Posts Tagged ‘shellfish’

Delectable Dublin Bay offering

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

Dublin Bay prawns are highly regarded around the world, appearing on the menus of many of the world’s best restaurants. As a commis chef, I shelled boxes and boxes of prawns at a time, often until my hands bled.

When prawns are fresh, it is almost impossible to peel them, because of the membrane attached to the shell. One of the best ways to get a prawn out of its shell without breaking it is to first remove the prawn’s head, and then freeze the prawn for 30 minutes. The shell should come away easily. The centre vein and waste should also be removed.

Prawns freeze well once they are shelled and cleaned. The shells can be used to make a great sauce or consommé.

The following dish went on the menu when my wife Muriel and I opened our first restaurant – the Wine Epergne in Rathmines – 18 years ago. I was trying to develop a new version of prawn cocktail at the time. We still serve it at Thornton’s, and it’s a favourite of many of our customers.

We dry the coral of the scallop and powder it for use as a garnish on the plate, which adds to the overall impact of the dish. We serve the prawns in a shallow soup plate, with the bisque acting as a sauce. However, the bisque can also be served on its own as a soup.

The sabayon, which adds a nice contrast of textures, is an optional extra that lightens the intensity of the bisque flavour.

You can get Dublin Bay prawns inmost good fishmongers, such as Thomas Mulloy’s on Baggot Street, Dublin. Steer clear of the commercially-available frozen prawns.

Sautéed Dublin Bay prawns with prawn bisque and sabayon

Ingredients (serves four)
20 Dublin Bay prawns
Sea salt
Freshly-milled black pepper
Olive oil (for frying)
2 lemons
1 bunch of finely chopped chives
Dash of brandy
4 chervil leaves

Ingredients – bisque
20ml of brandy
200ml of dry white wine
1kg of prawn shells
1 litre of fish stock (or vegetable stock)
100g miripoix (1 carrot, 2 celery sticks, 1 Spanish onion, 1 leek, all roughly chopped)
1/2 bulb of garlic
1/2 litre of cream
2 bay leaves
20g of unsalted butter
1 small bunch of thyme
10g of whole white peppercorns
Sea salt
Freshly-ground white mill pepper

Ingredients – sabayon
3 whole free range eggs
20ml of dry martini
30ml of spring water
Sea salt
Milled white pepper


1. Heat a little olive oil in a large saucepan and add the prawn shells. Cook shells for ten minutes on a medium heat, stirring them all the time.
2. Add the miripoix, garlic, pep percorns and herbs and continue to mix well. Add a dash of brandy and flambé. Add another two dashes of brandy, allowing them also to flambé. Add the white wine and bring mixture to the boil.
3. Simmer and reduce the liquid by three quarters. Add the fish stock or vegetable stock and bring to the boil again. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for four hours, skimming the surface of any impurities from time to time while it’s cooking.
4. Add the scallop coral powder (optional) and remove from the heat. Pass the mixture through a fine strainer and return to the pot.
5. Add the cream and bring to the boil. Simmer and reduce by three quarters. Taste and season. Add unsalted butter. Remove and blitz sauce in hand blender. It is now ready to serve.

1. Break the eggs into a stainless-steel bowl and mix with a stainless-steel whisk. Season and add the dry martini and still water.
Sit the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water and whisk the mixture over heat until it forms a peak.

1. Season the prawns lightly with sea salt and fresh milled white pepper.
2. Drizzle olive oil over the prawns and place them in a hot Teflon frying pan over a high heat for about 300 seconds.
3.Turn prawns and flambé with a dash of brandy. Squeeze the juice of a lemon over on the prawns and sprinkle the chives on top. Make sure the prawns are pink all over.

Remove from heat and turn prawns onto a kitchen towel. To serve, spoon the bisque onto the base of a shallow soup plate.

Place a spoon of sabayon on top and add the prawns. Delicious!

Kevin Thornton is a Michelin-starred chef and owner of Thornton’s Restaurant on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.

