Friday, 25 December 2015

Lasagne of Crab

A very merry Christmas to you all. Today's succession of posts will focus on our Christmas dinner with a difference....the difference being its three courses of dishes from my vast collection of books. You won't find Turkey here! As we kick off the festivities with one of the best starter's ever tried in a restaurant, Philip Howards famous Lasagne of Crab from The Square.

We had lunch at The Square earlier in November and the experience is still talked about today. The food is simply brilliant, delicious and fuss-free. This starter is a prime example. To break it down the dish goes something like shellfish cappuccino - parsley pasta dough layered with scallop mousse and white crabmeat - Champagne foam.

After our wedding in the summer I had been wondering what to do with the three bottles of Champagne that we were left with. So the idea came to have three courses for Christmas dinner all containing Champagne.

Starting off by making the pasta dough a day ahead it's a rather odd process to achieve the green colour in the dough itself. Blitzing parsley, after briefly blanching, passing through a sieve gets rid of the green water and leaves a green gunge known as 'chlorophyll'. Mixing this with eggs, salt and pasta flour made the pasta dough which you then knead for 5-10 minutes to get a nice firm dough to be chilled overnight.

Shellfish Cappuccino early stages
Shellfish Cappuccino base

The next day I did battle with a crab. Phil Howard recommends a live cock (ha ha) crab which then has to be killed and prepared for the dish. Sadly live shellfish were not convenient to get my hands on what with the Christmas rush so I made do with a frozen whole crab from Aldi. It's a funny feeling when you slide the crab out of the packaging and find it staring back at you, almost worried it'll turn into a zombie and start moving around again.

Luckily it didn't have much chance as I navigated my way around thanks to Duncan Lucas's fantastic tutorial on YouTube about how to dismantle a crab. Pulling off the legs and claws and pressing the 'purse' from the shell, it's quite rewarding doing it yourself. It's a real challenge trying to prevent pieces of shell mixing in with the fine white meat as most of it is in the claws.

With the crab picked through and the meat chilling in the fridge, I went onto the shellfish cappuccino. One of my new favourite smell's is shellfish shell's cooking away in oil, even more incredible is when vegetables, star anise and coriander are added....just awesome. Once everything was caramelised I added tomato puree and madeira wine to deglaze the pan before topping up with water and leaving to cook for 20 minutes, by now a deep orange broth was forming.

Basil leaves and lemon wedges get added and the mix is left to infuse before sieving into a clean pan. The smell was just ridiculous, so so good and the flavour was immense. While waiting for the broth to do it's thing I went ahead with the scallop mousse by combining raw scallops and a whole egg in a blender, blitzing, adding double cream, lemon juice and cayenne pepper and creating a thick mousse.

Champagne foam coming together

The Champagne foam came up next with shallots, star anise and white peppercorns sautéing in a pan before adding vermouth (the recipe instructs white wine) and Champagne reducing to a glaze and then topping up with double cream until coating the back of a spoon. This was another part of the recipe that sends your taste buds into overdrive. A splash of Champagne at the end just makes it that much better.

With the foam sieved and resting in a foam gun, I began the final assault and layered up some lasagnes. Phil instructs you to roll the pasta in the sheets, blanch and then cut out the circles the same size as the rings you will be using. I decided to cut the discs of pasta in advance and then blanch them, worked a treat with vivid green colour remaining in the dough. A tip here if you are going to do this is to place a glug of olive oil in the water to prevent your discs sticking. I laid the drained pasta onto parchment paper.

Layered Lasagne

Layering the scallop and crabmeat mix in alternate pasta disc layers was easy enough with a base of parchment paper to prevent sticking. I steamed the lasagne's for 10 minutes while adding milk and butter to the cappuccino before bringing it to 80C to enable the mixture to foam when blended.

To plate the dish it's pretty simple....even more so if your shellfish cappuccino foams up! Jeez this thing just wouldn't hold. After remembering the huge bubbles accompanying my dish at The Square, thing's were getting tense. I reached for some soya lecithin powder to add some stability to the foam and managed to get a decent result. The Champagne foam goes over the top of the lasagne.

The final plate

I was really impressed. The freshness of the cappuccino was beautiful, all the flavours of a top quality shellfish bisque. Lasagne was tremendous and far less gelatinous than the one I had at the restaurant, by that I don't mean that the dish was bad, but the mousse on my dish was far silkier and pleasant to eat. The foam adds that lovely hit of richness with a kick of fizz from the Champagne. It went down to rave reviews and it's definitely something worth doing if you have a few people coming round for dinner. I love it.

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