Prawn Bisque

I’m what you might call an abstemious cook, thanks to Scottish genes from my paternal grandmother and waste not want not mentality from my mother, who spent the Second World War in Malta with strict rationing.

Throwing away food – unless it’s gone off – is something I can’t bear to do. A few tired looking vegies in the bottom of the fridge? In no time you can convert them into a delicious cream of vegetable soup. My kids tell me they’ve inherited this trait, so they must be strong genes.

On the shelves of a Bed and Breakfast in rural France I once found a very old hand-written recipe book. I copied out lots of recipes, including this delicious soup made entirely from prawn heads and tails. I had always hated throwing out juicy prawn heads and tails and since acquiring this recipe I don’t have to.

Next time you buy some big fat prawns – cooked or raw – save the heads and tails in a bag in the freezer and keep adding to them. I know there are rules about refreezing things, but if you use very fresh prawns and get them into the freezer ASAP you won’t have a problem. I’ve been doing it for years and I’m still here to tell the tale. If you prefer not to freeze them, you can always make the bisque straight away, but I never seem to have enough prawn heads when I have time to cook. The recipe isn’t all that time-consuming, but it’s not something I would do on a mid-week evening while trying to prepare dinner.

When you have enough in the bag and a quiet weekend make this scrumptious soup. It will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days, or can be frozen for several months. Freeze it without the cream, then add the cream when you thaw and reheat it. Serve it as a soup or as a sauce for scallops, fish, prawns or prawn-filled wontons.

Once when we were living in Chile we had a power cut which lasted two days. The only thing Matthew was worried about was getting the Prawn Bisque across town and into the custody of a friend whose freezer was still working.

This is one of my top ten recipes of all times – just as good as a seafood bisque seved in a top French restaurant – so do try it.

Prawn Bisque2 kg prawn heads and tails
125g butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 onions, chopped
1 cup flour
2-3 carrots depending on size, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
750ml white wine
½ cup brandy
1 cup tomato paste
Water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
500ml cream
To serve:
Cream
Croutons (optional)
Chopped parsley

With a sharp knife or cleaver, cut prawn heads in two. Heat butter in a very large heavy-based saucepan, add prawn heads and tails and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add onions and garlic and continue to cook, stirring until softened. Add flour and stir for a minute or two until cooked. Add carrots, celery, wine, brandy, tomato paste, salt and pepper and enough water to cover everything.

Simmer covered for between one and one and a half hours, stirring often (especially the bottom so it doesn’t stick), pushing down with a potato masher to help remove all the flavour from the prawns and topping up the water level as it evaporates.

Strain soup through a sieve in batches, pressing down hard on solids then discarding them. To serve, reheat with cream. Adjust seasoning and serve garnished with a swirl of cream, croutons (if using – I didn’t in the photo) and chopped parsley.

Serves 12

Notes:

  • To make a hearty main course soup, serve in large bowls and add cubes of oven roasted pumpkin, whole cooked prawns, chopped parsley and croutons.
  • Before adding cream you can freeze this soup in one container. To serve, thaw, reheat with the cream and adjust seasoning.
  • You can also freeze it in several smaller plastic containers to use as a delicious sauce with home-made seafood ravioli, pan fried white fish or scallops.

Zucchini Spaghetti

Make healthy low-carb “spaghetti” from zucchini, carrots and other vegetables using a Zyliss Julienne Slicer/Peeler. This gadget is really easy to use as you can see from this you tube video. In Canberra you can buy them at the Essential Ingredient.

To serve as a vegetable, stir-fry quickly in a frying pan in a little oil or butter then add seasoning, herbs and maybe a dollop of sour cream. Or use the “spaghetti” in salads or to make this delicious stir fry with prawns.

Zucchini Spaghetti with Prawns

4-6 medium to DSCF0878large zucchini (courgettes)
⅓ cup olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried chilli flakes) or use some fresh chilli
Salt and freshly ground pepper
400g peeled green prawns, tails intact (weight after peeling)
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
To serve:
Extra Virgin olive oil
1 small red chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced

Heat oil in a large frying pan or wok on medium-high heat. Add garlic, chilli, salt and pepper and cook stirring for a minute. Add prawns and continue to cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes or until prawns turn pink and are nearly cooked. Add the “spaghetti” and continue to stir fry for a minute or until prawns are cooked and spaghetti is ” al dente ” Add parsley and serve drizzled with a little oil and garnished with a little extra chilli.

Serves 4

Seafood Coleslaw

I never travel without a small notebook in my bag, so I can make notes when I eat anything tasty or unusual. Dissection on the plate is usually enough to work out the main ingredients. This is my take on a delicious salad we ate at a café at Copenhagen airport last month. Light, healthy and summery, this recipe ticks all the boxes.

Seafood sticks or seafood extender as they are also known is something I rarely buy. I know they’re totally artificial – by which I mean they’re made from an inexpensive white fish and don’t contain any seafood –  but they work quite well in this recipe. If preferred use double the amount of chopped prawns. You can also substitute lobster (crayfish) or crab meat.

