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April 25, 2014 8:40 pm
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A friend was describing a meal at one of his favourite restaurants, Da Fiore in Venice. In particular, he was waxing lyrical about scampi nostrani arrotolati e rosolati nel lardo di cinta senese: “three fat langoustines, as big as my thumb” – he gestured at this point to the plump fullness of his fleshiest digit – “wrapped in the sweetest lardo”– a finger is wound around the aforesaid thumb at this juncture – “then flashed over the plancha or under the grill or whatever you chef types do with it”– finger now pointed squarely in my direction – “you pop it in the mouth and it just erupts with the juiciest, piggiest, most saline explosion of flavour”.
A month or two later, I was in Venice, feet ensconced under a table at Da Fiore. (It is not easy to find Da Fiore on foot. It is easier, if punitively expensive, to get a water taxi.) Needless to say, I had to have the aforementioned scampi. The dish was every bit as good as it had been described – and as its €32 price tag would suggest. I was, however, a bit perplexed. Being a purist about langoustines, I like them plain, in the shell and with a little mayonnaise. I will also countenance a plate of langoustines that have been split in half and briefly shown a hot grill. Da Fiore’s Mara Martin, like most Italian chefs, is impeccably purist and virtually incapable of a wrong note and here she was wrapping a delicate piece of shellfish in pig fat and getting away with it.
The other mystery surrounds the langoustines themselves. They like cold water. They like to burrow deep into the sands of the Atlantic depths at latitudes beginning where Alex Salmond seeks to govern and then up almost into the Arctic Circle. And yet there they are swanning around the Adriatic and appearing in some profusion at the fish market just beyond the Rialto bridge. It is counterintuitive. The fact is that not everything adds up, however one computes it.
Wherever they come from, langoustines are deeply carnivorous but highly perishable. They are much at their best when delivered live and in boxes with little compartments so that they cannot damage each other. Again, in Venice they are chucked bucking and writhing on to a market trestle and devil take the hindmost. For my part, I shall continue to look on langoustines as a rather special treat to be reverenced with the unction of a little mayonnaise and let the Venetians do what they want with their scampi.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais
|50g||salt (to 10 litres of water)|
|2½ lemons||The juice of half a lemon and a couple more lemons for wedges|
|1 tsp||Dijon mustard|
There are such things as jumbo langoustines that come about six to the kilo but a reasonable count is about 16 to the kilo, enough for two or three people. The sad fact is that few people eat more than the tails of langoustines: the only consolation is that an excellent bisque can be made with the detritus.
Rowley’s drinking choice
If langoustines were an everyday sort of food and we were sitting in the warm shade somewhere south of Avignon, I’d recommend a well-chilled bottle of Provençal rosé. If they are going to be an occasional treat, a cru Chablis, not too old.
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