Delights of luscious lobster

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

The king of crustaceans, caught off the west coast of Ireland, is available from May to the beginning of September.

Only mature lobster should be kept for eating – ones that have reached the age of about seven years old and have a length of about 12 inches and weigh around 2lbs. The female spawns only every second year and from the approximately 20,000 eggs it carries under its tail, only a few dozen develop to reach reproductive maturity themselves.

Lobsters need time to recover from the shock of being caught. They have strong claws and a thick protective skin, so if they are cooked straight away their flesh is always tough.

Once caught, lobsters should be allowed to rest in special cages for a few days while immersed in seawater. If the lobster is out of the water for a number of hours, it will eat itself to keep alive.

It is easy to identify if the lobster you are buying has been left out of the water, as the flesh will be soft and falling apart.

One of my earliest encounters with lobster was when I was working as a teenager during the summer holidays in the kitchens of Chez Hans restaurant in Cashel. I saw this alien-looking thing in front of me, and the chef told me it would bite my finger off if I went near it.

Years later, I saw this beautiful creature in its own environment, when I was diving off St John’s Point in Donegal. I was amazed to see that, when I came close to it, it swam backwards and disappeared into a cave.

I waited for it to reappear and, when it did, I resisted taking it for dinner (it’s illegal to do so).

If cooking lobster, you should always buy it alive. If someone tries to sell you a dead lobster for a cheap price, you will pay dearly for it later.

It is also important to leave the elastic bands on its claws, as the Chez Hans chef was right – if you get pinched, it will be painful.

The other thing I love about lobster is its eggs, which are delicious when marinated in dry martini. I also use the coral to make lobster coral butter. The eggs are a beautiful black colour, and the coral is green, yet both turn to a beautiful pink when cooked.

There are several ways to cook lobster. Many people find the idea of immersing a lobster in boiling water, or cutting it in half while it is still alive, cruel. The truth is that there is no way to cook a lobster that does not seem cruel.

At Thornton’s, we slowly drown the lobster in fresh water over a few hours, then cook it in a court bouillon for 30 seconds.

Once removed from the heat, I make a consommé from the shells, and then oven-cook the lobster meat in the consommé at 50 degrees for 12 minutes.

Another easy choice is to prepare it with a sauce made of fresh tomatoes, shallots, garlic and brandy, and again oven-cook it at the same temperature.

Remember that a lobster’s skin is blue-black and turns red only when cooked, and that the best lobster flesh comes from the claws. The recipe below is for lobster simply cooked in calvados.

Ingredients – lobster in calvados, serves four
Four small lobsters (each weighing 14oz), or two large lobsters (each weighing 1.5lbs to 2lbs)
100g butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
100ml calvados
Pinch of sugar

1. Set the oven at a high temperature (250 degrees). Cut the live lobster in two, length-ways, clean the heads, then gut it.

2. Add the halves to a skillet, coat with 50g butter and add salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes in the oven, continually basting it with the juice.

3. Near the end of the cooking time, carefully add the calvados, as it should not come into direct contact with the lobster meat.

4. Add the remaining butter and the pinch of sugar, and cook the lobster halves in the oven for a further eight minutes. Serve hot.

Kevin Thornton is a Michelin-starred chef and Owner of Thornton’s Restaurant on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.

Shellfish pleasures

Sunday, April 13th, 2008

It is almost 25 years since I first tasted oysters, but I can still remember my first impression of this slippery fruit of the sea, and what it was like trying to swallow one.

It was difficult just letting it slip over without chewing, but when I eventually managed it, I really began to appreciate them.

My first oyster experience was with wild oysters, and I have never taken to the farmed variety or ‘rock’ oysters as they are known. The texture is completely different and much softer. Once or twice a year, I get amazing, enormous oysters from west Cork that are about 60 years old.

Native oysters are expensive, and work out at around €24 a dozen. They are available for purchase whenever there is an ‘r’ in the month – that is, from September to April. They come from the Atlantic coast – Oranmore, Galway -w here an oyster festival is held every September to launch the season. The shell is harder, much flatter and more difficult to open, but this can be achieved with an oyster knife (prising them open with any other type of utensil can be dangerous).

