I’ve recently featured a lot of soup recipes. From a really tasty store cupboard classic to a spicy Thai inspired coconut fish soup. In the run-up to Christmas I’ve just time for one more, a rich Shellfish Bisque. Now as you would expect living on an island and working as a chef, I have recipes for lots of different shellfish bisque recipes. Traditionally a bisque is a French soup. You can make your shellfish bisque can be made from lobster, crab, prawns, and crayfish. The shells are used to make a stock and then you incorporate the meat into the finished soup.
What is the difference between soup and bisque?
Bisque is thought to have derived from either the word Biscay, as in Bay of Biscay. Biscay is famous for oysters and other shellfish. Alternatively, the name could have evolved from the shellfish being twice cooked, in French, “bis cuites”. Certainly, when I make crab or lobster bisques in commercial kitchens the shells are first roasted lightly, then simmered with vegetables and herbs before being strained. Traditionally a bisque is thickened by grinding up the shells and you need some pretty powerful industrial food processors to accomplish this. At home, you can thicken with flour or adding a handful of rice to the cooking stock. The name bisque is now often used for thick and creamy roasted vegetable soups.
I have slightly altered the recipe to allow for the fact the most household food processors are not built to break up extremely tough crab shells. Using prawns gives a slightly sweeter if less intensely minerally flavoured soup but it is never the less a real show stopper. This would be an ideal start to your Christmas day dinner.
See what I did there another terrible pun. But I remember the village fetes when I was growing up and there was always a coconut shy. You aimed a small hard wooden ball to knock down coconuts and win a prize. The only other time I encountered coconut in my childhood was the giant box of Bassett’s Liquorish Allsorts at Christmas. I ate far too many and was violently ill. It then took years to be able to stomach anything coconut flavoured. Thankfully I now like coconut in curries, desserts and love coconut sorbet. So I am not really happy to bring you this very tasty recipe for Thai Coconut Fish Soup. I still think desiccated coconut is made from Satan’s hoof clippings.
I love the contrasts and combinations in Thai cooking, salt, sweet, heat and sour. Recipes such as Thai style crab cakes and Seafood Tom Yam. Most of the aromatic ingredients are now available in a good supermarket or specialist Asian shop. You can use creamed coconut or coconut milk in the recipe and any seafood you really fancy. I have used monkfish but you can use any firm white fish. You can add prawns, squid, and mussels if you wish. This soup honours the spirit of Thai cooking rather than being wholly authentic so uses key Thai ingredients. There are chillies, galangal, coriander, and garlic flavouring the coconut base.
Thai-style Seafood Soup is a tasty favourite, poached monkfish and prawns, simmered in the spicy coconut broth flavoured with classic Thai ingredients. The kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lemongrass and crispy deep-fried shallots are all available in good Asian retailers or markets.
Now I have already posted how much I adore cooking and eating great seafood. You have to excuse me but come on everyone I live on an island. In Jersey we are graced with some of the most amazing seafood you will eat. Now you may positively love lobster or crave freshly picked crab, but my favourite ( astute readers may have guessed already ) is the succulent scallop. So here is my recipe for Diver caught Scallops with Lentils and Bacon. If you visit Jersey you can also choose mackerel in season, skate, and plaice. If you like shellfish then mussels and oysters are grown in the clear waters around the island. In short, an abundance of fish and shellfish.
Whenever I cook scallops I always think of the actress Uma Thurman stepping out of a gigantic scallop shell. In one of her earliest roles as Venus in the madcap film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, it is a striking piece of cinematography. The whole scene is beautiful and I like to think that this is a beautiful dish. I’m not the most refined and elegant cook but this is really a simple but stunning recipe. It pairs the sweet scallops and tomatoes with a hint of smoke and saltiness from the bacon.
The Wine Choice –There are an awful lot of flavours and textures in this dish, so we need a wine that has similar attributes. The strongest flavour on the plate is going to be the bacon but if we choose a red to match solely to that we lose the delicacy and subtle sweetness of the scallops. Likewise, if we match a delicate white purely for the scallops we risk the wine being overpowered by the savoury bacon and sweet tomato flavours. A Sancerre Rosé, made from the Pinot Noir grape, dry with aromas of strawberries and gooseberries covers all the bases.
Scallops with Lentils and Bacon is ideal as a fantastically tasty starter or suitably scintillating summery lunch or supper served with crusty French bread.
Who knows why food or for that matter anything goes out of fashion? I understand the immense commercial pressures that drive constant changing styles as a means to generate more sales but classics are, well exactly that, and need to be cooked and promoted and certainly not overlooked and left in dusty recipe books on cobwebbed shelves. Please don’t get me wrong I am not a culinary Luddite ( I have a food blog ! ) but from previous posts, you will see I am somewhat of a classic recipe champion. I guess today’s dish was overtaken by the wave of fusion cooking combining Asian style ingredients with traditional western cooking techniques. A Thai green curry of some description almost became ubiquitous on every restaurant menu and Thai style mussels were no exception. The precursor of the Thai curried mussel was the traditional French dish Mouclade.
Mouclade – Curried Mussels
My memories of back street family run bistros with Formica tables and BYO drinking ( Bring Your Own, normally from the off licence just down the street ) was that the dining was strictly hit and miss. Of course, the memory of the successes carries on, I remember eating a simple pan-fried cod’s roe with lemon, parsley, and brown butter in a Greek style taverna in Charing Cross that really hit the spot and Mouclade in a tiny two storey French café/bar just behind my student accommodation in Huddersfield*. You cannot really get any further from the sea than Huddersfield or perhaps anywhere less Gallic than a Yorkshire mill town but oh those mussels. And what’s not to like with Mouclade, plump, salty, full of flavour mussels in a bowl of creamy lightly spiced sauce with mountains of crusty bread.
The following recipe for Mouclade is my adaptation of the classic recipe, the fish stock adding depth and richness to the finished sauce and the mango chutney a touch of sweetness. You can use white wine, but I think the finished result with the cider adding a touch of necessary acidity is I believe more in keeping with the Brittany origins of the dish. The saffron may seem a little extravagant but the resulting colour is glorious. If you wish to make a somewhat simpler version of Mouclade, you can omit the egg yolks just add the cream and boil to reduce the sauce before returning to the mussels and serving.
*I have eaten the dish since in France and it was just as good, well almost!
Mouclade serves up to 6 people
Around 2 kilos fresh Mussels ( about 400 gr to 650 gr of mussels per person )
A good handful of Coriander, washed, dried and roughly chopped
Juice of 2 freshly squeezed lemons
Freshly ground Black Pepper
In a very large heavy bottomed pan melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the leeks, garlic, and thyme and sauté for at least ten minutes to soften them. Turn up the heat and add the fish stock, cider, curry powder, mango chutney and a good few turns of the pepper mill. Bring to a simmer and cook for ten more minutes, stirring regularly. Then tip in the mussels and cover with tight-fitting lid. Steam the mussels for five minutes shaking the pan occasionally until the mussels are all open. Meanwhile in a small bowl whisk together the egg yolks, lemon juice, saffron, and cream.
Remove the mussels from the heat and strain off the cooking liquor, replace the lid and keep warm. Heat the liquor in a smaller pan until it starts to simmer and add the cream and egg mix, continuously stirring and cook for two more minutes. Do not boil as the sauce will curdle, just gently simmer until it starts to thicken and goes glossy. Add the sauce back to the mussels, stir to coat all the mussels, finish with the chopped coriander and serve.