You know those crunchy, breadcrumb-coated morsels sold as scampi? The sweet, affordable and delectable fried bites dunked in tartare sauce, or squirted with lemon and always served with a pile of salty chips? Well, scampi are actually langoustines. Yes, these golden-red mini-lobsters, their spiky, forbidding shells holding succulent, sweet meat, are indeed child-friendly scampi. A fancy-named seafood disguised as a pub food.
Did I think there was a fish called a scampi? No, I didn’t, but like many people I didn’t really know what it was, just that I have to avert my eyes when I see it on a menu – they are just too addictive. And, as I don’t like sharing, I would inevitably eat every last delectable morsel.
Until a filming afternoon with Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Doherty at Jamie’s London restaurant, Fifteen, I didn’t realise that scampi and langoustines were one and the same. Well, the same, but not. They are so much more than crumb-coated frozen seafood to bung in the oven, or eat freshly-fried out of a paper wrapper. So much more.
On that day filming for an upcoming series of Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast (link to my post about it) I, along with about 14 fellow bloggers and vloggers, heard not only from Jamie and Jimmy about this under-valued, sweet-fleshed Scottish seafood, but from Kenny McNab and Ian Wightman, two distinguished and articulate fishermen who catch langoustines year in and year out. When questioned by Jamie and Jimmy about the experience of fishing this special seafood, Kenny and Ian made us aware that of the total Scottish catch, 70 per cent is exported to appreciative markets, where it is a popular and affordable alternative to lobster. Nintey-five percent of Ian’s catch goes abroad. If you have ever had seafood paella in Spain, those little mini lobsters you see on top are actually Scottish langoustine.
Of the langoustines that stay here, pretty much all goes to making the scampi we in the UK know and love.
But it can be so much better and healthier in other forms. Although both men have ready markets abroad – the Mediterranean countries and the Far East are passionate consumers of Scottish langoustines – Kenny and Ian very much want to shift the balance so that more stays here. And not just to make scampi.
One way to help us get over our nervousness about langoustines – if we are even aware of them at all – is to de-mystify them. Although they have spiny carapaces, they are easy to cook and prepare. Truly! In the past I have prepared both lobster and crab and admit that both are tricky, and involve utensils that wouldn’t look out of place at a dentist’s office (yikes!). But langoustines are much more straightforward. Here is a link to a fantastic short video on how to prepare langoustines, from London’s Billingsgate Market. It includes crucial tips on getting the most out of these crustaceans. But my top tip is from Ian who advised that we didn’t need fancy claw meat extractors, just an actual claw end to pull the meat from the legs, where the best bits hide.
Langoustines also come prepared as frozen, which may be the easiest and quickest option for many of you. They are also cheaper this way. Ceri, a fellow blogger and “lango-naut,” bought a kilo for £11.95 – which worked out at about £1 a langoustine. Mine were a little more pricey as fresh, but then again my local fishmonger is in a fancy neighbourhood, and charges fancy prices.
Speaking of fancy, the name langoustine sounds very fancy – unlike the word scampi. Or Dublin Bay prawns – another name used for them. Perhaps if we call them by the nickname the Fresh One crew gave them – langos – they will seem much more food of the people, which they are. Langos used to be eaten by “the lower orders” until early in the last century, but now they are seen as fancy food. Those “lower orders” knew a good thing when they ate it (remember they and cattle were the only ones eating kale for centuries), and now it is the turn of all of us to re-discover this brilliant, low-fat and nutritious seafood.
Langos are a healthy choice – as is all natural seafood – and are packed with loads of potassium, protein, zinc, selenium, copper, iodine and lots of calcium. The shells – although you can’t eat them they make great stock. Think langoustine bisque and seafood paella.
If you fancy having a go with langos do ring up or visit your local fishmongers to see if they have them in. If not, ask politely for them to get some in for you. They should be able to source them, but it will be a demand thing. They can’t stock seafood that doesn’t sell for them. Create that demand and keep going back for more.
You don’t ask, you don’t get.