Pacific, farmed or rock oysters are available all year around. They cost about €6 less per dozen than native oysters and the shell is much easier to open. When buying oysters, ask the fishmonger how old they are. It is always best to buy them with the seaweed, which keeps them fresh. They should be tightly closed and, if the shell appears to be open, discard it. When you open the oyster, release the muscle from the shell and turn it around. They taste great with a pinch of lemon juice.

The best way to eat oysters is the simplest – open, add a splash of juice and knock them back with a glass of Guinness – but at Thornton’s restaurant, my favourite way to prepare them is with champagne and caviar.

Ingredients (for four people)

24 native oysters

100g shallot puree

200ml champagne sauce

50ml of champagne

8g caviar

50g fresh seaweed

4 chervil leaves


1. Open the oysters. Discard the upper shell.

Strain the juice and mix with the champagne.

Place the oysters in the juice. Cover and place in the fridge.

Shallot puree. Ingredients

10 peeled large shallots

25ml of cream

5g unsalted butter

50ml of still water

Sea salt

Fresh-milled pepper


1. Roughly chop the shallots. Heat a pot, melt the butter, add the shallots and cook for ten minutes without colouring. Season with sea salt and fresh-milled pepper.

2. Add the water and continue cooking until nearly evaporated. Add the cream and cook until the cream reduces by three quarters.

3. Remove from the heat and place into a blender for three minutes to puree. Remove and return to the heat for one minute. Remove, taste and correct seasoning. Keep warm for further use.

Champagne sauce. Ingredients

1 shallot, diced

1 sprig dill

1/2 bay leaf

150ml fish stock

50ml dry white wine

100ml champagne

5ml olive oil

Oyster juice

50ml double cream

Fresh-milled white pepper


1. Heat a pot and add the olive oil. Add the diced shallots and sautee for two minutes without colouring.

2. Wash and roughly chop the dill. Add it and the bay leaf to the pot. Add the dry white wine until it reduces by three quarters. Add half the champagne and reduce over medium heat. Add the fish stock, reduce by half, then add the oyster juice and the cream. Season with milled pepper. Reduce by half again. Add the remainder of the champagne and bring to the boil for one minute.

3. Remove the sauce from the heat and pass through a fine strainer. Return to the heat and blend it with a hand blender for a minute or so. This helps to add air to the sauce.

To assemble the oyster

1. Place the seaweed into a large bowl which will give the dish an ocean aroma. Warm the oyster shells and space them evenly on the seaweed.

2. Place the oysters and champagne in a pot on a low heat for two minutes. Do not heat above 50 degrees C.

3. Heat the shallot puree and add to the oyster shell. Remove the oysters from the liquid and place on top of the shallot puree.

4. Coat the oysters with the champagne sauce. Place the caviar on top, garnish with a chervil leaf and serve. A glass of champagne is a good accompaniment.

Kevin Thornton is a Michelin-starred chef and owner of Thornton’s Restaurant on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.

Scallops with national flavour

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

I first saw scallops in their natural habitat when diving at John’s Point in Co Donegal.

I was amazed as they hopped up in front of me and then swam backwards, like a set of wind-up false teeth. It was so tempting to grab some to take home for dinner, but I restrained myself, as it is illegal for a diver to take any shellfish from Irish waters.

More recently, when I was filming the television show Guerilla Gourmet, I was able to obtain special permission from the Department of the Marine to dive for king scallops off Bere Island in Co Cork. Clutching my bounty as I exited the water, I couldn’t resist immediately tasting one. Cutting open the first one,I was amazed by the magnificent colour.

A fresh scallop has a grey white hue and older scallops have a pure white colour. The coral shell was a beautiful pink with a necklace of brown and white with hints of gold and silver.

The taste was sublime, el egant, slightly sweet but pure and unique. The cook’s job is to do very little indeed with such a wonderful product and pass on as much of this flavour as possible.