Seafood Coleslaw
About 6 cups finely shredded white cabbage
3 spring onions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
1 large apple, cored, thinly sliced, then cut into fine julienne
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1/3 cup flaked or slivered blanched almonds
150g seafood sticks (seafood extender)
350g large cooked prawns
¼ cup olive oil
1 Tbs cider vinegar or lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup pomegranate seeds (see note below)
Extra virgin olive oil

Place cabbage, spring onions and apple in a salad bowl. Place sesame seeds and almonds in a dry frying pan and stir over moderate heat until very lightly toasted. Cool then add to the salad bowl.

Peel all the prawns, leaving the tail and head on four (just remove shell from body) to use as garnish and slicing the rest – not too small. Cut seafood sticks into julienne. Shake oil, vinegar or lemon juice, sugar, mustard and seasoning in a jar then add to salad and mix well. Taste and add more salt or pepper if necessary. Divide salad between four individual plates. Arrange one whole prawn on each serving and sprinkle the pomegranate seeds around. If liked drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.

Serves 4

Note: Fresh pomegranates are only in season for a very short time, so I used pomegranate seeds from Costco which I had frozen. I sprinkled them on when they were still frozen as they thaw very fast and I didn’t want them to go mushy. You could substitute dried cranberries, for that splash of red.

Prawn Cakes with Corn Salsa

One of my foodie friends Karen sent me the link to this recipe for Seductive Little Shrimp Cakes. It comes from a book called Tacolicious by Sara Deseran and was recently reposted by Ruth Reichl. American-style, it calls for shrimp, which you can’t buy in Australia, so I used prawns and made a couple of other small adjustments.

Prawn Cakes with Corn Salsa750g cooked prawns (about 375g peeled)
1 egg
Juice of half a lime
1 stick celery
3 spring onions
Handful of parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp celery salt or garlic salt
3 Tbs mayonnaise
1 Tbs juice from a jar of jalapeño chillies
1 cup Panko crumbs + extra (see note below)
Oil for shallow frying
Corn Salsa:
3 cobs corn
2 large tomatoes
1 Lebanese cucumber
½ red onion
1 jalapeño chilli from a jar
Juice half a lime
1 tsp salt

Place peeled prawns in food processor and pulse briefly to chop but still leave some chunky bits. Scrape into a large bowl and mix in the egg and lime juice. Place celery and spring onions – cut into 3cm lengths – in food processor Add parsley and pulse to chop finely. Scrape into the bowl with prawns. Mix in celery or garlic salt, mayonnaise, jalapeño juice and Panko crumbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place some extra Panko crumbs on a plate. Take about a heaped tablespoon of mixture and form into a small cake with your hands. Roll in the crumbs and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. You should end up with 12-14 little cakes. Refrigerate for an hour or several hours. If only an hour, no need to cover, but if longer cover with plastic wrap.

Cut the kernels from the corn and place in a bowl. Quarter tomatoes, remove seeds and dice. Add to the bowl with the diced cucumber, red onion and chilli. Add lime juice and salt and leave to macerate. Taste before serving to see if it needs more salt.

Heat 1-2 tablespoons oil in a frying pan and cook the prawn cakes for about 3 minutes each side. Serve with the salsa.

Serves 4

Note: Panko crumbs are Japanese-style breadcrumbs. Very light and crunchy, they’re a good addition to your pantry. Sold in most supermarkets – ask if you can’t find them – or substitute ordinary dry breadcrumbs.

Scallops with Black Bean Dressing

When Tetsuya Wakuda opened his restaurant Tetsuya’s in Sydney in 1989 it was a culinary breath of fresh air and Australians were literally wowed. By combining French cooking techniques he had learnt while working at Kinsela’s for Tony Bilson with the pure clean flavours of his heritage this smiley Japanese chef was an overnight success.

The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide gave Tetsuya’s their highest possible award every year from 1992 until 2009. Not bad for a guy who arrived in Sydney in 1982 with nothing more than a small suitcase and a love of food.

This delicious starter appeared in a newspaper article about Tetsuya some 20 years ago and I cut it out. I’ve been making it ever since and it always goes down well. Scallops are quite expensive but three per person is enough for a light starter.

Scallops with Black Bean Dressing

24 large scallops, without roe
1 leek, white part only, cut into fine julienne
oil to fry
3 Nori sheets, very finely sliced*

Dressing:
¾ cup vegetable or light olive oil
¼ cup salted black beans, finely chopped*
¼ cup finely chopped shallots
3 Tbs rice wine vinegar*
2 Tbs mirin*
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Tbs fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped
1 tsp soy sauce

Thaw scallops if frozen and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Place dressing ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake well. Taste and add a bit more rice wine vinegar if necessary, to get the right balance. Deep fry leeks in hot oil until crispy then drain on paper towels. Recipe can be made ahead to this stage.

