#435 Shellfish Puffs

Here’s quite an involved recipe from the book that requires several techniques, one of which is the making of choux pastry – the one pastry I can’t seem to get right. However, I was asked to cater for a recent dinner party, and I thought this one could work very well because the theme was ‘An Alternative Christmas Dinner’. Prawn cocktail is often served as a starter at Christmas and I thought this hot shellfish starter would be a good alternative. It was more 1970s than prawn cocktail, sounding like a dish you would see crop up in Fanny Cradock book, not in a Jane Grigson tome!

It’s not for the faint-hearted though, aside from the pastry there’s a complex sauce made from the shells, so that means you need to shell your fish yourself to make this one. If you have never done this before, I recommend choosing prawns. Here goes:
First of all, make your choux pastry. Bring to a boil in a pan ¼ pint of hot water, a shy teaspoon of sugar and 2 ½ ounces of butter. Meanwhile, sieve 4 ounces of plain or strong white flour into a bowl; I went for the latter as you get better expansion, though this is not necessarily a good thing, see below.
When everything is boiling, take the pan off the heat, pop in all the flour in one go and make a dough by mixing the whole lot together using a wooden spoon. Put the pan back on the heat again and beat the dough well with your spoon. The dough will soon become waxy and will come away from the bowl. This can take a few minutes, especially if you’re out of practise when it comes to beating thick doughs, as I was.


Let the mixture cool for 5 minutes and beat in 4 eggs one by one, waiting for the previous one to become fully incorporated before adding the next one. Use an electric stand mixer for this if you can, otherwise and electric hand whisk. The dough can be used straight away or covered and cooled and used later.

Prepare some baking trays by lining them with greaseproof paper. Now it’s time to pipe the pastry – Jane gives no indication as to how many we need or what size they should be. I scooped the paste into a piping bag fitted with a large round nozzle and made mounds around 1 inch in diameter. It’s important to raise the piping bag as you dispense the dough so your paste is very domed – you get a better and larger puff that way.
If your piped pastry has little spikes, press them down with a wet finger so they don’t burn and carefully drip on the tray (don’t sprinkle water on the pastry itself though).


Jane now says to bake them for 35 minutes at 230°C which is far too long and too hot as I quickly discovered! I found they baked best at 200°C, becoming golden brown at the 20-minute mark.
Once they are good brown colour, remove them from the oven and cut a slit or make a hole in their bottom with a skewer. Tip them on their side, return them to the oven and turn the heat down to 120°C so that the steam that puffed them up can escape to create a nice crisp interior. Cool on a rack.


As always, whenever I make choux buns, they turned out all different sizes, all looking like clouds rather than perfectly domed profiteroles. However, they were hollow so good enough for me.

Choux buns can be stored in an airtight tub for a week, so you can get all of this done way before the time you want to serve the course.
For the filling, you need a pound of prawns in their shell, or a 1 ½ pound lobster, or a 1 ½ to 2 pound crab(or crabs). I went for prawns as I couldn’t get hold of crab or lobster at either of my favourite fishmongers! In retrospect it was a good thing, as prawns are much easier to shell than lobsters and crabs. My prawns were raw, so I steamed them in a saucepan containing just a few tablespoons of water. This method yielded a delicious, sweet tasting bright-pink liquid. I kept it and added it to the sauce later.

The delicious pink prawn stock


Remove the meat from whatever shellfish you are using and refrigerate it. If using large prawns, as I did, don’t forget to de-vein the blighters. If using crab or lobster don’t forget the precious brown meat and roe (if any).

Now make a sauce with the shells by adding them to around ¾ pint of thin béchamel sauce – Jane doesn’t tell us how to make one, but I heated ¾ pint of milk containing a couple of bay leaves, a blade of mace, some old ends of nutmegs and some crushed black peppercorns. I then made a roux with ½ ounce each of butter and plain flour.

Add the shells to the sauce and allow the sauce to simmer away for 15 minutes. Loads of flavour comes out of the shells, and the sauce turns a beautiful salmon pink colour. Sieve ‘energetically’, says Jane, so I strained the whole thing through a conical sieve, pushing down hard with the underside of a sturdy ladle.

As the sauce simmers, fry 4 ounces of chopped mushrooms with a chopped clove of garlic in 3 ounces of butter.

Add to the sauce: the shellfish meat, the cooked mushrooms, 2 heaped tablespoons each of grated Lancashire cheese and double cream and two egg yolks. Heat the sauce, but don’t let it boil. Season to taste with saltand pepper.
Cut the choux buns in half crosswise and spoon some of the mixture into the bottom half. Deftly replace the lids and serve straight away.
#435 Shellfish Puffs. There were quite a few techniques required in this recipe, but I must say that it was absolutely delicious! The sauce was creamy, sweet and packed-full of umami flavours. Not too sure about the choux buns though, but the kitsch 1970s brief was definitely filled. Jane also suggests filling vol-au-vents with the mixture – I think this would work better than choux pastry, being more sturdy, but equally as old-fashioned. Nevertheless, that filling was great, whatever it was served in, so it gets a 8.5/10 from me.