King scallops are in season from mid to late September until April. I am not a fan of the milky Scottish scallops that are available all year round. They are easy to identify as they are a lot smaller than king scallops and more rubbery in texture. Queen scallops are available in the summer months and, while good, they are small (only about 2cm in diameter) and a lot more work is involved in producing a dish with these.

When I developed this dish a few years ago I wanted to represent the habitat of the scallop. First, I prepare the plate, painting it with colours made from natural vegetable powder to replicate the necklace of the seabed.

The dish reflects the past, present and future of Ireland: the peas represent the green land, the black squid ink sauce represents the pain and hardship experienced from the famine to the troubles, the scallop represents the sea all around us, the caviar is a reflection of the modern wealthy Ireland of today and the gold leaf represents hope for our future. Don’t be intimidated by this dish. You can try all of the elements or they can be used separately if you wish.

Roast king scallop with sugar snap peas, caviar and gold leaf

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 king scallops
Half a lemon
Sea salt
Fresh ground white pepper
Olive oil
4 salmon eggs
4 pieces dried seaweed
4 chervil leaves
4 fresh dried tomato skin
5g leek puree
5g scallop roe powder
5g trompette de la mort powder
32sugar snap peas
1 shallot
10g chives
8g oscietre caviar
1 gold leaf sheet


1 lemon
4 squid ink sacks from fresh squid
20ml dry martini
20ml Pernod
1/2fennel bulbs (roughly chopped)
2s tar anise
1 clove
1 shallot diced
250ml fish stock
125ml cream
5 whole white pepper corns
Sea salt
Fresh ground milled pepper
10ml olive oil

Method: scallops

1. Clean and wash the scallops, then season with salt and pepper and rub with olive oil.
2. Heat the pan and saute the scallops, brown on both sides and place in a hot oven at 170ºC for two minutes.
3. Remove and squeeze the juice of one lemon over the scallops.

Method: sauce

1. Heat the pan, saute off the shallots and fennel without colouring.
2. Add the star anise, cloves, white peppercorns and cook for two to three minutes.
3. Add the wine, Pernod and martini and bring to the boil. Reduce by half and add the squid ink.
4. Cook gently for ten minutes and add the fish stock, then bring to the boil and simmer until reduced by half.
5. Taste and season, then add the cream and bring back to boil and reduce again by half.
6. Correct the seasoning and pass through a fine sieve and serve.

Method: sugar snap peas

1. Wash the peas and remove the string from both sides.
2. Blend peas for two minutes in blender.
3. Dice the shallot finely and saute on a heated pan without colouring for two to three minutes, then remove and allow to cool.
4. Wash and finely chop chives, then mix well with the shallot and peas.
5. Season to taste and place into an 8cm ring to shape.

To serve

Paint the plates (optional). Pipe five dots of leek puree on the plate and garnish with the salmon eggs, seaweed, tomato skin and chervil.

Then place the peas into the centre of the plate and remove the ring. Sauce the plate with the squid ink, place the scallop on top of the sugar snap peas, then add a little caviar and finish by placing the gold leaf on top. Sprinkle the side of the plate with lime leaf and coral powders.

Kevin Thornton is a Michelin-starred chef and owner of Thornton’s Restaurant on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.

Little urchins aren't so grubby

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Sea urchins are small, spiny shellfish from the same family as the starfish that survive in clean seawater. Their spines are not terribly sharp and are usually brownish or purple in colour.

Sea urchins are not typically eaten in Irish homes or served in restaurants. Most of those picked in Ireland are exported to far-away places such as Japan, where they are eaten uncooked.

They are treated as delicacies in Spain, Greece and Italy, and sea urchin roe is traditionally considered to be an aphrodisiac.

Sea urchins are picked by hand, and those found in Ireland are at their best from September to May. They are most prevalent on the west coast and if you are lucky enough to live on the coast, you can pick them yourself at low tide, in shallow water on the rocky sea floor.

For me, there’s nothing better than the feeling of cooking food that you have gathered yourself.

