lemon and Thyme Butter Sauce
I still have a few weeks before the close of the spot prawn season. I’m thinking of trying this recipe put together by Vancouver chef Rob Feenie. Who wants to come over?
ps – Graham also shared some of this stilton (fresh off the plane from England), which was so very yum – the perfect blend of sharp and smooth (and yes, I broke my own “no cow cheese rule” just for a little bit of this imported beauty.
This is a copy of a letter from Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. USA [VMI -1906, West Point -1908, Killed on Okinawa, 18 June 1945] to Major General Wm. D. Connor, superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point – 30 March 1937. It pays homage to the Mint Julep far better than I ever could.
My Dear General Conner:
Your letter requesting my formula for mixing mint juleps leaves me in the same position in which Captain Barber found himself when asked how he was able to carve the image of an elephant from a block of wood. He said that it was a simple process consisting merely of whittling off the part that didn’t look like an elephant!
The preparation of the quintessence of gentlemanly beverages can be described only in like terms. A mint julep is not a product of a formula. It is a ceremony and must be performed by a gentleman possessing a true sense of the artistic; a deep reverence for the ingredients and a proper appreciation of the occasion. It is a rite that must not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician nor a Yankee!. It is a heritage of the Old South; an emblem of hospitality and a vehicle in which noble minds can travel together upon the flower-strewn paths of a happy and congenial thought.
So far as the mere mechanics of the operation are concerned, the procedure, stripped of its ceremonial embellishments, can be described as follows:
Go to a spring where cool, crystal-clear water bubbles from under a bank of dew-washed ferns; in a consecrated vessel, dip up a little water at the source. Follow the stream thru its banks of green moss and wild flowers until it broadens and trickles thru beds of mint growing in aromatic profusion and waving softly in the summer breeze. Gather the sweetest and tenderest shoots and gently carry them home. Go to the sideboard and select a decanter of Kentucky Bourbon distilled by a master hand, mellowed with age, yet still vigorous and inspiring. An ancestral sugar bowl, a row of silver goblets, some spoons and some ice and you are ready to start.
Into a canvas bag, pound twice as much ice as you think you will need. Make it fine as snow, keep it dry and do not allow it to degenerate into slush.
Into each goblet, put a slightly heaping teaspoonful of granulated sugar, barely cover this with spring water and slightly bruise one mint leaf into this, leaving the spoon in the goblet. Then pour elixir from the decanter until the goblets are about one-fourth full. Fill the goblets with snowy ice, sprinkling in a small amount of sugar as you fill. Wipe the outside of the goblets dry, and embellish copiously with mint.
Then comes the delicate and important operation of frosting. By proper manipulation of the spoons, the ingredients are circulated and blended until nature, wishing to take a further hand and add another of its beautiful phenomena, encrusts the whole in a glistening coat of white frost; thus, harmoniously blended by the deft touches of a skilled hand, you have a beverage eminently appropriate for honorable men and beautiful women.
When all is ready, assemble your guests on the porch or in the garden where the aroma of the juleps will rise heavenward and make the birds sing. Propose a worthy toast, raise the goblets to your lips, bury your nose in the mint, inhale a deep breath of its fragrance and sip the nectar of the gods!
Being overcome with thirst, I can write no further.
Sincerely, Lt. Gen. S.B. Buckner, Jr. VMI Class of 1906
While I aspire to Buckerner’s Julep set-up, I had to improvise in my own home today, with this recipe, which was in fact, delicious.
I’ve been cooking and eating Coq au Vin for as long as I’ve been cooking and that’s a pretty long time. It is not only quintessentially French, but fabulously delicious and dead easy to make. But, just like my most recent exploration of Coquilles St. Jacques, I wanted to reinvent the dish. I wanted to preserve the flavour while updating the presentation. I think I hit the right notes, but I’ll leave it to you to judge.
In order to know where you’re going you have to know where you’ve been. The traditional Coq au Vin is a tough old rooster braised with mushrooms in red wine, flavoured with the holy trinity of cooking, the mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery), seasoned with a little salt, pepper, thyme and just a bit of bacon. That’s it… that’s the whole recipe. How can something so simple be such a venerated icon of culinary history? The simple answer is flavour. Coq au Vin as endured because these humble ingredients combine to create one of the most satisfying meals in any cook’s culinary repertoire.
I really wondered if I should mess with perfection. I was certain I couldn’t improve on the original, but I was certain I could capture the essence of the dish and still inject my own gastronomic sensibility. So, where to start?
No matter how many times I make Coq au Vin, I always struggle over the decision of what to serve it with. Traditionally, there are potatoes cooked in the braising liquid and the dish is served as a stew. I have also served it ladled over egg noodles and rice. I have even substituted toasted slabs of garlic-rubbed French bread for the starch component. Today I considered serving it over potato gnocchi but finally settled on roasted vegetables… carrots, new potatoes and shallots tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and a couple sprigs of thyme. So simple, yet so satisfying.
The next question was “what to do with the old bird?” I could have braised a stewing hen or a capon, but I really didn’t want all the bulk that comes with the skin. Sure, skin means flavour, but there are lots of ways to inject flavour. I decided on boneless, skinless thighs. Blasphemy you say? Patience, patience… you’ll see.
And what about the sauce? In the traditional version, the “sauce” is the product of hours of braising… rich, thick and flavourful. But how can you recreate all that flavour without all those hours? Yes, we can! And, here’s how.
Coq au Vin 2 – Son of the Rooster
- 4 carrots, cut into 2 inch lengths
- 4 shallots, peeled but left whole
- 8 new potatoes, cut in half
- 2 sprigs of thyme
Toss vegetables and thyme in olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes.
- 8 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into ½ inch strips
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- Combine flour, salt and pepper. Dredge chicken strips in flour mixture. Set aside.
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 lb mushrooms, halve or quarter to bite sized pieces if mushrooms are large
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped fine
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 4 strips of bacon, chopped into ½ pieces
- salt and pepper to taste
In a sauté pan, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon and leave fat in the pan.
If necessary add a little olive oil to make about 2 tablespoons of fat. Add chicken strips in a single, uncrowded layer. Sautee for about two minutes, until browned and turn to brown the other side – about another two minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add mushrooms to pan and sauté until lightly browned. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add chopped celery, carrots and onions to pan and sauté until softened. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add wine to pan to deglaze, scraping the brown bits off the bottom. Return bacon, chicken and mushrooms to pan. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.
The flour from the chicken should be enough to thicken the sauce, but if necessary add a paste of flour and butter to the pan and cook until thickened. Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve over roasted vegetables.
So there you have it. The flavour lost from the skin and bones of an old coq are replaced, at least partially by the rich caramelized flavours developed in the pan by sautéing the chicken and roasting the vegetables. Instead of a stew, this is more of a thick sauce.
Would I do it this way again? Absolutely. Would I do it this way for a big group? Never. The Dutch oven is the perfect tool when feeding a crowd. The stovetop was ideal for a dinner for two or four.
I think I will always make Coq au Vin, but I won’t always make it the same way. Maybe next time I’ll use cippolini onions and serve it with potato gnocchi.