#421 Scallops with Cheese Sauce

This is a Manx recipe, and Manx recipes have not gone down too well in the past (#390 Isle of Man Herring Pie) stands out as particularly bad, but this one sounded pretty promising. Fish and cheese don’t always work well together, but there are those outstanding exceptions such as cod or lobster with mornay sauce, so there’s hope.
This recipe comes from Suzanne Woolley’s book My Grandmother’s Cookery Book, 50 Manx Recipes, and according to her, scallops are called tanrogen, which actually was ‘the name given to the scallop shell when it was filled with cod oil to provide a lamp for the fishermen. A rush which quickly soaked up the oil, was used for the wick’. I absolutely love happening upon these little forgotten glimpses of past lives. I might even give this it a go, though I might use a different oil…
In Ms Woolley’s grandmother’s day scallops were obviously ten a penny as this recipe requires 18 scallops for six people. As I couldn’t get a remortgage, I just bought enough scallops for a couple of people and adjusted the amounts accordingly.
A smiling scallop with its many tiny black eyes (from divernet.com)

When you go to the fishmonger to collect your eighteen scallops, first check that have been sustainably caught (if they have not, go to another fishmongers), then buy six scallop shells. Make sure you get the concave sides to the shells and not the flat sides.

Trim away any untidy parts to the scallops and remove the corals, setting them to one side. Slice each scallop in half so that there are 36 discs in all.
Next, add to a wide pan a quarter of a pint of fish stock, a quartered onion, a bay leaf and some salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, add the scallops and allow to tick away very gently for five minutes, then add the corals and simmer for a further five minutes.
Towards the end of the cooking time, make a sauce by melting an ounce of butterin a saucepan and stirring in an ounce of flourto make a roux. Cook for a couple of minutes stirring occasionally. Strain away the scallop cooking liquor and beat it into the roux. Keep the scallops warm. Make the sauce a little less thick by adding a little milk. Simmer for ten minutes and then add an ounce of grated Cheddar cheese and a couple of tablespoons of double cream. Check the seasoning, adding more cream if you like.
Arrange six halves of scallop into each scallop shell along with three corals and pour the sauce over each one. Sprinkle each with a little more grated Cheddar and brown very well under the grill.
Jane suggests piping the edges of the shells with mashed potato or lining the shells with pastry and baking them beforehand. I did neither and simply ate mine with crusty bread.
#421 Scallops with Cheese Sauce. At last, a Manx recipe I liked! It had to happen at some point, I suppose. It worked just as well as I thought it would; lovely tender-sweet scallops in a sharp and creamy sauce. The only thing I could think of to improve it would be to add some breadcrumbs fried in butter to the cheese before grilling to add some texture. I made the sauce a little too thin, but that’s easily remedied 8/10.

#281 Scallops with White Wine and Jerusalem Artichokes

If I am going anywhere that is likely to have lots of nice food, I take my copy of now dog-eared English Food along with me in case there is something I don’t expect to see but is required for a recipe. Central Market, the place where I seem to get most of my ingredients from here in Houston, almost always has something unexpected I can use. Today was no exception: I was shopping for some pie ingredients, but also came across some nice Jerusalem artichokes. A quick flick through the book and I found this recipe that combines them with one of my favorite items of seafood, scallops. I was in the mood for treating myself, so I thought this would be a great late lunch dish prefect for these warm days in Houston.
This recipe isn’t one of Jane Grigson’s herself, but from one of her contemporaries and friends Joyce Molyneux, who owned a restaurant called The Carved Angel in Dartmouth. Ms Molyneux adapted the recipe from a recipe she saw for scallop and Jerusalem soup in a book called Four Seasons Cookery Book by a certain Margaret Costa. It’s funny how recipes get changed and passed around, constantly evolving into different dishes.
To make a lunch for four you will need eight large scallops. Remove the corals (should they still be on) and reserve them and cut each scallop into five or six discs. Now trim about twelve ounces of Jerusalem artichokes and cut them into thin matchsticks (keeping trimmings for soup, Griggers says). Fry them gently in two ounces of butter and when nearly tender – about ten minutes – add the scallop discs and four tablespoons of dry white wine. Season with a little salt and pepper. After a minute, add the corals and cook for another two minutes. Don’t overcook – they will become like rubber. Arrange the scallops and artichokes on a warm plate and concentrate any remaining juices, seasoning with more salt and pepper if you like plus some lemon juice. Finally, stir in some chopped parsley and pour over the scallops. I served them with some nice buttered sourdough bread, thinly sliced.
#281 Scallops with White Wine and Jerusalem Artichokes. I loved this. One of the best recipes I’ve done in a while. The earthy artichokes worked so well with the sweet scallops, plus the wine, lemon and parsley really made the whole thing wonderfully fresh tasting. Mopping up the sauce with the bread was the perfect finish. Excellent. 9.5/10.

