To understand how Pierre Gagnaire cooks, you have to know where he's coming from. He developed his skills during the white heat of nouvelle cuisine. The movement galvanized chefs to look beyond the limits of a traditional, classical, repetitive cooking, but at the same time it opened up the way to thousands of ill-conceived recipes, concocted by mediocre chefs, that failed dismally because they were based on blends of taste and texture that didn't work.
That Gagnaire survived the nouvelle cuisine experiment and is acknowledged today as one of the top ten chefs in the world is because he's kept the faith with the lessons of his early career. He has stayed true to the early principles of serving, light, clean, powerfully flavoured food, lifted by imaginative personal touches.
At the same time, he has learnt over the years, to compose dishes that have a built-in harmony. He instinctively avoids combinations that don't come off - and overdosing ones that do.
His "langoustines four ways" is actually four miniature masterclasses in one. Each dish has its own balance, stands up in its own right. Served together, they offer customers who eat the dish a guided tour. He's saying: "Langoustines can be like this, or this, or this, or this." Each component, gains by its contrast with the others. Yet, overall, there's a theme running through them (a subtle combination of spice mixtures pointing up the shellfish flavour) that brings the whole thing together.
The end product creates a jazzy impact of highly wrought modern haute cuisine. Up close, the separate parts are simple, well within the skills of any chef with a palate.
Langoustines - basic preparation
- Size specification: "Jumbo" - 10-15 per kilo.
- Live delivery two or three times a week
- Break off the tails from the carapaces.
- Remove the bowel: twist the central tail fin and pull it out with the "trail".
- Blanch rapidly (under 30 seconds) in fast boiling water.
- Drain and refresh under cold water.
- Peel the shells off the tails
- Blast freeze to -30°C
- Defrost in the fridge.
Langoustine tartare with green apple (serves one)
granny smith apple
fine grey unrefined sea salt
1 small pinch "crumble"
- Citrus juice: freshly pressed orange, lemon and grapefruit juices in equal quantities, stored in a squeezy bottle.
- Olive oil: French extra virgin from Nyons, pressed from ripe black olives, so quite unlike many green and grassy Italian ones
- Sea salt - from Guerande but not the crystalline fleur de sel. It's powdery, grey and dissolves at once.
- "Crumble": Combine, blanched diced garlic, grated ginger, butter and toasted almonds. Spread in a thin layer on a plaque. Dry out in the oven at 150øC. Cool and process to a fine but crunchy powder.
Slice each langoustine lengthways into four (1). Cut two or three thin slices off the apple. Julienne the slice with the peel. Keep it separate from the flesh also shredded into a julienne.
Arrange the flesh julienne in a strip on the plate. Squeeze a little juice over it. There should be just enough extra on the plate for dipping the slices of langoustine individually. Dip them in citrus juice and arrange them on the apple (2). Season with salt. Coat with olive oil (3). Lay the julienne of peel on top. Sprinkle a touch of "crumble" seasoning over the dish.
Grilled langoustine with red currants and salad
Salt and pepper
1 tsp olive oil
6 large red currants
1 trimmed asparagus spear
2tsp approx. lager beer
Salad leaves (eg fris‚es)
- Flavoured vinegar
Put equal quantities of Sherry vinegar, balsamic vinegar and grapes in a pan with sprigs of fresh thyme to taste. Put it on the side of the range so that the temperature doesn't go above 70°C. Leave it to evaporate by about two-thirds. Cool, strain and store in a squeezy bottle.
Split the langoustines lengthways so there are four halves. Thread them on to two small bamboo brochettes (1). Season lightly.
Heat the oil in a small pan to smoking point. Sear the langoustines on both sides (2). They'll be cooked in under a minute. Remove from the pan and kept hot. In the same pan, saut‚ the red currants for a few seconds, just long enough to heat through without wilting. Reserve with the langoustines.
Split the asparagus into thin shards (3) and dry-fry for about a minute. Pour a small splash of lager over them and let it evaporate (4).
