Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Prawn Cocktails


Okay, I admit it.  I love prawn cocktails.  That's right, daggy, old fashioned seafood-sauce-drenched prawns served in a martini glass.  For a while I have assumed this is something I should be ashamed about. But, this year my friend Ryan gave me a copy of the "Heston Blumenthal at home"cookbook for Christmas and I discovered I am actually incredibly cool.  That's because Heston apparently loves prawn cocktails too!  Page 125, people.  It's official; prawn cocktails are cool again.  So it seemed natural that Heston's prawn cocktails made an appearance at Christmas lunch this year.


In the Australian tradition, seafood plays a prominent role at Christmas lunch.  This is usually because it's stinking hot this time of year.  But I have no such excuses as the weather was a blissful sunny 25 degrees - unseasonably cool!  However, as this was my very first time hosting Christmas at my apartment, I stuck to the time honoured tradition - seafood for entree, roast meats for mains.  Mum brought two platters of buttery Sydney rock oysters and I concocted five martini glasses full of shredded lettuce, cubed avocado, sweet Crystal Bay prawns all doused in seafood sauce.  But not just any sauce - Heston's sauce.


What I love about Heston's recipe is that there's no dry ice, centrifuges or smoked-anything required.  How unexpected for him! He keeps it simple, forgives you for using store-bought mayonnaise (while gently directing you to his home-made mayonnaise recipe) and provides you with a few different options for jazzing up the sauce.  Vanilla beans scraped into your mayo, anyone?

I decided to take his suggestion to stir some finely sliced French tarragon into the mayo, as I have some growing in a pot in my courtyard.  It was delicious, providing just the right touch of aniseed to the sauce.  The real key to this recipe is buying the freshest, sweetest prawns money can buy and slicing/dicing all the ingredients as finely as possible.  When a recipe is as time-honoured as a prawn cocktail, dressing it up is all about the presentation.


Heston's Prawn Cocktail


- 1 kilogram cooked prawns (this is the pre-shelling weight - it will give you approx 500 grams when shelled)
- 1/2 iceberg lettuce, finely sliced
- 1 teaspoon fresh French tarragon, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped
- 1 avocado
- 1 lemon (juice and zest)
- 100 grams mayonnaise
- 150 grams tomato sauce (ketchup)
- 12 drops Worcestershire sauce
-  salt and pepper to taste

First things first - shell and clean your prawns.  This is an icky job, but you will thank yourself for all this effort when you are able to scoff down your prawns at record speed later on.  Remove the legs of the prawns, then the shell, then pull off the head and, after slicing down the back of the prawn, pull out the brownish coloured vein which runs down the back of the prawn.  When this is done, I suggest you run the prawn under a little water to wash off any mess or grit which might have clung on inside the prawn.  Now, cover the prawns in a bowl with some cling wrap and pop the prawns in the fridge for later.

Next, finely slice your iceberg lettuce.  The finer the better!  Layer a little at the bottom of your glasses.  I only needed about half a small iceberg lettuce for this, but how much you need really depends on the size of the glasses you'll be using.




Now, dice your avocado into small squares, as small as you can manage.  Halve your lemon and squeeze  one half over your avocado squares and then fold the juice through to stop discolouration.  Grate the lemon zest from the whole lemon over the avocado and fold gently through.  Spoon the avocado on top of the lettuce in your martini glasses.




It's time to get saucy, people!  In a medium-sized bowl add your mayonnaise and tomato sauce and mix together.  I used a whisk for this, which helped get rid of the mayo lumps and make the sauce a nice, smooth consistency.  Now, add the 12 drops of Worcestershire sauce, the juice of the remaining half of the lemon and the French tarragon.  I added a pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper.  Be sure to taste it and add salt and pepper to your taste.  Heston calls for a pinch of cayenne pepper, but I left this out as I don't particularly like a kick in my prawn cocktail.





Pour the sauce over your prawns and fold until all the prawns are coated in sauce.  Spoon the prawns over the lettuce and avocado in your martini glasses.  Sprinkle the finely diced chives over the top as a garnish and devour!


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding


Tis the Christmas season and there are parties and barbeques-a-plenty, everyone catching up before they disappear for the holidays and celebrating with friends.  It's also the time of the year that those hosting Christmas dos are looking for that perfect dish - you know, the one you can prepare ahead and heat up, that's no trouble at all, so you can kick back and actually enjoy the party, rather than slaving in a hot kitchen while your friends and family drink the champagne!

This dish is just such a "prepare ahead" dessert.  Make it the morning or evening before, let it return to room temperature and then, just before you want to serve it, pop it in the oven to heat up, slice and serve steaming hot with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.  You can also serve an awful lot of people by simply doubling the recipe - one panettone will usually make two puddings.  It's delicious and always receives rave reviews, and for some reason a bowl of bread and butter pudding, pipping hot and scented with brandy, just feels like Christmas.

The other great thing about this recipe is that I now finally have a way to use the beautiful panettone bread I have often received as a hostess gift over the silly season.  I am not much of a "fruit toast" lover, so this recipe is perfect.  It has a richness that suits the flavours of a bread and butter pudding (just shy of the butteriness of brioche) and soaks up the custard mix with relish.



Panettone is a genius Italian cross between a cake and a bread, studded with dried fruits and wrapped in a paper base that I just love peeling off.   The traditional Italian panettone was first made in Milan during the Christmas season, and is often served as-is with hot cocoa or liqueur.  It's fabulous and I can't believe it took me so long to realise it - all those wasted panettone loaves tossed out in my past!  Such a waste!! So even if you aren't lucky enough to receive one of these wonderful loaves as a gift, run out and pick one up at your local deli, and get cooking.


Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding


-  1 Italian panettone loaf
-  2 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks (use the left over whites for meringue!)
-  250ml milk (full cream)
-  170ml thickened cream (whipping cream)
-  50gms caster sugar
-  2 measures of brandy (I used the armagnac I brought back from France... extra YUM)
-  pinch of salt
-  1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-  2 tablespoons caster sugar for sprinkling

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celcius and butter an oven-safe baking dish of approximately 8 x 5 inches.  I used a square dish of approximately 7 x 7 inches - you don't have to be super precise.


Cut your panettone into 1 cm (approximately) thick slices.  You will really only need about half the panettone loaf for the recipe, so feel free and toast the leftovers to nibble on later while the dish is baking.


Line the baking dish with overlapping slices of panettone.  This dish will always look a little rustic - it's part of its charm - so don't fuss too much about getting this "perfect".

In a large bowl, beat your eggs and yolks, mix with the butter, cream, sugar and vanilla essence.  Now stir in your pinch of salt and brandy (or armagnac!).  Pour this over the bread slices so they all get a good dousing.



The key to this dish is to let the bread and butter pudding rest at this point for about 15 minutes which allows the bread to soak up the custard mix.  This avoids the pudding from getting too soggy at the bottom when you take it out of the oven.  Go make yourself a cup of tea and try some of the leftover slices of panettone while you wait.

Now, the pudding is well rested, so sprinkle it with sugar and then into the oven it goes for approximately 30-40 minutes.  Keep an eye on it, you want to take it out when it is a lovely golden brown and crispy on top.

 If you are serving now, slice and pop in some bowls, serving with with a scoop of ice-cream and/or a dollop of cream.  If you are serving up later that evening, allow to cool to room temperature, then cover with a clean tea towel until you are ready to reheat it in the oven.

And a Merry Christmas to all!