#271 How To Boil Crabs, Lobsters, Prawns and Shrimps

A woman should never been seen eating and drinking, unless it be lobster and Champagne, the only true feminine and becoming viands.

Lord Byron 1788-1824
A freshly boiled crab or lobster is the most delicious crab or lobster. Apparently. In England, this is not something that commonly happens in a typical household. Like all our meat and fish, the animals that provide us with all that delicious protein are helpfully done away with by burly men in abattoirs, boats or warehouses.  We have lost touch with our food rather and find the idea of killing an animal for food ourselves distasteful. Pretending this doesn’t happen, in my opinion, is the distasteful act.
That said, I am not actually comfortable myself with killing animals, and as any previous reader of the blog will know, killing three eels was most distressing for me. Now it is the turn of some shellfish. This recipe is one that I never did back in England because I simply never saw live crabs and lobsters, prawns or shrimps in fishmongers. Houston, however, is a very different state-of-affairs. There’s live seafood in pretty much any supermarket you walk into here.
The lobster tank in Central Market, Houston
So if you stumble upon a live crab or lobster in the local fishmonger or supermarket here is what to do. Well, as you’ll find out, it maybe isn’t what you are meant to do….
The main point I wanted to get across is that boiling seafood can be humane (or at least no more or less humane than, say, killing a cow with a stun-gun). In English Food, Jane Grigson says that RSPCA guidelines suggest putting the animal in cold salted water and letting the water heat up – apparently when a certain temperature is reached, the creature expires ‘without suffering’. Guidelines have changed rather and nowadays it’s suggested that the little arthropod is popped into the freezer until it falls into a torpor. When plunged into the water, it’s dead before it has a chance to wake up. (The other method is to stab it in the top of the head using a sharp knife and a mallet.)
So, first things first, my mate Danny (who was helping me out with the cooking) got a lobster from Central Market. On the fishmonger chap fishing out the one we chose, I suddenly felt a pang of guilt, so we hurried to my freezer to get it nice and sleepy. Whilst we waited, the salt water into which it was boiled needed to be prepared. The water needs to be very salty. If you can, use sea water, if not dissolve enough sea salt so that the briny solution will bear an egg (this requires a lot of salt). Bring to the boil.
I was informed that the lobster would take 20 minutes or so to fall asleep. This was total nonsense, because 90 minutes later it was still moving around. Shit. By now we’d had a fair few glasses of wine due to the stress. A little later, the lobster seemed pretty inert, so we decided this was the time. Like, I said before, the idea of this post was to do away with some misconceptions about killing seafood in boiling water. So sure I was of this, I filmed the process, so you get a rare glimpse of me in action! Unfortunately things didn’t quite go to plan, and I may have reinforced those misconceptions. Oh dear.
Next time (if there is a next time) I’ll just throw the thing straight in!
Okay, back to the cooking. The cooking time is 15 minutes simmering for the first pound and then an additional 10 minutes for every extra pound.
For shrimp and prawns: 3 minutes for large prawns and for small shrimps, simply let the water come up to the boil again and they’ll be done.
Serve the shellfish simply, says Griggers, with brown bread, butter and lemon wedges.
#171 How to Boil Crabs, Lobsters, Prawns and Shrimps. Well that was an event! Aside from the auto-dismemberment episode, the cooking itself went very well. I split the lobster lengthways, removed the brown meat and used it to make a butter sauce (see next entry, when I write it!), and grilled the lobster with butter briefly. Delicious. 8.5/10.

#268 Potted Shrimps

Hugh and I invited our mates Maartin and Ninja around for some food so I thought it would be the perfect excuse to do a couple of Grigsons. Poor things. For a starter Hugh made some mackerel pate (I should get the recipe from him and put it on here) and I did these potted shrimps. I wanted to cook a recipe that I couldn’t do in America and this is one. I so far haven’t found anywhere in Texas that sells brown shrimp.
For those of you that don’t know, potted shrimps are a Lancastrian delicacy – they are going out of favour as many traditional foods are these days and, as far as I know, the only place that makes them is a small fishery in Morcambe Bay. They used to be very popular across the whole of the country after Young’s opened a shop selling them in London. The shrimps are fished and boiled on the boat before being dunked in the sea to cool off quickly. As the boat returned to land with its catch, the women and children of the town would be waiting to pot the shrimps.  If you happen upon some brown shrimps, try making them yourself because they are pretty easy to do.
For every pint of shelled shrimps you will need to melt 4 ounces of melted Danish butter along with ¼ teaspoon of powdered mace, a pinch of Cayenne pepper and a grating of nutmeg. Once melted, mix in the shrimps and let them heat through. Pack into pots and cover with clarified butter and then some foil or cling film. Allow to set. Serve spread on brown bread or toast. Piece of piss.
#268 Potted Shrimps. I loved these. The shrimps are sweet and well-flavored and the traditional spices such as mace really complimented them. It’s a shame that mace isn’t used more often these days as it goes so well with fish. 7.5/10.

