This is a lovely meal, but as most good soups go, it is not quite a one pot wonder. It pleased the good wife last night though, what more can I ask?
Then she took photos almost more delicious than the meal itself, don’t you agree?
I prepared each element separately to do it justice: a slightly creamy soup made from crayfish bisque, Monkfish gently seared in Rosemary butter, king prawn tails seared in chilly oil and garlic, mussels steamed with shallots and white wine.
There are no carbohydrates to spoil it, so you should probably start with a bread dough to have fresh, crispy and piping hot bread to go with it. I usually make a simple plain Fougasse from 120 g flour per diner, which is great for texture and for mopping up the remaining bisque.
While the dough is proving, cut a bulb of fennel, a red onion, 3 cloves of garlic, and set aside. Dice a large handful of tomatoes and set aside.
Now prepare two large handfuls of king prawns, tiger prawns or similar variety. It is tempting to purchase the readily cleaned frozen stuff, but here it is essential to use whole prawns, defrosted if previously frozen.
Trim the head off and set aside. Skin the tail, optionally leaving the last element of skin at the very tail on. This makes eating messy but more engaged and more fun. Keep the skin with the heads, slice the top of the tail lengthwise and remove the intestines.
Heat a large pan, melt a walnut-sized piece of butter and an equal amount of olive oil. Sear the fennel, onions and garlic until they begin to caramelise, then add the prawn offcuts, heads, skin and all. Keep going at a fairly high heat, stirring occasionally, until the prawns also caramelise. Add a dried red chilly and a star anise, a pinch of salt.
(Now is the perfect time for putting the bread in the oven.)
Add the tomatoes, a glass of white wine, a glass of cold water. Turn down the heat, cover and slowly bring to a gentle simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, clean the Monkfish. Your fishmonger probably skinned it for you, but you must go over it again and very thoroughly remove the thin layers of skin. These skins turn hard when cooking and are the first reliable sign of quality cooking, or the absence thereof, when ordering a Monkfish-based dish in a restaurant. Discard the skins and set the fish aside.
Clean the mussels: discard the dead ones (those which are open and aren’t closing when knocked gently). Remove all dirt from the living ones by scraping off smaller barnacles, remove the bast, brush the outside under clean water.
Now drain the soup through a sieve, squeezing it thoroughly to get all the lovely juices out. Use the same pot to melt two tablespoons of butter until is beginning to turn brown, whisk in one tablespoon of white wheat flour, then slowly whisk in the strained soup. Turn the heat down to avoid it boiling again, add a generous splash of double cream and season to taste with salt. Set aside on very low heat.
Rub some stale white bread with garlic and tomato and gently fry into croutons, adding olive oil as late as possible, as little as possible.
Heat a tablespoon of butter, add a splash of olive oil, and gently sear the Monkfish. Add fresh rosemary or thyme if you can. Keep on moderate heat, turn over once in a while and spoon some of the herb-infused butter over it all the time.
Dice a small onion, perhaps a clove of garlic. Melt in some oil quickly, add the mussels and half a glass of white wine. Put the lid on, steam for 3 minutes.
Meanwhile heat a tablespoon of olive oil, add a dried red chilly or a teaspoon of chilly flakes and gently stir-fry the prawn tails while beginning to plate up:
The croutons form the centrepiece because they also make a little podium for the Monkfish, which I will cut into thick slices for serving. Add the soup, add the prawns and mussels.
Dress with spring onions, chopped parsley, cress, pea or mustard shoots.
Add a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar glaze, pumpkin oil or chilly oil for that extra professional look, although I don’t think this adds appeal on this occasion.
Serve with the fresh bread and a dry white wine.