#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.

#413 Fish Soufflé

A quick one this one.

There are several soufflé recipes in this chapter that are all based on Jane Grigson’s (#138) Cheese Soufflé recipe. This one is for a fish soufflé, but the others have been meat, vegetableand smoked fish. I cook this recipe and its variations quite often, I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to do this one.

For a fish soufflé, you need to finely chop a couple of ounces of onion or shallot in two ounces of butter along with 8 ounces of your chosen fish, soft roes or shellfish. I went with crab, as it is reasonably cheap and can be bought with the brown and white meats already cooked and picked, so all I had to do was mix it into the onion.

Use the basic recipe for #138 Cheese Soufflé, omitting the Lancashire or Cheddar cheese, folding in the fish along with some finely chopped herbs such as parsley, chives or chervil.

#413 Fish Soufflé. No surprise here that was delicious. These soufflé dishes are great, the Cayenne pepper worked especially well with the crab, as did the Parmesan. I’m not sure any fish would work here, so be careful. I would avoid the oily fish, for example. It’s a great way of doing a cheap midweek meal that is actually pretty straight forward that feels like such a treat. 9/10.


#343 Oyster Stuffing and #344 Oyster Sauce

Oysters are rather expensive in the UK and it can be a rather arduous task shucking them, though in the US, they are much cheaper and often come in tubs preshucked in their own liquor ready for cooking. It is for these reasons that I have been trying to finish all the recipes in English Food that include oysters before I return to England in a little over a month’s time. These two are the final oyster recipes. Not only that, by cooking these recipes I have completed the Stuffings section of the Stuffings, Sauces & Preserves chapter. This might sound impressive, but if you clicked on the link, you’ll have seen that there were only five in the section, and one of those was a sauce!

These are two recipes that were made very popular during the Victorian era that put together shellfish and meat. I have grown to love this combination and so I was looking forward to cooking these. Past recipes on this vein are Chicken with Mussels, Beefsteak Stewed with Oysters as well as the classic Steak, Kidney and Oyster Pudding (and pie!).

I’m not going to blog the two individually because they cannot really be made separately. The first is a light stuffing made with classic stuffing ingredients like breadcrumbs and suet. The second is a simple béchamel sauce flavoured with liquor collected from the oysters used for the stuffing.

The quantities in the recipe are for a large turkey and it requires rather a lot of oysters – 4 to 5 dozen! You can halve the number if you are using the big Atlantic ones; it’s the equivalent to 2 tubs of the preshucked ones you see in supermarkets in the US.

If you do have to shuck your own, I have heard of a method that takes the pain out of it, though I have never tested it myself. Apparently, if you put your cleaned oysters in the freezer flat side facing up, they should magically open their shells after 10 minutes or so. The reason for this is that they go to sleep and relax their strong adductor muscle which you usually have to fight against with the shucking knife when you open them manually.

#343 Oyster Stuffing for Turkey and Other Poultry

Grigson says you can halve the quantities if using a large chicken, which is what I did. Even then, I found I still had plenty left over so I cooked it separately in an ovenproof dish.

First of all shuck 2 or 3 dozen oysters should you need to; do it over a sieve in a bowl so you can save the liquor for the oyster sauce. Chop the oysters, keeping the pieces large. Mix them into the other stuffing ingredients: 10 ounces of white breadcrumbs made from stale bread, 5 ounces of suet, 2 heaped tablespoons of parsley, the grated rind of a lemon, 2 heaped teaspoons of thyme, ¼ teaspoon of both nutmeg and mace, a good pinch of Cayenne pepper, 2 large beaten eggs, salt and pepper. It is important to mix these together rather loosely; there should be no dry breadcrumbs but at the same time it should not be mixed into to big ball of stodge.