#192 Elizabeth David’s Prawn Paste

In days of yore, we English loved potted meats and fish. You don’t seem to see many potted foodstuffs around these days: though potted beef is still popular in Yorkshire. Pate does not count. This one at first sight seems a bit weird, and perhaps foul, but there are some interesting ingredients in there. One of the great things that Elizabeth David did in the sixties and seventies was introducing us to Mediterranean flavours, and she managed to sneak a few in here: olive oil instead of butter, basil instead of parsley, lime rather than lemon. She transformed our eating habits; along with Grigson, Floyd, et al. of course. It may seem odd these days – all those continental ingredients mashed up in a now-defunct method of preparing meat and fish – but there you go.

Place eight ounces of cooked, peeled prawns in a blender along with the juice of a lime and around six tablespoons of olive oil – use extra virgin if you have it since as it’s not going to be cooked. Blend until smooth and add half a teaspoon of dried basil and a heaped saltspoon (!) of crushed coriander seeds. Season with a little salt and some Cayenne pepper. Divide between some small ramekins, cover and refrigerate. Serve with hot, thin toast.

By the way, I don’t know the capacity of a saltspoon as I don’t own one, so don’t ask me. Actually, I’d not even heard of one. I guessed and added a quarter of a teaspoon. Also, don’t buy dried basil, as it has no flavour; dry your own in a cool oven for about 20 minutes until crumbly: much better.


#192 Elizabeth David’s Prawn Paste. It may have sounded like horrible soggy fish pap, but this was delicious. The prawns were sweet, the olive oil was fruity and the basil and coriander seeds combined with the lime juice provided a morish tang. Really good – go and make some. 7.5/10.

#189 Mussel and Leek Rolypoly

“People sometimes shudder at the mention of roly-poly puddings” says the Grigson; er, no dear, just the idea of THIS one! Why on Earth is there no jam roly-poly pudding, please!? I’ve been putting off the more weird ones – like this – but they are building up now. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but Griggers really does big this one up. It is cheap though, at least when mussels are in season.

I have only recently been able to pluck up the courage to eat mussels; I’ve always been a bit squeamish with bivalves for some reason. However, I do love mussels now. The Romans loved them too, and they’ve been cultured in France since the late thirteenth century, ever since a shipwrecked Irishman called Patrick Walton was washed up on a French beach and noticed some mussels growing on the fishermen’s nets. I doubt he wrapped them in suet pasty though.

To begin you need to cook your mussels – 48 in all, says Grigson. Scrub them and remove their beards and any parasites. Place them in a hot, wide shallow pan and cover. As soon as the mussels open, take them off the heat. Don’t use any mussels that have not opened. Shell them, reserving any juices, and let them cool. Pass the juices through some muslin into a small pan.

Now make the rest of the stuffing: In a bowl, mix together 3 ounces of finely chopped onion, 2 trimmed and finely chopped leeks, 2 chopped rashers of streaky bacon, 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley and a little salt plus plenty of ground black pepper.

Suet pastry is the easiest pastry to make. Sieve 10 ounces of self-raising flour in a large bowl and mix in a pinch of salt and 5 ounces of shredded suet. Using a knife or your hands, mix in some cold water until a firm and light dough is formed.

You are now ready to construct the rolypoly pudding. Roll the dough into a rectangle and sprinkle over the leek mixture leaving a centimetre border around three sides, and then evenly sprinkle over the mussels. Brush the edges with water and roll up the pastry starting at the borderless end, lastly press down the sides to prevent any leakage from the sides. Wrap it in a tightly-sealed but baggy foil parcel and steam for two hours on a rack in a self-basting roaster. If you don’t have one – use a normal roaster and make a foil lid as I did. When ready, place in an ovenproof serving dish and crisp it up in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes – careful now, it might collapse (see pic!). Whilst that is happening, make the butter sauce. Boil down the reserved mussel liquor, take it off the heat, and whisk in 4 ounces of chilled, cubed butter, bit by bit. Season well, add some chopped parsley, and it is ready.


#189 Mussel and Leek Rolypoly 4.5/10. I though I liked this in the end, but then I wasn’t sure; it certainly wasn’t awful. I even had seconds. The mussels were soft and sweet, the leeks were cooked nicely and the pastry was crisp. The sauce was good too. I think it was too rich, and I ate too much. An unusual one, but I’m not sure I would recommend it.