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.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14th and it is a religious feast day honouring an early Christian martyr Saint Valentine of Rome. Valentine’s Day first became associated with a medieval ideal of romance, armour clad knights, perilous quests, beautiful maidens, the Arthur and Guinevere ‘ please honour me with a token of thy affection sweet lady and I shall boldly go forth and slay the curmudgeonly dragon ’ in the fourteenth century but fortunately by the eighteenth century it had become a much more civilised and lets face it safer occasion marked by people in love sending cards know as ‘valentines’. Obviously, we would all go kill a murderous mythical creature for our loved ones it’s just sometimes popping to Paperchase for a card is easier. Other gifts for the romantically inclined included flowers, confectionary, and St. Valentine’s Keys to unlock the recipient’s heart. The Victorians as ever over-egged the pudding and are responsible for the surfeit of hearts, doves, lacy frills ( on the cards at least ) and flocks of winged Cupids.
Undoubtedly one of the worlds great romantics was the Italian Giacomo Girolamo Casanova who when he wasn’t gambling, fighting, spying, studying the occult and generally hanging around with Voltaire, Mozart, Goethe, Madame de Pompadour, Rousseau and innumerable aristocrats was something of a lady’s man. The stories, many told it has to be said by himself, recount numerous amorous adventures and this probably explains why it is said he would consume up to fifty oysters for breakfast as an aphrodisiac. *
Oysters served chilled
The reason oysters were considered an aphrodisiac had been put down to the zinc levels which handily for you lusty feeling folk are highest in early spring. Then in March 2005, a group of American and Italian researchers presented a paper to the American Chemical Society following a study into molluscs such as clams and mussels that were rich in a series of rare amino acids that triggered increased levels of hormones in mice. There was a huge interest in the research but really no proof of the effect from eating oysters directly, in fact, Nancy Amy, a nutritionist, and toxicologist at the University of California provided another theory “There’s an amazing placebo effect with aphrodisiacs,” she said. “It’s very culturally specific and there’s no scientific evidence, but if you think it’s going to work, then there’s already a 50 percent chance that it will.” Enough said.
*Casanova retired from adventuring and took up the position of librarian to a Bohemian Count, perhaps he relished a quieter life but it somewhat dispels the image we have of shy, retiring bookworms.
Oysters are eaten raw traditionally with lemon, Tabasco or a spoon of Migonette, a mix of very finely diced shallots, cracked black pepper and wine vinegar or they can be lightly baked or grilled. There are a number of classic grilled oyster recipes such as with garlic butter, oysters Rockefeller with spinach and pastis, oysters Kilpatrick with Worcestershire sauce and crisp bacon or glazed with buttery, tangy Bearnaise sauce. Alternatively, oysters can be deep-fried in in tempura batter or covered in breadcrumbs for the Southern favourite oyster Po’boy.
So, while I cannot guarantee that this recipe will have you swinging from the lampshade in leopard skin briefs it’s really rather nice and tasty and uses some really nice Jersey ingredients ( you kind use your own local alternatives ). The oysters are gratinated with a crisp mix of fresh herbs, savoury biscuit crumbs, and Jersey Blue soft cheese which creamy and slightly tangy taste accentuates the salty ozone flavour of the Jersey oysters. The very light continental style beer, Liberation Blonde provides the base for a refreshing dressing to the baked oysters and chilled is an ideal accompaniment. You can substitute these with a local cheese and beer of your choice and you won’t be disappointed.
Grilled Oysters Blonde and Blue
Grilled Jersey Oysters ‘Blonde and Blue’ serves 2 or 3
1 teaspoon each of the following, finely chopped Chives, Chervil and Parsley
If you have a friendly fishmonger you can ask him to shuck or open your oysters for you before taking them home to cook and serve. If not, you first need to open your oysters and loosen them from their shells. Set each opened oyster down on a small mound of rock salt, on a baking tray. Remove the rind from your cheese and finely dice, divide evenly onto the oysters. Mix the herbs with the finely crushed biscuit crumbs and sprinkle over the cheese-topped oysters.
For the dressing simmer the chopped shallots with the white wine vinegar, cayenne, and a little water until the shallots start to soften but retain a little bite. Evaporate almost all of the liquid. Chill. When cold add the Blonde beer. Grill the oysters for 3 to 4 minutes under a medium grill until the cheese starts to bubble and the crumb mix browns. Serve topped with a little dressing, extra chopped herbs and the remaining dressing as a side.
What to Drink? Oysters are classically matched with flinty, Chablis or dry Champagne but why not try a Fino Sherry or hoppy Continental-style lagers and light fruity beers.
Coquilles St. Jacques is a classic of French cuisine, gently poached scallops and mushrooms in a rich, cream sauce, garnished with enriched mashed potato and gratinated. It is a real dinner party staple from the 1970’s but definitely none the worse for that, done right Coquilles St. Jacques is a real pleasure to eat. I love scallops and my style of cooking when I first trained definitely used lots of cream and butter so this soon became a favourite dish of mine. Coquilles St. Jacques is still a very popular dish now and always sells out when we put it on the specials boards in any of the restaurants I work in.
