Samui Wining & Dining
Catch of the Day

We find out more about langoustines.

We find out more about langoustines.Most people would be able to identify a lobster if asked, and most would also know a prawn – although they might call it a shrimp depending on where they are from. But a langoustine? What is it really? Well it’s smaller than a lobster and bigger than a prawn. Take a prawn and quadruple it in size. Add claws. There you have your langoustine. And as if they don’t have enough of an identity crisis already, what with being confused with lobsters and prawns, they’re also known as Norway lobsters, scampi and Dublin Bay prawns.

Originally found off the coast of Norway, langoustines are a member of the lobster family. These days they’re caught along the Atlantic coast, including Scotland, as well as the western Mediterranean and the Adriatic, though overfishing has caused numbers to drop, so their rareness makes them even more of a delicacy.

Langoustines don't change colour when they are cooked unlike their big cousin, the lobster. They have pink, narrow smooth-shelled bodies, with long knobbly claws, and are not very meaty. The shell, head and thorax (the upper torso) can't be eaten, but the tail and the meat in the claws can. As they spoil very quickly, most langoustines are cooked and frozen at sea, so it's quite hard to find live ones.

They’re solitary predators, feeding on smaller sea creatures. Trawling is the most common form of fishing, when the langoustines are caught as they emerge from their burrows in the seabed. Unfortunately, this method of capture also kills the undersized and berried (pregnant) ones and produces a large dead by-catch as well.

Enjoying your time in Thailand? Well, here’s an interesting fact. Chances are, the langoustines you enjoy back in Europe have made the 27,000km round-trip to Thailand too. Every summer many holidaymakers head for the Mediterranean with one goal in mind – as soon as they’ve checked in to their hotel, they’ll wander down to a seaside restaurant and start the holiday over a large plate of langoustines, some crusty bread and a chilled white wine or two. Few will realize that the highlights of their delicious seafood lunch, caught in European waters, have been frozen and sent to Thailand for hand-peeling, before being sent all the way back to Europe again to find their way to the restaurants. It’s cheaper to have the langoustines transported to and from Thailand for hand-peeling than to process them by machine in a European factory. Hand-peeling apparently also makes for a better piece of scampi when the prawn makes its return journey to be breaded and fried. Environmentalists are opposed to these well-travelled langoustines on the grounds that the trans-shipment of 120,000 tonnes per year leaves a substantial carbon ‘claw’ print.

Langoustines are usually sold frozen and ready-prepared, with the shell removed. If you’re lucky enough to be able to buy live langoustines (not likely here on Samui), make sure they’re still moving. Larger ones are better value, as they'll have more flesh, and that’s the part you’re after. Avoid those whose tails have started to turn black - they're dead. And generally speaking, the colder the waters in which the langoustines were fished, the better their flavour, which is why Scottish langoustines are considered to be the best.

To prepare pre-cooked langoustines, first thaw if frozen - then they’re ready to eat. Live crustaceans should be cooked as soon as possible after buying them. If you’re squeamish about popping a live creature into boiling water, the most humane method is to rinse them, then put them in the freezer or in a dish and cover with crushed ice for a couple of hours, which basically knocks them unconscious. And then cook them whole. Either grill for a minute on the first side, then 30 seconds on the other, or pop into well-salted boiling water and boil rapidly for two to three minutes. Overcooking is sacrilege – so look at the meat under the tail, which can be seen through the thin shell that covers it. It should have turned from pale, translucent pink to a definite white. Let the langoustines cool as quickly as possible in one layer on a tray, but don’t even think of putting them in cold water, as is often suggested, as they will suck up water and the flesh will turn mushy. They’re best served simply with mayonnaise. It’s quite a mission to get the flesh out, even with lobster crackers and picks, but this is all part of the build-up before being rewarded with the succulent meat. Perhaps sending them to the other side of the world for peeling makes more sense now…

And considering they’ve done their trek to Thailand, it seems fitting that frozen, peeled langoustines be used in a fusion dish, incorporating some of the flavours of their travels. You’ll often see langoustines in fusion versions of Thai green or red curries, and they can be used in most dishes where prawns, crabmeat or lobster are called for. The flavour is distinctly different to both prawn and lobster, but still works well in such dishes. Fresh langoustines are delicious cooked as above and served with just a squeeze of lemon and a dollop of mayonnaise, garlic butter or aioli, but can also be added to curry, pasta and paella. They’re also enjoyed deep-fried in batter or bread crumbs, or peel and poach them and make traditional scampi Provençal. Pre-boiled langoustines should be reheated gently; as if they’re recooked, they'll toughen. Alternatively, eat pre-boiled langoustines cold in a salad with vinaigrette.

While you’re staying on Samui, it’s probably best to go local when it comes to seafood, so try the prawns harvested right here in the Gulf of Thailand, or if you want something a little fancier, lobster from the Andaman coast. But when in Europe, while enjoying your plate of langoustines, perhaps it’ll remind you of your visit to Thailand, knowing that they probably made that same journey before ending up as your dinner.


Rosanne Turner


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