The first time I tasted sea urchin, they were ones I had picked myself from the sea off west Cork. I was camping near Sheep’s Head, where there were very few shops but an abundance of wild food.

I opened them with a knife and ate them au naturel – they tasted absolutely fantastic.

From then on, I decided against cooking such a beautiful natural food, when, as the Japanese know, it is far superior uncooked. What better way to spend a day than by collecting and preparing such a beautiful delicacy?

Sea urchin with brunoise of vegetables and sea urchin cream (serves four)

4 sea urchins
Half a carrot, finely diced
Quarter of a celeriac, finely diced
20ml olive oil
200ml double cream
5g unsalted butter
Half clove of garlic
Half a shallot
Freshly milled white peppercorns

1. To prepare the sea urchins, make an incision in the top and remove a third of the urchin (much like topping an egg). Keep the removed top aside to use in the sauce. Taking care not to damage it, remove the roe from the centre with a small teaspoon and place in a bowl. Strain the juice into a separate small bowl. Wash the shells and heat slightly in the oven at 50C for two to three minutes.

Sea urchin cream
1. Place cream, shallot and the peeled, whole garlic clove into a pot. The shallot and garlic should only scent the cream.

2. Bring to the boil and simmer, allowing the liquid to reduce by half. Pour in the sea urchin juice and bring back to the boil. Reduce by half again.

3. Remove and pass through a fine sieve, then place back in the pot and fold in the butter over a low heat.

Brunoise of vegetables
1. Slightly sauté celeriac and carrot in a little olive oil for two to three minutes. Season with pepper.

To serve
Half fill the sea urchin shells with vegetable brunoise. Place the roe on top and spoon cream over it. Place the other half of the shell over the cream and serve.

Kevin Thornton is a Michelin-starred chef and owner of Thornton’s Restaurant on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.

Get your claws into lobster

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

Ireland has access to some of the best wild shellfish in the world, which means I can truthfully say that some of my most memorable dining experiences have been enjoyed here at home.

Shellfish is divided into two categories: crustaceans and molluscs. With 52,000 recorded species, the ones that we eat are only the tip of the iceberg. The crustaceans we consume include lobster, crab, shrimp, prawns, crawfish and freshwater crawfish.

My favourite is undoubtedly lobster which, like all shellfish, must be alive when you buy it. Some lobsters and crabs will stay alive for one or two days after being removed from the water if they are stored correctly in seaweed in a fridge in the dark.

Opinion is divided on how to cook it. Some say plunge the lobster into boiling water, others believe it is more humane to kill it first. This is done by inserting the tip of the knife into the back of the shellfish, just behind the head. As lobsters have relatively simple nervous systems, this severs the main nerve, killing the lobster before it enters the cooking water.

I find that the best way to cook lobster is as follows:

1. Put them in fresh water for four hours, then make a court bouillon (see article on fish stocks 07/10/2007) and place lobster in it for one minute before removing and placing in a bath of iced water.

2 . Remove the claws and cook for a further seven minutes in the bouillon before again placing in an ice bath.

3.Remove the tail by placing your forefinger and thumb on either side of the lobster from where the tail begins, and move it from side to side until it is released. Then squeeze the shell to crack it. Remove the flesh in one piece, and the central vein which runs down the back.

4.Crack the claws with the back of a chopping knife, and hit the claw once on each side to crack the shell. Then remove the flesh in one piece with a lobster fork.

5.Make a lobster stock with the shell, then add a bruinoise of vegetables (carrots, leeks and celery cut into 1cm square pieces and blanched for two minutes) to the basic stock.

6.Cut the lobster in half, and season with sea salt and freshly milled pepper. Squeeze a little lemon juice on the lobster, place the flesh on top of the vegetables with the claws, then cover with lobster stock. Cover the dish with a lid and place into an oven at 50 degrees Celsius for seven minutes. Remove and arrange the lobster and the vegetables in a serving bowl, and pour the lobster juice on top.

Next week: prawns and scallops

Kevin Thornton is a Michelin-starred chef and owner of Thornton’s Restaurant on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.