Stuff the cavity of your poultry rather loosely – it will expand as it cooks – and truss the legs with some string. Also stuff it into the neck end too, if the flap of neck skin has been left on your bird, securing it with a couple of short skewers (I have noticed that the neck skin is usually removed in America). Any left over can be baked for thirty minutes in an ovenproof dish.

Roast the bird as normal, taking the total weight including stuffing when calculating the roasting time.

#344 Oyster Sauce

Open 2 dozen oysters, saving the liquor. Make a béchamel sauce by melting 2 ounces of butter in a saucepan then stir in two tablespoons of flour. Mix together with a wooden spoon to make a roux and cook on a medium heat for a couple of minutes. This is a white roux, so don’t let it colour. Add ½ pint of milk in 3 or 4 parts, stirring until the milk is absorbed and the roux smooth before adding more, then stir in ¼ pint of double cream and the reserved oyster liquor from the sauce and stuffing. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring everyone now and again. This part could be done in advance if you need – make sure you cover the pan with a lid because a thick skin will quickly grow. Chop the oysters into good sized pieces and add them to the sauce. Heat through then season with salt, white pepper, grated nutmeg, Cayenne pepper and lemon juice. The sauce should be the ‘consistency of double cream’, says Griggers.

FYI: Mrs Beeton suggests using left-over oyster sauce in a fish pie which I think is a marvellous idea.

#343 Oyster Stuffing for Turkey and Other Poultry. This was amazing – the oysters were tender and the stuffing was light, the flavour being lifted by the fresh herbs and the aromatic lemon zest.

#344 Oyster Sauce. This was a beautiful white and well-flavoured sauce mildly spiced with a wonderful iodine tang from all that oyster liquor. Absolutely delicious.

I can’t score these separately as they would never be made separately; that said this one is a no-brainer: 10/10.

#338 Beefsteak Stewed with Oysters

This is the third and final recipe that uses the classic combination of beef and oysters. I was so dubious about it at first but now I relish and look forward to recipes like this. This one is a simple stew that is easy to prepare and uses few ingredients. It probably was at its peak of popularity in Victorian times – I have mentioned before a few times how oysters were so cheap they were used as a seasoning. The final product isn’t overly fishy as one might expect.

This will feed between 3 and 5 people depending upon greediness.

Start with your oysters; you need to prepare 18 of the buggers. However, this is only if you are using the small British ones, if you are using the large Pacific or Atlantic ones, you can get away with half or even a third of the amount. Luckily, being in the USA at the moment it is pretty easy to find the little bivalves pre-shucked in tubs in their own liquor. If you can’t get hold of the pre-shucked kind, I hear you can easily open them by putting them flat side up in the freezer and when the oysters fall asleep they open up. I have never tested this so it may all be nonsense. However you get your oysters, make sure you drain them well through a sieve and keep the liquor.

Next, the beefsteak – any kind ‘will do for this recipe, from chuck to rump’ – you need 1 ½ pounds in all. Cut it into large neat pieces and season well with salt and pepper. Melt 2 ounces of butterin a large deep pan with a lid and brown the beef, in batches if necessary. Once that job is done, add around ½ pint of water and the oyster liquor. Cover, bring to a simmer and cook until tender between one hour and 90 minutes depending on the cut of meat.

Whilst it gently bubbles away, mash together ½ ounce of butter with a rounded teaspoon of flour.  When the meat is ready, add 2 ounces of port and stir the butter and flour mixture in small knobs until the sauce thickens. You might not want to add it all. I like a sauce on the thick side so I did. Don’t let the sauce boil hard though. Next add the oysters – if large, cut into two or three pieces – and season with salt and pepper. Heat the oysters through for a couple of minutes – no longer, or they’ll be rubbery.

‘Serve very hot’, says Griggers, with triangles of bread fried in butter‘tucked around the sides’.