To assemble, coat the leaves in a minimal amount of flavoured vinegar. Add the hot asparagus and mix together. Arrange the brochettes on the plate with red currants between them and the salad plus asparagus over the top.
Roasted "Little Bay" langoustines, pear coulis, lentils and Shanghai cabbage (serves one)
1-2tbs spice powder
40g warm pear coulis
10g warm lentils
1 Shanghai cabbage leaf (a small pak choi top)
splash of stock
- Spice powder - equal quantities of fine, dried white breadcumbs, ras-el-hanout (mixed spice used for Moroccan tagines), dried powdered orange zests, piment d'espelette (Basque paprika)
- Pear coulis with "Colombo powder" - Colombo powder is a French Caribbean spice mix. To make a close equivalent, add turmeric to a good, fresh garam masala.
- Peel, quarter and poach Comice pears in very little water until just soft (no sugar). Liquidize and stir in enough of the spice mix for its taste to be barely perceptible.
- Puy lentils - Lentils cooked classically with mirepoix, light stock and a piece of fat bacon. Left slightly firm (not hard and uncooked) they are seasoned with sherry vinegar and served warm.
Put the spice in a small bowl or on a saucer. Thread the langoustine on a wooden skewer and coat it thoroughly in the mixture. It should look plump and curled up. Heat a small cast iron pan. Add the langoustine and dry-roast [fry] it on all sides to extract the fragrance of the spices and give a crusty surface (1).
Wilt the cabbage leaf in boiling stock, seasoned with a tiny pinch of the spice mixture.
To assemble, spoon pear coulis in the bottom of small soup bowl. On it, put a spoon of warm lentils (2). To one side arrange the Shanghai cabbage leaf with the hot langoustine resting on it.
Langoustine mousseline with sweet butter and spiny artichokes
50-60g mousseline (see below)
2-3 tbs butter sauce (see below)
1/2 tsp chopped chives
Quarters of spiny artichoke (see below)
- Langoustine mousseline: The classic Robot Coupe technique. Blend the langoustine to a puree with salt and pepper. Chill and blend again with egg white. Chill and blend with 200 ml of cream and Manzanilla. Leave overnight in the fridge. Prepare a mixing bowl over a larger bowl of ice cubes. Force the puree through a sieve into the bowl and incorporate the remaining cream a little at a time to form a silky, homogenous cream.
- Cardamom scented beurre blanc: Infuse between 8-10 split green cardamom pods in 2dl boiling water and leave till cool. Strain into a pan with 1 dl double cream. Boil and reduce to about 2dl. Beat in 100g of unsalted butter a few knobs at a time. Keep warm, but do not boil.
- Spiny artichokes: Choose them very small, very fresh. Pull off the outer leaves. Trim them back to the hearts, keeping the stems, that should still be tender, attached. Pare the stems. Quarter the artichokes and boil in salted water containing plenty of lemon juice. Drain after five or six minutes. They should remain al dente.
Pipe the mousseline over the base of a small soup bowl. Tap the base so that the mixture spreads and flattens in a layer less than a centimetre thick. Cover the bowl with clingfilm. Poach the mousseline in a steamer six minutes.
Remove the film.
Spoon enough of the sauce over the mousseline to coat it in a film. Sprinkle chives on top. Finish with three or four pieces of artichoke, depending on their size.
Grapfruit Granite At Sketch, a grapefruit granite is served with the "langoustine four ways" to provide a palette cleanser (if the diner wishes to use it as such) between trying the four langoustine options.
Infuse 1-2tbs of allspice berries [Jamaican pepper] in 200ml boiling water. Cool and strain. Combine with 800ml freshly pressed grapefruit juice (choose a relatively sweet variety) so there will be no need to add sugar. Pour onto a shallow-sided tray.
Put in the freezer and as the edges freeze, fork the crystals to the middle until you obtain a mass of crystals about the size of granulated sugar. For each portion spoon about 50ml into a large shot glass.
Photographs by Sam Bailey