4.3: Shellfish – Completed!

I have now completed the Shellfish section of the Fish chapter of English Food. I should have completed it ages ago but I really dragged out the last two recipes: I was too lazy to make the choux pastry and hollandaise sauce required, both being kitchen nemeses of mine. As it turned out, they were both pretty straight-forward and there were no real disasters.

#437 Michael Ryan’s Warm Scallop Salad

The section contained thirteen recipes and contained recipes for oysters, mussels, crabs, lobsters, prawns, brown shrimp and scallops, there was also a recipe that explained how to boil live shellfish. This may not seem very comprehensive, but there are many other recipes in the book that use shellfish, #200 Steak, Kidney & Oyster Pudding and #235 Lisanne’s Chicken with Mussels being just two examples. That said, I do notice some very English shellfish have been overlooked altogether: not a single recipe using cockles, whelks, winkles or razor shells (“spoots”). I suspect she didn’t like them.

A freshly-boiled lobster

The potential issue for me was getting hold of oysters in abundance as they crop up a lot in the book. They are expensive so they really hit you in the wallet, plus they always come in the shell so they are also a potential hit to your fingers and hands when trying to shuck them. Luckily for me, I lived in the USA for a couple of years (2010-2012) where it was fairly standard to be able to buy tubs of pre-shucked oysters at a fraction of the UK price. Where you found oysters, you usually found live lobsters too, meaning I could try my hand at boiling them live – a stressful experience.

#392 Stewed Scallops with Orange Sauce

I also learned a few new skills: shucking and boiling I’ve already mentioned, but I also had to extract the brown and white meat from crabs, something that takes a little practise, but I reckon I’m pretty good at it now.

Jane loved fish and wrote a very big book of fish recipes and it seems she is a fan of almost everything fishy. She describes mussels as ‘a luxurious bargain’ and particularly liked scallops (four of the thirteen recipes are scallop based), complaining about how many of them went straight to Spain. In fact, she was depressed with the apathy we hold as a country towards shellfish in general. Remember though, that English Food came out in the 1970s, with revisions in the 1980s and 1990s, and I believe a lot had changed since then. There are some great fishmongers near to me, and whilst they may not have big tanks of live lobster, they certainly have a great selection. That said, they are unfortunately not the norm on every high street.

The chapter scored well with a mean score of 7.54/10 making it the third most popular so far. There was only one recipe that scored top marks – #378 Elizabeth David’s Potted Crab, which ended up as the fish course in my first pop-up restaurant back in the day. The sublime #281 Scallops with White Wine & Jerusalem Artichokes narrowly missed out, scoring 9.5/10.

A demolished #378 Elizabeth David’s Potted Crab

The good average was helped by the fact that there were no bad recipes, just a couple of mediocre ones: there was the bizarre #189 Mussel & Leek Rolypoly (one I should revisit as I don’t think I had the skills or the palate to appreciate it properly at the time) and #392 Stewed Scallops with Orange Sauce, an odd dish I don’t think I interpreted very well.

As usual when I sum up  a section scroll down to find links to all of the recipes in the Shellfish section of the book with their scores. As mentioned, there were thirteen recipes and the section scored a mean of 7.54/10. For those who like their data, the median and mode were 7.5/10. If you cooked one of the recipes in the past, or have cooked one in the past, please let me know in the comments section below.

#271 How to Boil Crabs, Lobsters, Prawns and Shrimps 8.5/10

#268 Potted Shrimps 7.5/10

#378 Elizabeth David’s Potted Crab 10/10

#140 Crab Tart 7/10

#192 Elizabeth David’s Prawn Paste 7.5/10

#91 Spicy Prawns 7/10

#435 Shellfish Puffs 8.5/10

#189 Mussel and Leek Rolypoly 4.5/10

#132 Oyster Loaves 7.5/10

#437 Michael Ryan’s Warm Scallop Salad 7.5/10

#392 Stewed Scallops with Orange Sauce 4.5/10

#281 Scallops with White Wine and Jerusalem Artichokes 9.5/10

#421 Scallops with Cheese Sauce 8/10

#437 Michael Ryan’s Warm Scallop Salad

Hello folks, sorry for being away for so long; I really did not mean to be absent all this time. I shall be posting a little more regularly over the next few months – I promise!

This is the last of five scallop dishes and the final recipe in the Shellfish section of the book. The recipe comes from Irish chef Michael Ryan, who at the time of writing the book in the 1970s, was head chef at Arbetus Lodge, Cork, Ireland. Ryan was head chef there right up to the 1990s. He is still going strong as head chef at renowned restaurant The Provenance in Victoria, Australia.

