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 – 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
Freshly-ground white mill pepper
Ingredients – sabayon
3 whole free range eggs
20ml of dry martini
30ml of spring water
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. www.thorntonsrestaurant.com