Along came Week Five, and with it the ominously named task, ‘stun crabs and cook’. As with every group that comes through this course, it opened up a real can of worms. For so long, people have assumed various ‘humane’ ways of killing crabs and lobsters, which every few years get shred to pieces by some sort of experimental study. All we can say is that for now at least, Ashburton have adopted one of the latest trends, a fancy machine which supposedly minimises suffering by stunning the crab before it goes onto the boil. They call it the green mile! Any way you look at it, it’s going to be a bit gruesome, but to be as educated as possible on the matter is what’s important when you decide to cook seafood yourself.
We were given cock crabs, the males, which are much bigger and have a higher yield of meat to the ladies. Commonly they have one claw bigger than the other – one for pinching fine things and the other for crunching. Where us humans have one central nervous system, consisting of our brain and our spine, crabs have two main nerve centres. This is why some chefs choose to kill them using two screwdrivers, which is apparently a very instant death. Lobsters on the other hand, have thirteen of these nerve centres, which could become a tad fiddly if you were to go down the screwdriver route.While us girls were more than a little bit squeamish about the whole affair, we all decided that the least we could do to honour our crabby friends was make the absolute most out of them. We separated the brown meat from the white, spending a good half an hour picking away at every nook and cranny to minimise waste. The most painstaking part of the process was to pick through the resulting meat to check for any rogue bits of shell. You need complete silence in the room, as you pick up a little pile of the meat and throw it down onto a tray. If there’s a piece lurking in there, you should hear it ‘crack’.
It bloody well took forever! Feeling very smug, after three safety checks, all that was in my loot was one tiny piece. Some of the more slapdash among us had FOURTEEN chunks to be removed. Shocking!
The resulting dish from all that hard work was mini crab fishcakes, with a pineapple and chilli salsa.The fishcakes were bursting with flavour, as a result of including the brown meat too (something that people are so put off by, but it packs a real punch). The salsa was fresh, zingy and complemented them perfectly. On my way home, I bought a pineapple and whipped up a batch for Ettie and Al to demolish over the weekend when they came to visit!
Next up was my favourite dish of the entire course, hands down. We prepared our very own squid, which wasn’t anywhere near as difficult as I anticipated. You barely even need to use your knife, the different parts just come away and you’re left with the tentacles and the main body, which you have to turn inside out like a sock. That was the trickiest bit! You then score the flesh in a criss-cross pattern so that it cooks evenly.
Chef Tom taught us that the key with squid is to either cook it super quick on a very high heat, or braise it in a stew on a low heat for hours. We cooked ours hard and fast, with plump and juicy scallops which we also prepared ourselves. The bright orange bit is the roe, which contains both the male and female reproductive systems. Who knew, scallops are hermaphrodites!
We cooked a fair amount of each component, but I chose to present mine as more of an ‘amuse bouche’, mostly due to the fact that we were given such tiny plates.
Caramelised scallop and squid with pea puree, fried quail’s egg and Parma ham crisp. With a piece of lightly tempura battered squid, too! The sweet, smooth puree paired beautifully with the tender seafood, and the Parma ham crisp gave a balancing salty finish. Don’t get me started on the quail’s egg…next time I’d put at least three on the plate! Altogether it made up a veritable feast for the eyes, and the belly.We were given a precious second opportunity to practice filleting flat fish, which is going to be part of our assessment. This time, it was a lemon sole, and was much easier than the first plaice. We baked it in the oven and served it with a brown shrimp, pine nut and rosemary butter. My family and godparents would love this dish. We are all big fans of ordering ‘sole meuniere’ when we go to France – basically just a whole fish swimming in melted butter!
For the sweets, we were given the individual task of whipping up our own hazelnut praline. With two of us working on one pod, someone always has to be relegated to the gas hob while the luckier one uses the induction (more control, less temperamental). This week, the lovely Sam has been my partner, who grew up working in his Dad’s Chinese restaurant. To say he is familiar with the workings of a gas hob would be an understatement – he is an absolute master of the flame! Poor Jen opposite me was lumped with the gas hob, and ended up making a blackened praline. Paul, being the generous and kind hearted man that he is, shared his beautifully brown powder with his partner so that they both ended up with winning souffles.Click here to witness the moment of truth! It was light, fluffy, nutty and sweet. Everything you want in a pud.
After that, we learnt the traditional art of bread and butter pudding. Buttered white bread, layered in a (more modern) cappuccino cup to create caves, not flattened together with no space to breathe. These caves are where you’ll trap your vanilla custard, so it becomes lovely and oozy when you dig your spoon in. We scattered each layer with raisins, and gave it a dusting of cinnamon and icing sugar once it came out of the oven.
Gloriously indulgent, a true British classic. Chef Phil had a stellar way of using up his leftover praline, he scattered it in between the layers of his bread and butter pudding to enjoy at the weekend after his Sunday roast. Any chance of an invite?