Chef Michael Ryan (traveller.com)

I don’t know why I’ve left this recipe so long because it’s very quick and simple to make: just grilled scallops and a simple sauce. It puts excellent use to the delicious corals of the scallops too – a part so often discarded – by flavouring the hollandaise sauce with them.

For four people, you will need eight scallops. Remove their corals and cut away any sinewy parts, then slice the scallops as thinly as you can so that you end up with lots of discs.

Mix two tablespoons of olive oil with a teaspoon each of white wine and white wine vinegar. Season very well with salt and pepper and brush over four scallop shells; try to get the flat side of the shells, but don’t worry if you can only get hold of the curved side. If you can’t find any shells, you can brush a circle of the oil mixture over a small heatproof plate.

Arrange the discs in overlapping circles, not unlike the potato slices on the top of a Lancashire Hotpot. I had some of the oil mixture left so I brushed the top of the scallops with it. Set aside (or pop in the fridge for later). Turn your grill to its maximum setting and when very hot, slip the scallops underneath and cook for just two or three minutes – just time for them to go a little opaque.

As you wait for the grill to heat, make the sauce: have ready a quarter of a pint of hollandaise sauce (Jane’s method for making it can be found on this post here) and push the corals through a sieve into it. If making a hollandaise sauce seems a little daunting, you can buy it in jars these days. Stir the corals through and that is it! Very simple.

Arrange some salad leaves – I used rocket – on four serving dishes, place the scallops on top, and spoon the sauce into little ramekins. Eat immediately.

#437 Michael Ryan’s Warm Scallop Salad. In enjoyed this very much. Very simple to make and very few ingredients, ensuring the sweetness of the shellfish comes through first and foremost. Including the usually maligned corals in the hollandaise sauce is a genius idea – it looks so appetising and tastes surprisingly fresh and sweet for a butter sauce. The only changes I would make would be with the presentation: I would partially cover the scallops with the hollandaise and grill it again briefly. A very good dish though. 8/10

#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.


#392 Scallops Stewed with Orange Sauce

This is a recipe that comes from the 18thCentury that unusually combines shellfish with orange – in particular the Seville orange and this is the final recipe in the book that uses them. It’s been interesting to see the diverse recipes for these bitter oranges that I used to think were used solely for making marmalade. Now that I appreciate such things, I was looking forward to this one.
If you are not a fan of shellfish, Jane says that white fish such as sole and whiting can be substituted quite easily.
This recipe serves 6 people, but it can be easily scaled up or down.
Although it’s not mentioned, use the corals in this recipe too. 
Waste not, want not!
To start, simmer together ¼ pint each of water and dry white wine along with a tablespoon of white wine vinegar, ½ teaspoon of ground mace and 2 clovesin a saucepan for 5 to 10 minutes or so. You have essentially made a very simple court bouillon. Season the water with salt and pepper, and then prepare your scallops. Cut 18 scallops in half lengthways and pop them into the water. The scallops need poached only briefly in just simmering water. I left mine in for 2 minutes only, though I reckon 90 seconds might have been better.
Quickly, fish out your scallops with a slotted spoon and keep them warm and covered. Strain the stock and reduce it to a volume of around 8 fluid ounces. Whilst you wait for that to happen, make a beurre manié by mashing together ½ ounce of softened butter with a tablespoon of flour.
When the stock has reduced, turn down the heat to a simmer and whisk in small knobs of the butter-flour mash to thicken the sauce. Let the sauce simmer without boiling for a few minutes to cook out the flour and then add the juice of a Seville orange (failing that the juice of a regular orange and the juice of half a lemon). Check the sauce for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed. If you want a richer, more luxuriant, sauce beat in an egg yolk and 3 tablespoons of cream. For some reason I added some parsley to the dish, though it doesn’t say so in the recipe.
Place scallops in a bowl, pour over the sauce and serve straight away. Jane suggests serving the scallops with #176 Samphire or with #382 Laverbread as a Sauce.
#392Stewed Scallops with Orange Sauce. Intriguing though the recipe was, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I didn’t think the flavour of the oranges and scallops married that well, perhaps because the sauce was rather sharp. I think with some tweaks, however, this could be made a lot better or even reimagined as a scallop and orange salad or something like that. Just below mediocre, 4.5/10.

#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.