I’m not a chef. I didn’t go to culinary school, and have had no formal training. One thing I am very skilled at? Eating. I’m a damn good eater. Professional, one might say. I’m also very adventurous with tasting new foods, and can order off a menu like it’s nobody’s business. Some people (Ehem, my husband) get their thrills from jumping out of a plane. Me? I like diving into a new plate of a food.
I was recently at Park Avenue Winter in NYC (review to come soon), and I was served langoustine (also known as a Dublin Bay prawn, Norway Lobster or scampi) on an open-faced sandwich. It was a twist on a lobster roll, and it was to die for.
Having had much interest in langoustine, I spoke with the founder of SOLEX Fine Foods who specializes in them, to learn more.
Now let’s back up a second. I was just given one week’s notice that I would be on TV for CT Style to create and present an Oscar party spread. We’re talking appetizers, a dip, a cocktail (Did I mention I’m also not a mixologist?) and dessert, with décor included.
In that one-week span, I was also speaking with the founder of SOLEX who happened to have gotten a delivery of fresh hearts of palm. As he and I had previously discussed, he was going to send it to me for a blog post.
When I mentioned I was going to be on the show the following week, we decided to incorporate the hearts of palm into one of my appetizers for the segment. They arrived, basically in a tree bark, with no instructions. I had to fend for myself and secretly wondered exactly what I had gotten into.
Then, two days before my appearance, SOLEX said they were delivering a package of langoustine for me to cook with on the show.
They were arriving at my house the day before I appeared with them on live TV.
I admit, I was thrown off guard. Not only had I never cooked with langoustine, but I also had to come up with a recipe for them, and only had mere hours to do it.
I appreciated his trust in me, but had to be honest with my skill level in this department. I told him this was uncharted waters, and wanted to do his product justice. He told me I would be fine because it was just like cooking a lobster. This would have been a very helpful comparison had I ever boiled a lobster before.
Nonetheless, I complied. I felt enthralled to conquer this task, and didn’t want nerves to take over. When asked if I preferred the langoustines to be delivered live or frozen, I opted for frozen fearing our dog Mo would otherwise think we got him some new playmates. I assumed that meant it was frozen out of the shell. I was wrong. They were going to be delivered whole. Heads on.
Now, this meant my time was even more limited because I had to be sure they were defrosted before I experimented with them (and by experiment, I mean get it right on the first try because that’s all I had.)
I put the package on my counter to let the langoustines thaw out, and went out to do my remaining errands for the next day’s appearance. I returned a few hours later, mentally prepared to tackle this project.
When I walked into my kitchen, I noticed the langoustines were not where I had left them. They were frozen, so I knew they didn’t crawl away, and they were on a high counter so I couldn’t blame Mo.
I looked around the kitchen, on the dining room table, and even in the fridge. Nothing. So, I called my husband at work to ask him if he had any ideas and he replied, “You left them out on the counter so I put them in the freezer before I left so they wouldn’t go bad.”
My heart stopped. I truly appreciated the thought, but there was clearly a method to my madness. All those hours the langoustines were supposed to be defrosting were spent freezing up even more. I felt like I was on a reality show and this was the plot point where someone was trying to ensue drama to get viewers coming back.
I took a deep breath and removed my little friends from the freezer to defrost a few more hours before running them under cold water. It was now 5pm. I had to be on set early the next morning. I boiled a pot of water and said a prayer.
The langoustines watched me with hope in their eyes. They were chanting, “You can do it Jenn!” It was quiet, but I still heard it.
I opened the little guys from their package, and put them in the hot tub. They soaked for about 8 minutes, per advice I was given. I then took them out of their bath and placed them on my cutting board. Thanks to YouTube, I learned how to separate the head from the tail (and clean out the yucky digestive track). At first I was hesitant, wishing I had a pair of gloves to protect me from these creatures. Then, I started to get the hang of it, and was actually having fun with it. I was doing it!
Then, came the best part. The tasting. The fresh, succulent, sweet langoustine meat practically melted on my tongue. I closed my eyes and smiled. I did that.
I drizzled the juicy langoustine meat with some of SOLEX’s Valderrama olive oil (Which I seriously put on everything now), a little lemon juice and salt and pepper. Then, I mixed in some fresh mango and avocado.
I spooned the mixture into a hollowed out boat of tender hearts of palm and took a bite. Wow.
In that moment I felt glorified. Not just for succeeding, but for trying in the first place. I had just set the bar higher for myself, and realized there was a reason SOLEX had faith in me to figure this out. It was because I could.
And now? Well, I’m still not a chef and I have no plans to attend culinary school. I’m not quite an expert, but do you know what I can proudly say I am? A little more experienced.