Bouillabaisse-marinated prawns with saffron aïoli

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Apologies for the two week interval.  It turns out a) restaurant work takes up almost all one's waking hours, and b) there are a load of cool (some might say nerdy) saffron facts.   So, finally, here's a tasty and delicious party snack, complete with absolutely fascinating saffron information with which to impress your guests.  I developed this recipe while dreaming up hors d’oeuvres for my father-in-law’s 70th birthday party last month.  I like bouillabaisse and I like prawns.  It was as simple as that.

Smbouillabaisseprawns0001.jpgAll is still going well at Chez Panisse.  Having not ruined any dishes yet, they are bravely letting me stay on a while longer, which is fantastic.  In the last two weeks I have cut up a few more animals and there are still some lambs and pigs hanging in the 'walk-in' waiting to be butchered.  I've also been filmed slicing potatoes on a mandolin for 'Good Morning America', whatever that is.  (Never have I concentrated so hard on not cutting off a finger.)  And I've made a selection of soups, one of which was described as 'very nice' by the chef, which made my week, if not my whole month. 

Chez Panisse always uses what's in season, so we're mainly cooking with tomatoes, beans, sweet corn, aubergines, peppers, figs, chanterelles, courgettes and beautiful fresh cannellini, cranberry, butter beans and the like.  I'm learning loads of new dishes, some of which I hope to write up for you one day when I'm not either sleeping or peeling onions.
Recipe:  Bouillabaisse marinated prawns with saffron aioli.pdf

Makes:  30
Time:  1¼ hours total


For the marinade:
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp orange zest
3 tbsps lemon juice
3 tbsps orange juice
6 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsps Pernod (or similar)
1½ tbsps minced garlic
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp ground fennel
1½ tsps concentrated tomato paste
¾ tsp (regular table) salt
¾ tsp ground black pepper
1½ tsps sugar
1 tbsp minced parsley
1½ tsps minced thyme

30 medium-large prawns
olive oil for frying
minced parsley or fennel fronds for garnish (optional)

For the saffron aïoli:
240ml stiff mayonnaise (see below for recipe)
a pinch of saffron threads
1 small garlic clove
salt to taste

  1. Peel and de-vein the prawns, leaving the tails on.
  2. Mix the marinade ingredients together in a bowl.  Toss prawns with marinade and leave to marinate for 30-40 mins, tossing occasionally.
  3. Crumble saffron into a little very hot (but not boiling) water and stir.  Leave saffron water to infuse for 20 mins.  Peel and crush garlic to a smooth pulp (using a pestle and mortar or with the side of your knife against the work surface). Mix saffron water and garlic paste into mayonnaise until well-blended.  NB You may not wish to add all of the garlic, depending on the size of your clove.  Taste and season with salt as desired.  Chill until needed.
  4. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan until very hot and shimmering.  Lift prawns out of marinade and fry in batches, just very briefly on each side until slightly coloured but not quite cooked through.  NB Reserve the marinade.
  5. Return all prawns and the marinade to the pan and simmer for 1 minute while stirring.  Lift prawns out with a slotted spoon.
  6. Serve prawns warm with saffron aïoli as a dipping sauce.  Or let prawns cool to room temperature, store in fridge until needed (no more than a day), then bring back to room temperature before serving.  Garnish with a sprinkling of minced parsley or fennel fronds if desired.

To make your own mayonnaise:

‘Proper’ way - by hand:
  1. Bring an egg to room temperature.  Separate yolk from white and place yolk in a bowl that you have run under warm water and then dried.  If the yolk is too cold it will be hard to make it emulsify with the oil. 
  2. Place a tiny dollop (¼-½ tsp) of Dijon mustard, a squirt (½-1 tsp) of lemon juice and a pinch of salt on the yolk.  These all help the yolk emulsify with the oil.  Or, just add the salt and then add the mustard and lemon juice later, once your mayonnaise starts to stiffen.  The first way makes it easier to get the emulsion started, whereas the second way makes the mayonnaise more stable - ie less likely to break if left to sit around for a while.  There are various complicated chemical reasons for this which I cannot bring myself to elaborate.  Pros and cons to each method - the choice is yours.
  3. Whisk up the yolk, adding in the smallest drizzle of olive oil.  Then, whisking constantly, add in approx 250ml (1+ cups) of oil in a slow, steady stream.  Depending on how strong your olive oil is, you may wish to use a plain vegetable oil, eg sunflower, for between ¼ and ¾ of this amount.  Using purely unrefined extra virgin olive oil might sound good, but will probably taste too strong and is also likely to make the mayonnaise split.  If it gets really stiff, whisk in a little cold water.  To make the whisking easier, you can place the bowl inside a saucepan lined with a tea towel, which holds it in place leaving you one hand for the whisk and one hand for the jug of oil.  Less than 100 years ago at least one pharmacist proclaimed that you could only create an emulsion by stirring in one direction only (ie clockwise or widdershins, not both), and another that a left-handed man simply had no chance of success.  This sounds like a good excuse if you are left-handed, as whisking up mayonnaise by hand is a pain in the ****, especially in large quantities.
  4. If it looks like it’s separating (ie not forming an emulsion), trying whisking like crazy for a while (in either direction), and if that doesn’t work repeat the first two steps above with a new yolk and bowl, and then slowly add in your broken mayonnaise, whisking all the time. 
  5. Finally, taste and season with salt - it will need a fair bit more.  You may also wish to add a little more lemon juice or red wine vinegar and some pepper.
Cheat way - in the processor:

Follow the same process as above except a) use the whole egg not just the yolk, and b) let the processor do the mixing while you drizzle in the oil through the spout in its lid.  So much easier but not quite as good. 

Now read all about saffron.  Go on...

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