To serve, arrange the nori “straw” on 8 serving plates. Brush or lightly spray scallops on both sides with some oil, then sear on a hot pan or griddle for 1-2 minutes each side or until golden. Arrange three scallops on each plate, drizzle with some of the dressing, then garnish with the crispy leeks.

Serves 8

Notes: * ingredients marked with an asterisk are available from Asian food stores. Leftover dressing will keep for a week or two in the fridge and goes well with grilled fish or chicken. The black beans come in tins or packets. If you buy them in a tin, drain and rinse well. Large raw prawns can be used instead of scallops and if you don’t have any nori, serve on a bed of finely shredded rocket.

Preparing ahead

The secret to stress-free entertaining is having as much as possible prepared before the guests arrived.  Last night two couples we hadn’t seen for some time joined us for dinner, so I chose a menu which involved a couple of hours of preparation, but would leave me free to enjoy their company.

We started off with Prawn, Avocado and Tomato Tian with Green Shallot Dressing, adapted from a recipe by Curtis Stone which uses crab rather than prawns.  Crab is expensive and often difficult to find, whereas cooked prawns are readily available and often on special.  I had all the elements ready in the fridge and just had to assemble the tians before we sat down.  In Curtis Stone’s recipe he used beefsteak tomatoes and managed to cut circles for the tops of the tians.  My tomatoes weren’t big enough, so I had to use several pieces.

Prawn, Avocado and Tomato Tian with Green Shallot Dressing

Prawn Layer
1 kg cooked prawns, shelled and deveined (about 500g shelled weight)
Juice of 1/2 a lemon or one lime
2 Tbs mayonnaise, preferably home-made
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Avocado Layer
3 ripe avocados
1/2 red onion, very finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 a lemon or one lime
2 Tbs mayonnaise, preferably home-made
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Tomato Layer:
6-8 large ripe tomatoes
Salt flakes, such as Maldon
Olive oil
Green Shallot Dressing
4 spring onions, mostly the green tops
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup white wine or white balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place prawns in food processor.  Pulse a few times to chop roughly but still leave some large chunky bits.  Mix with remaining ingredients for prawn layer, cover and refrigerate until serving time.  Peel and dice avocados and mix with remaining ingredients, cover and refrigerate.  Cover tomatoes with boiling water for 1-2 minutes.  Refresh under a cold tap, then cut a cross on the bottoms and remove skins.  Cut tops off the tomatoes – just far enough down so you get rid of where the stalk was – then remove all seeds and pulp and discard.  It’s easier to do this if you make a cut down the side of the tomato.  You should be left with just the outer layer of each tomato in one large piece which you can flatten out.  Place on a plate lined with paper towel and refrigerate.  Place all ingredients for dressing in food processor, process until smooth, then place in a small jug or a bottle with a squirty top.

Just before serving time use stacking rings to assemble the tians – prawn layer, then avocado layer.  If you’re only making six servings you will have some prawn and avocado leftover.  Lastly cut pieces of tomato to cover the top – doesn’t matter if it’s like a jigsaw puzzle.  Brush tomato with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a few flakes of salt.  Drizzle some dressing around each tian, lift off the rings and serve.

Serves 6-8

For the main course I served lamb cutlets with mint pesto.  Crunchy roast potatoes and pea puree went down well with this.  Boil the halved potatoes until they are almost done, then drain, place on baking paper on an oven tray and spray with oil.  You can do them ahead to this stage, then just bake for about half an hour or so in a hot oven until brown and crispy.  For the peas boil half a kilo of frozen peas in salted water.  When tender blitz in the food processor with a lump of butter and about 2 Tbs of cream.  Season to taste then push the puree through a sieve.  This can also be done ahead and reheated in the microwave in a covered bowl.  For each serving put a circle of pea puree in the centre of the plate, then arrange two potatoes (propped up against each other looks good) and two lamb cutlets on top,  with a blob of mint pesto on each cutlet.   You will have to cook the cutlets at the last minute but they don’t take long.  Just season then pan fry in a tiny amount of olive oil for 2-3 minutes each side.

Mint Pesto

1 bunch mint, washed, leaves removed
2 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 tsp honey
1 clove garlic, crushed
Between 1/4 and 1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 Tbs white balsamic vinegar or lemon juice

Place mint, Parmesan, pine nuts, honey and garlic in food processor and process until chunky, stopping once to scrape down the sides.  Add oil through the feed chute with the motor running.  Stop when you have a thick spoonable pesto, then lastly add vinegar or lemon juice and seasoning to taste.  It should be slightly chunky, not completely smooth.  Place pesto in a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  The top with darken, but if you give it a quick mix it will be a nice bright green when you serve it.

We finished off with individual Pineapple and Pepper Tarte Tatins – the usual butter and sugar caramel, but the pineapple rings were seasoned with coarsely ground black pepper – served with vanilla icecream.