Shellfish can be categorized in three ways: crustaceans, mollusks and cephalopods. In the crustacean category we have lobster, crab, prawns, shrimp, and crayfish. For mollusks there are bivalves (consisting of two shells) such as clams, mussels, oysters, etc. There are also univalves (one shell) like snails and winkles. Cephalopods include octopus, squid and cuttlefish.
Most shellfish cook extremely quickly, over-cooking results in tough, rubbery meat. In some cases cephalopods can be cooked for a longer period of time, it depends on the recipe.
We prepped two types of Court Bouillon (short broth) one with white wine and the other with white vinegar – Court Bouillon can be used to poach seafood and flavor sauces and these broths cook quickly in about 30 minutes.
Our first recipe was Moules à la Marinière (Steamed Mussels with White Wine, Shallots and Parsley). Whenever I see mussels on a menu, I usually order them – I love them in spicy red sauces, in white wine and garlic and on occasion in broths with Asian spices such as lemongrass and ginger.
We cleaned our mussels, scrubbed the shells, removed the beards and got them ready to sauté in some white wine, butter and aromatics. We covered the pot for our mussels to steam and open – this takes only a few minutes. Once the mussels have fully opened, we placed them in another bowl and strain the cooking liquid to remove the solids, grit and sand. From there we reduced the resulting sauce added some butter, parsley and adjusted the seasonings. Arrange mussels on a serving plate and spoon the buttery wine sauce over them. Simply delicious! This was my appetizer for the night’s meal.
Our next recipe was a Sauce Américaine/Armoricaine (Crustacean Sauce with Tomato, Brandy and Tarragon). There’s an interesting debate behind the two-named sauce some gastronomes tell us the sauce was created by an American chef hence the first name and some say the name refers to Armorica – the ancient Gallic name for the Brittany region of France. We may never know – but I will say this base sauce made correctly makes the most incredible Lobster Bisque.
The Sauce Américaine/Armoricaine starts with lobster shells/bodies (we reserved the tail and claws for our dinner). Before I go further, let me sketch out the night…mussels to start, lobster for dinner, a scallop course, then a lesson in shucking oysters (where I downed a couple with a mignonette sauce) – after all this I was overwhelmed from all the amazing food I had in one night – it was luxurious and slightly hedonistic!
Back to the sauce, we sautéed the lobster shells in a little oil, then added carrots, onions (mire poix) to brown a little, then an ounce or two of brandy – we flambéed – when the flame died down we added white wine, stock (we used chicken but fish stock can be used too), tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, lots of tarragon and water to cover. The sauce simmered gently for 40 minutes – then strained to remove the solids. The sienna-colored sauce returned to a sauce pan and we added a binding element (liaison) to thicken it.
We used about 25 grams of room temperature butter and 25 grams of all purpose flour to thicken the sauce – this is called a beurre manie – mix the flour and butter together until it is completely incorporated then add to the sauce and cook for 10 more minutes. We added more chopped herbs and the sauce was complete. Some of my fellow cooking students took the sauce a step further and added a little heavy cream to create a silky Lobster Bisque – garnished with fresh lobster – really decadent and easy to make.
The last recipe for the night was Coquilles Saint-Jacques, Coulis au Persil (Seared Scallops with a Parsley Coulis). We seared our scallops in some blended oil about 2 minutes per side and made a quick parsley sauce with mushrooms, shallots and a little lemon juice to brighten the flavors. The sauce was pureed in a blender and we plated the scallops on a pool of sauce with a sprig of parsley for garnish.
Scallops are so versatile, they can be poached, sautéed and grilled, remember not to cook them too long unless you like eating food with the consistency of a rubber tire. By the end of the night, I was completely sated – excited about everything I learned and thrilled with everything I ate.