Bordeaux and the whiskey prawns
There are those places in the world where you just feel at home. For me, France is one of them. I like the food, the landscapes, the architecture, the language, and yes, also the people. So when I got the chance to study in Paris, I immediately took it and moved there. While I lived there I went several times to one of my other favourite French cities: Bordeaux. The location of this city is amazing. It is surrounded by rolling hills planted with neat long rows of grapevines. As an extra plus, it is close to the coast. But not only is the city located in a beautiful area, it is also a place with a very positive and romantic vibe. The buildings are unmistakably French, very elegant. The center is relatively small but full of life. And the delicious wines from the area are clearly present. Of course, Bordeaux has the world´s biggest wine fair and the wine is very important for the local economy, but more importantly there are plenty of places in the city where you can try everything the region has to offer. We went into one special wine bar where you could taste small glasses of some of the most prestigious wines. I have to admit, they were certainly special and incredibly tasty.
But, wine is not the only delicious thing you can find in Bordeaux. Food is very important as well. Along the river Garonne that flows through the city there is a large market. Although you can buy a lot of good produce there, the seafood is something I really remember. There were many people sitting along the river enjoying fresh oysters and a glass of white wine. But one day we saw something we were even more interested in. There was a small stand on the market in the shape of a red motor boat. Behind the boat was an older couple. This boat was not used to go on to the water anymore, instead there was a large metal plate on which the man was grilling prawns. The couple didn’t just serve the prawns plain, which would already have been delicious, but flamed them with whiskey. Then the lady wrapped them in a paper cone. Sitting in the sun, close to the Garonne, we slowly peeled and enjoyed those flamed prawns. A great and relaxed experience and a magical memory.
This recipe for a prawn soup (or bisque, whichever name you prefer) with flamed whiskey prawns and deep-fried leek is inspired by that memory. Because the flavours are quite deep, you could have a light red wine with it.
Ingredients (for 2 as lunch or starter)
- Prawns – raw and unpeeled, 500 grams
- Whiskey or brandy – 1 glass
- 1 leek
- 2 shallots
- 2 sticks of celery
- 1 tomato
- 2 stalks of lemongrass
- Garlic – 2 large cloves
- 1 chilli pepper – red or green
- Fresh thyme – a good bunch
- Anise seeds – 1 teaspoon
- Peppercorns – 1 teaspoon
- Olive oil
- Sunflower oil for deep-frying
- Optional: cream
First of all, peel the prawns and just keep the tip of the tail on the meat. Also devein the prawns by making an incision in the back of each prawn and just pulling it out. It is a bit of work, but certainly worth the effort. Keep the prawn meat on one plate and the heads and shells on another.
When all the prawns are peeled, prepare the vegetables for the soup. Chop up the leek, but leave the two outer leaves whole. You will need them later for the deep-fried leek. Roughly chop the shallots, the celery, and the tomato. Trim the tops and ends off the lemon grass and chop it in pieces of around 2 centimeters long. Smash the lemon grass with the back of your knife, so that the fragrances can come out. For the same reason, also smash one of the cloves of garlic with your knife.
Now place a large pot with some olive oil over a medium fire. First add the shallot and leek and sauté them until they start to get some colour. Then add the celery, garlic, and peppercorns to the pot and leave for a few minutes before you add the prawn heads and shells. When the prawn shells become a pretty bright pink, add the tomato, half of the bunch of thyme, the anise seeds, the lemongrass, and a pinch of salt. Fry this for another two minutes and then pour in half of the glass of whiskey. Turn the fire up to high to make sure the alcohol evaporates. And don´t hang over the pot at this moment, it always makes me feel a bit drunk! Add 0.8 liter of water and bring this to a boil. When it has boiled for a few minutes, skim the foam that comes to the top and turn down the fire. Leave it to simmer for around 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, start prepping the rest of the ingredients. Finely chop the other clove of garlic and the chilli. Take the leaves off the other half of the bunch of thyme. Roll the outer leaves of the leek that you kept tightly in the way it naturally rolls. With a sharp knife, cut it in really thin ribbons. Place those slices in a bowl of ice-water.
Once the 40 minutes have passed use a stick blender to blend the soup. Next, pass the soup through a fine sieve into a clean pot. If you don´t have a stick blender, it is not a problem. You can skip this step, but it just makes it a bit more creamy and even more flavoursome when you have the chance to blend it. Make sure to press the prawn shells and vegetable mixture with a spoon to get as much flavour out as possible. Place the soup over a low heat and season it to taste. If you want to, add some cream to make the soup richer and creamier.
In a small pot, heat up a good layer of sunflower oil until it is around 180˚C and you see it starts bubbling. Take the slices of leek out of the ice-water and dry them well. Deep-fry them in the sunflower oil for a bit less than a minute, until they start to be golden brown and crisp. Place them on some kitchen paper and season them with salt.
Now finally, it is time to prepare the prawns. Place a frying pan with some olive oil over medium heat and add the chopped garlic and chilli. When those are fragrant, add the thyme and the prawns and fry them until the prawns are beautiful and pink on all sides. Add a good pinch of salt. Finally, take the pan off the heat. When you use an extractor fan, switch it off, just to be sure. Add the other half of the glass of whiskey to the pan. Tilt the pan over and light the whiskey. Keep turning the pan until all alcohol has burned and the flames are off.
Then, it is plating time. Divide the soup over two deep plates and top with the prawns and the fried leek. Enjoy!