Aged 15 I started my first Saturday job in my home town’s finest fish and chip takeaway. Week after week I served our regular customers paper wrapped portions of cod or haddock (most popular), battered sausages (yes, this is a thing) and the occasional scampi, all accompanied by tumbling bags of oily fat chips. Scampi was a favourite of mine, and I’d often choose it on the occasional family trip for pub grub, especially if it came with peas, chips and tartare sauce. I don’t think it ever occurred to me what scampi actually was, other than it came from something that had lived in the sea.
It turns out that scampi is made from langoustines – which we’re now going to call langos, because its more fun and also far less formal. Langoustines are like small lobsters (or large prawns) and the seas of the shores of Britain (Scotland to be precise) house a huge amount of them. Sadly, currently 95% of the catch is sent abroad. Because apparently we don’t want to eat them (other than in scampi).
I learnt this only a few weeks ago when I was invited to a tasty gathering held by Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Doherty at Jamie’s Fifteen. I was there with other food bloggers to help them film a segment for their magazine style show ‘Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast’. They’ll be featuring Langoustines in the show to tell the exact same story I heard that day.
As well as chatting to Jamie and Jimmy we heard from two Scottish Fishermen Ian Wightman and Kenneth (Kenny) MacNab. Ian told us that an astonishing 95% of what he catches goes abroad, though the average figures are a little lower with around 70% of langoustine fished off the British Isles being sent abroad. Of the 30% that stays in the UK most of it goes into scampi with just 9% of that ending up in a restaurant or local fishmongers for us to eat.
After an impressive tasting of them at Fifteen, I was inspired to have my own kitchen adventure. Though first, I had to track them down.
I rung 3 of my local fishmongers in South East London – in Greenwich, Nunhead and East Dulwich. One fishmonger said they have them in fresh at the weekend, one has them in frozen the whole time, and the other was so busy that they never picked up the phone. I opted for the frozen ones, mostly for ease but also because it meant I wouldn’t have to boil them alive (wimp). A box of 1kg was £11.95 and since there were 13 in the box this roughly works out at £1 a lango. A frozen box is all well and good, but since they get stuck together in the freezing process by the surrounding ice, it doesn’t make it so easy to pull apart a few to cook at a time .
When pondering what to do with these I had a flashback to a recipe that featured the delicious combination of prawns and a lime hollandaise, that I never got round to blogging. My creative spark then went down the brunch route, led to sweet potato rostis and ended up with some spinach to counter act all the butter.
It turns out making sweet potato rosti, whist boiling langoustines whilst making lime hollandaise and doing the washing up in a small kitchen isn’t a good idea. Hollandaise needs absolute concentration, and it turns out that if you stop whisking the butter and turn your head to flip over a rosti you’ll end up with a scrambled piece of egg yolk floating in your sauce. I was not prepared to start again because; why waste more butter. I quickly opted to change tack and before you know it had whipped up a fresh lime-y sauce from some mayonnaise I had in the fridge. I actually think this turned out better than the original would have. So much lighter and I think the tang of the sauce perfectly marries the sweetness of the potatoes and the sweet, yet delicate meatiness of the langos.
Apart from the faff of peeling the langos to get very little meat from them, langos are incredibly easy to cook; simply boil them for 7-8 minutes. Before I attempted to cook them I watched this clip from Billingsgate Seafood School, which also describes how to peel them for maximum lango meatiness.
I’d love to see langos back on our menus for so many reasons; I love the taste, I love that they are caught on UK shores (move over Asian freighted prawns), and I love that they are also healthy. Naturally low in fat (so you can happily serve them with a fatty sauce), they are also a good source of minerals such as zinc.
Have you tried them or cooked them before? I’m currently making a list of other dishes to try. Kellie from Food to Glow was one of the other bloggers at the event and she has made this wonderfully vibrant dish of Garlicky Langoustine and Sauteed Rainbow Vegetable Pasta. Alternatively you might be tempted by; an accompaniment of potato puree and soured cream, frying them with chilli and lime, or the idea of grabbing a BBQ to try this barbecued dish by Jamie himself.
Here’s my recipe should you be so inclined to forage for some langos at your local fishmonger. If they don’t have any in stock do ask them to get them in for you – they should be able to get them from their supplier.
- 1 medium sweet potato ~380g, peeled and grated
- 1 small onion, finely cliced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 large egg beaten
- olive oil
- 2 Tbs mayonnaise (homemade or good quality shop bought)
- ½ Tbs lime juice
- zest of 1 lime
- pinch salt, black pepper
- 8 langoustines
- 2 spring onions
- 100g baby spinach
- olive oil
- salt, black pepper
- First prep your lime mayonnaise. Stir the mayonnaise with the lime juice, zest and seasoning, set aside.
- Next make your rosti. Grate the sweet potato and place in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Let it sit for 10 minutes, then squeeze out any liquid by placing the grated potato in a sieve and pushing down on it, alternatively just squeeze out the potato juice with your clean hands. Place the sweet potato in a clean bowl and set aside.
- Meanwhile warm a tsp of olive oil then sauté the onion in a large frying pan for 3-4 minutes before adding the garlic for a further minute. Remove from the heat and add to the sweet potato bowl and stir. Pour in the whisked egg.
- Return the frying pan to a medium heat and drop in some more olive oil. Using your hands or a large spoon scoop the sweet potato into a rosti the size of the palm of your hand and drop into the pan. Continue till you use up all the mixture - ideally you are looking for 4 rostis, but if you make them too big they will be hard to manoeuvre in the pan. After a 3-4 minutes the rosti will be browned on the bottom. Using a fish slice flip them over and continue to cook. Once they are finished transfer to a plate and keep them warm in the oven on a very low heat.
- Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and drop in your langos. Turn the heat down to a simmer, add a lid, and cook for 7-8 minutes, till the flesh is opaque. Drain, then refresh in cold water, and de-shell* (see notes).
- Finally warm up the frying pan again with a touch of oil and sauté your spring onions till charred add the spinach and cook until just wilted.
- Plate up by placing the 2 rosti on the plate, along with the spinach, then top with the de-shelled lango meat, drizzle with lime mayo and finish with the spring onions.
If you're nervous of this process I suggest you watch the quick video I've linked to in the text above.
*Many thanks to the team at Fresh One Productions for the close up langoustine photos, Le Coin De Mel for the photo of me and the langoustine, and Jamie and Jimmy for the invite to Fifteen to be part of this event. This is not a sponsored post. I was invited to this event, and choose to spend my own time and money cooking with langoustines purely for a natural kitchen adventure.
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