Here is my first proper recipe using langoustines. I hope to soon be making them up into gyozas with some subtle Asian spicing, as well as a winter vegetable gratin. Oh, and we decided on the filming day that not only were they delicious but versatile, too – the words “sexy food,” (create a mental picture and you will see what I am getting at – plus, that zinc is great for ahem, men’s bits), “date food,” “family food,” “special occasion” and “luxury” got bandied about with good reason. Basically anywhere you would use large prawns, lobster or crayfish is a good way to introduce langos.
You learn something new every day.
Do you already cook langoustines? What do like them in?
P.S. Normal vegetarian service resuming soon. xx
Langoustine, Garlic and Sauteed Rainbow Vegetable Pasta
This is my food to glow, non-dairy version of Pasta Primavera, featuring succulent, lobster-like Scottish langoustines, plenty of colourful veggies, and a healthy dose each of garlic and olive oil. There may be some wine involved, too. ;_)
This easy pasta recipe is also completely heavenly without the langoustines, but if you are not a vegetarian or vegan do seek out the “langos” as they are the most delicious seafood I have ever tasted. Sadly, most Scottish langoustine are exported to those who better appreciate their value: the UK keeps only about 30% – most going towards mass-production “scampi bites”.
Ask your fishmonger to get some langoustines in for you. I have linked to a “how-to” video so that you can see how easy they are to prepare. Honestly, if I can do it, so can you. xx
6-8 langoustines, cooked and shelled (see this video for how-to prepare from raw, if you are unsure) – body meat and claw meat only, sliced into pieces OR use frozen, prepared langoustine
175g dried buckwheat (soba) noodles, linguine or spaghetti – I used buckwheat noodles
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil OR Scottish cold-pressed rapeseed oil
1 small leek, chopped
4 fat cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 red chillies, deseeded and sliced
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning* OR ¼ tsp of celery salt and ½ tsp sweet paprika, plus a bay leaf. Here is a link to a credible looking homemade version of this uber-useful American spiced blend. I always bring back a tin of it from visits home.
½ yellow pepper, large-ish dice
200g (7.5 oz) cherry tomatoes – as flavourful as you can get
1 small courgette (75g/2.6 oz), large-ish dice
½ an aubergine/eggplant (about 85g/ 3.5 oz), large-ish dice
Handful of chopped broccoli – about 50g (1.6 oz)
50ml white wine, OR 20ml Scottish vodka (yes, Scots make great have vodka! I like Arbikie) – optional
1. Get a large pan of salted water on the boil. If you have a big tub of Old Bay (I do) add 2 tablespoons to the water instead of salt. Add the pasta and cook as directed for al dente, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking (important for soba noodles). Drain and keep warm. When you drain the pasta, please save about three tablespoons of cooking liquor – this helps to make a loose sauce.
2. While the water is coming to the boil and the pasta is cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Heat the oil to a low-medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the leeks and garlic, allowing them to soften a little before adding the chillies, Old Bay (or other recommended spices), peppers, tomatoes courgette and aubergine. Toss these around so that all of the vegetables have a kiss of oil. Saute slowly for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the aubergine are cooked through and soft. Add the chopped broccoli in the last five minutes, popping on a lid if you have one, or just a loose covering of foil.
3. Remove the lid, turn up the heat, and add the wine, letting it bubble away for a minute; then add the langoustine pieces, the saved pasta water and the cooked pasta. Toss together and serve immediately with lemon wedges and white wine.
Note: this is easily made vegan or course by leaving out the langoustines. And this recipe is easily halved.
*This is not a sponsored post. I was invited by Jamie Oliver’s production company, Fresh One, to this event honouring Scottish langoustines. I paid for my own travel, and for the ingredients you see in this recipe.*
Other recipes to try with your langoustines:
Langoustines with Lime Mayonnaise on Sweet Potato Rosti – by the lovely Ceri (mentioned above) at Natural Kitchen Adventures
Langoustines with Potato Puree and Soured Cream (fancy and rich!) – Supergolden Bakes
Langoustines with Chilli and Lime – from Chef Mike Robinson for Good Food Channel
Griddled Langoustines with Hazelnut Butter – BBC Good Food
Avocado Salsa and Langoustine Cocktail (looks fabulous!) – from chef Bryan Webb for Welsh Rarebits
Barbecued Langoustines with Aioli – from the man himself, Jamie Oliver