#338 Beefsteak Stewed with Oysters. I love this combination so much! What a shame there are no more recipes left like this. The water had become a rich but not overpowering sauce that goes so well with the iodine-scented oysters. The fried bread was a great contrast in texture and the recipe is so easy and quick compared to a pie or pudding too. It is such a shame that oysters are so expensive. I am wondering if mussels could be used as a substitute. This one is going to remain a staple whilst I am in the USA where oysters are cheap! 10/10.

#316 Oyster or Mussel Soup

There is no introduction to this recipe by Grigson in English Food. I am never sure whether Jane did this because she didn’t want to, or whether she thought she didn’t need to. It turns out the recipe goes back quite a bit with a huge amount of similar recipes cropping up during the nineteenth century, including examples from stalwarts such as Eliza Acton (1845), Alexis Soyer (1850) and Elizabeth Raffald (1769). Recipes also crop up in their droves in American cook books of the nineteenth century.

Oysters were hugely popular in British cuisine up until the early nineteenth century, and were at one point considered poor-man’s food, until the seas of Britain became polluted from the Industrial Revolution. These days, they are rather more expensive, though dropping in price now that our seas are much cleaner than they used to be. Farming helps keep the price of the oyster down and there are several successful farms around the UK now. The oyster farm is by no means a recent invention – the Gauls in the 7th century BC farmed them and sold them as far afield as Rome. It went a bit tits-up however when they were completely trounced by the Barbarians.
I chose to use oysters here, but you can use mussels for this recipe instead. There are several pluses to using them: if you are on a budget, they are good and cheap; and also it is easy to get the meat from them. If I were in England, I would probably go for mussels simply for the reason that shucking oysters is one major pain in the arse. However, here in America where seafood is very popular and you can walk into your local supermarket and buy pre-shucked fresh oysters in their own liquor from the fish section. Now that I know this, expect to see a lot more recipes that use oysters in the blog. Mussel farming, like oyster farming, is a main contributor to the reason they are cheap; they can be grown quickly and in great numbers on ‘parks’ made by hanging ropes down into the sea.
Eating seafood such as like oysters and mussels before starting this project would have filled me with dread – our family never ate things like this – but now they fill me with joy. I just love the little beasties.
This recipe is for 6 people (or 4 greedy ones).
Start off with your appropriate seafood: according to the book you’ll need either 2 dozen oysters or 2 pounds of mussels. The number of oysters you need will actually depend on the species of oyster available – 2 dozen if native oysters, or one dozen if the large Pacific or Atlantic species. Shuck the oysters, or alternatively leave them flat-side up in the freezer for a while until they open up for you. Either way, make sure you keep any oyster liquor. If you are using one of the large species, cut each one into two or three pieces.
If the mussel is your bivalve of choice, then give them a good scrub and pull out their beards should they have any. Tap each one: if the shells close, your mussel be alive and well, if it remains open, your mussel be dead, so discard it. Chuck them in a large pan, cover, and place over a high heat. After a few minutes, give them a shake and see if the mussels have opened. If they have they are cooked. Remove the meat from them and place them in sieve over a bowl to collect the juices. Don’t forget to keep any juices from the bottom of the cooking pan too.
Now the shellfish is prepared, you can get on with making the soup. Finely chop 4 shallots and soften them in 2 ounces of butter. Once golden, stir in two tablespoons of flour and let it cook for a minute or two. Find yourself a whisk and mix in the reserved juices and then 1 ¼ pints of light beef stock or veal stock. Season with sea salt, black pepper, Cayenne pepper and nutmeg. Cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or so. When you are ready to serve, add the oysters or mussels plus ¼ pint of double cream and some chopped parsley. Bring it up to a boil, turn off the heat and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve immediately.
#316 Oyster or Mussel Soup. This was a fantastic soup! The combination of rich creamy stock and fresh iodine-scented oysters was magic. One of the best soups I’ve done – and really easy too. If you’re doing a dinner party and you want to impress without breaking your back, I would definitely have a go at this. I shall try it again soon but with mussels and see if they are as good as the oysters. 9/10.

#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.