I am a massive seafood fan. Living in Sydney for the past 5 years, going down the fish markets has always been a favourite shopping trip of mine. Having seafood so fresh and so close to where I lived also turned me into a bit of a seafood snob. If it isn’t fresh then I’m not eating it.
On the 24th of December we were walking the streets of Turin looking for a fish monger so we could join the rest of Italy and eat seafood on the eve of Christmas….it wasn’t looking good. I couldn’t find a fish shop anywhere. I even looked at the frozen boxes of fish/shellfish in the ‘Express’ market wondering if it was possible for me to buy a box of frozen fish fillets (it wasn’t). We had all but given up finding some fish and decided on a vegetarian meal when we headed out that afternoon for a walk, however, we turned right instead of left for a change of direction and what was hidden behind a big old church under construction? A mobile fish monger!!! We couldn’t believe our luck, it was getting dark (around 4pm) and he was eager to go home and start his celebrations so we rushed over to him and told him we would take his last bag of clams and maybe a few prawns too. I am not to sure who was more excited, in the end he threw in the rest of his stock for free, wished us a Merry Christmas then hightailed out of there faster than a wild boar in hunting season. The walk was ditched and we took our bags home to look at our loot. I had more seafood than I knew what to do with…where were our friends when we needed them?
I was giddy with excitement, not just because we bought some super-fresh seafood but I also had a supremely well-stocked kitchen to cook in! As I started peeling the prawns, I knew exactly what I was going to make: a massive bowl of seafood pasta and I was going to make a prawn velouté to poach the clams, fish and prawn meat in- Yippee!!
Now I have to confess, I haven’t made a velouté sauce since my commis-chef days when I was working on the Sheraton Hotel scene. I remember I used to be pretty good at sauces way back then, so I was counting on my added experience and hoping for the best.
The prawns looked so good and very juicy that I peeled them all (we ended up getting about double the amount I actually needed which was great because the more shells and heads the better for the stock). I started by making a roux with equal parts of butter and flour then putting it to one side while I started on the stock. After wiping out the pot I sauteed some shallots and garlic on a medium-low heat to soften the shallots before adding the prawn heads and shells. If the prawns are super fresh I don’t wash them off, I throw them straight into the pot, turn up the heat to medium and brown them off for 3-4 minutes. They smell absolutely fantastic at this stage.
Once I had a good rich colour going on with the heads I deglazed the pot with a spot of scotch (don’t tell Nic!) Your probably thinking, what??! Well it was Christmas eve and I usually would of thrown in a little brandy but scotch was the only liquor I had on offer (FYI: it worked a treat!). With the pot deglazed I then added enough cold water to just cover the shells and heads, brought it up to a boil and then turned it back and simmered for about 20 min, skimming the top to get rid of the scum and impurities that head straight into the foam (remember DO NOT stir or touch the stock at this stage; once the water is in, let it be).
After 20 minutes, I strained off all the heads and shells then put the stock back on the heat to reduce further (increasing flavour). It reduced by half again and was ready to be turned into a volute. For this you need a whisk, something I found out I didn’t actually have (arghh!!!). However, I managed to find a kind of whisk attachment for a mini blender that helped me out.
With the stock bubbling away on a medium-high heat I crumbled the roux into the stock whisking continually until the sauce thickened and I got the consistency I was after. I added some sea salt to bring all the flavours together and was tickled pink when I finally tasted the velouté; it was rich and punching with flavour, I couldn’t have asked for more.
The hard part was over, now all I had to do was wait for dinner time so I could cook some pasta, add the fresh seafood to the velouté and hey presto our seafood pasta feast would be ready. Because the sauce was hot and boiling it didn’t take long for the pieces of seafood to poach and the clams to open (approx. 4 minutes).
I would have loved to have some fresh parsley to finish the dish with, however, I didn’t even think I was going to be eating seafood so I can’t be too disappointed. I will say, if you are going to try this method (you really should as it is dead simple) then make your velouté thicker than you think it should be. The fresh seafood will thin the sauce as it cooks and the beautiful salty water enhances the dish even more.