Coquillies St. Jaques
Coquilles St. Jacques serves 6
The great thing for the home cook is Coquilles St. Jacques can be prepared early, left on the shells and chilled then baked later for five or ten minutes longer than indicated in the recipe below. Be careful when poaching the scallops to not overcook as they can soon go rubbery.
For Mashed Potatoes
800 gr King Edward potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons salted Butter
2 tablespoons Double Cream
1 Egg Yolk
A pinch of freshly grated Nutmeg
Sea Salt and freshly ground White Pepper
For Scallop filling
12 Scallops, trimmed and patted dry on kitchen paper
Place the potatoes into a large pan and cover with water and add a half teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil and cook the potatoes for twenty minutes until tender. Remove from the heat and drain, return to the pan and put back on the heat to steam dry for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat again and the pass through a moulis. Add the butter, cream, egg yolk, and nutmeg and beat in to thoroughly combine and season with salt and pepper. Set aside in a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip.
In a medium saucepan bring the water, wine, bouquet garni, and lemon juice to a low boil. Carefully add the scallops, and simmer for three minutes. Remove the scallops with a slotted spoon and set aside on kitchen paper. Drop the mushrooms into the simmering cooking liquid and cook for ten minutes. Remove from the heat and strain out the mushrooms keeping the cooking liquid.
Melt the butter in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the shallots, cook over a moderate heat until very soft, but not coloured, stir in the flour to make a roux. Cookout for a couple of minutes until golden then whisk in the hot scallop poaching liquid. Add the cream and vermouth and cookout covered with a cartouche on the lowest possible simmer. After half an hour taste to see if the floury texture is cooked out and season as required. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Slice the scallops in half lengthwise and add to the sauce with the mushrooms and chives.
Preheat your oven to 180 C / 350 F / Gas Mark 4. Spoon the filling into six scallop shells or small gratin dishes and pipe around the edge with the mashed potatoes. Place on a baking sheet and sprinkle with the cheese and top with the breadcrumbs then bake in the oven for about fifteen minutes, until the cheese and potatoes are golden brown. Carefully remove from the oven and serve.
It really is time for me to celebrate a little more of this wonderful island’s amazing produce and what better than diver-caught scallops. Scallops are probably my favourite seafood and very versatile from the classic Coquilles St. Jacques to Asian influenced recipes such as my own Sesame crusted Scallops. This recipe is a marriage made in heaven, sweet pan-seared scallops, a lightly spiced, well-seasoned sweet potato purée and pungent rich braised Chorizo sausage. This is warming indulgent dish ideal on a crisp cold winters day.
Pan-seared Scallops with Braised Chorizo
Chorizo is one of my favourite ingredients and would certainly be a candidate for my Desert Island list of ingredients along with anchovies and Sherry vinegar. In this recipe, it is almost cooked confit style in slowly simmering oil. You do not need to use a full flavoured oil to braise the Chorizo in, as the cooking process releases the wonderful flavours of garlic and sweet paprika from the sausage. Any extra Chorizo can be stored in the refrigerator covered in the oil. It is a wonderful base for Paella, a stuffing for chicken breasts and as a garnish for winter soups such as Butternut Squash.
Sauté Scallops, Sweet Potato and Coriander Purée with braised Chorizoserves 4
16 diver caught Scallops ( ask your fishmonger to prepare them )
Dice the Chorizo sausage into pieces around the size of your little fingernail. Place in a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan and cover with olive oil. Place over the lowest possible heat and cook for at least an hour and a half until soft. Periodically skim the surface to remove any impurities. Keep the heat as low as possible to prevent burning. If you have gas a pilot light is ideal or the corner of an Aga, you just want the gentlest of simmers. Once cooked allow to cool thoroughly, the Chorizo can be made prior to cooking, stored in the refrigerator and gently warmed through just before plating up.
For the Scallops and Sweet Potato
In a medium heavy-bottomed pan place the sweet potato dice, ginger, coriander and half a teaspoon of salt. Cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for twenty minutes and strain, place back on the heat for two minutes and steam dry. Pass through a Ricer, Moulis or fine sieve to produce a smooth purée. Return again to the pan add one generous knob of butter and the cream, stir and correct seasoning by adding salt and pepper to your taste. Keep warm over a low heat.
In a heavy-bottomed frying pan melt the butter and olive oil over a high heat. Season the prepared scallops immediately before cooking not before as they can discolour. Place carefully in the pan and sauté for one to two minutes until the scallops are golden brown and the edges caramelising. Turnover and cook for one more minute.
Place a spoonful of the sweet potato purée in the centre of the plate and top with a tiny handful of salad leaves. Arrange scallops and spoon over braised Chorizo and serve.