#272 Melted Butter

As our Jane quite rightly points out in English Food, many old recipe books suggest serving meat, fish and vegetables with good butter or good melted butter. This is not just high quality butter melted on the food, but a butter sauce not unlike hollandaise. The main difference being that flour is used to thicken the sauce instead of egg yolks, which makes the sauce much easier to make. In The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald, there are quite a few mentions of it, but no actual receipt. The recipe given here is from The Cook’s Guide by a certain Charles Elmé Francatelli who was briefly the chef at Buckingham Palace during the reign of Queen Victoria. Oh la-dee-da! (He left because he was disgusted with the filthiness of the kitchens.)
Anyways, the sauce seemed to be the perfect accompaniment to the poor old lobster I accidentally dismembered, then boiled. I’ll give the basic recipe and then the variations…
To make the sauce it is best to do the whole thing in a bain-marie or double boiler – i.e. a bowl over simmering water.  Weigh out 9 ounces of unsalted or lightly salted butter – Griggers suggests using a good Danish butter – melt one third of it in the ban-marie with some pepper and nutmeg. Next, stir in an ounce of flour and ¼ pint of cold water, using a whisk to prevent lumpiness. Heat until the sauce is at simmering point, then turn the heat right down and leave for 20 minutes for the sauce to thicken. Now beat in the rest of the butter piece by piece using the whisk. Add any flavorings you want at this point (see below for some suggestions). Season with lemon juice and salt, plus more pepper if required. Lastly, add a tablespoon of double cream for richness.
Flavorings:
Shrimp sauce – add some brown shrimp to the sauce at the end; use fish stock instead of water if you like
Lobster and crab sauces – add the chopped flesh plus some Cayenne pepper. If the lobster was a lady lobster with roe, then pass it through a sieve into the sauce.
Anchovy sauce – add some anchovy essence.
Herb sauce – add plenty of chopped herbs to the sauce near the end of cooking. For larger herbs like sorrel and spinach, steam and chop them before adding them to the sauce.
For the sauce I made, I didn’t want to chop the lobster up, so I stirred in the brown meat (which people think is inedible because of its consistency, but it is delicious) and some chopped parsley and provided it in a jug to be poured over the lobster halves.
Check out the fancy lobster tools!
#272 Melted Butter. I really like this surprisingly light sauce and it complimented the lobster brilliantly. Plus it was much easier than a sauce hollandaise – one didn’t have to stand next it hoping it wouldn’t split. I imagine it would be good to serve with fish, potatoes and asparagus for a Sunday lunch in the summertime. A definite winner this one.

#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.