You don’t have to shell out (sorry) for lobster to treat yourself to a thermidor treat. This recipe uses razor clams (or ‘spoots’ to the Scots) and mussels – to make a ‘shellfish thermidor’, a cheaper, easier play on the famous lobster dish created by Marie’s restaurant in Paris to celebrate the opening of the Victorien Sardon play Thermidor at the Comedie Francaise. As you might expect it is an elegant, luxuriant seafood dish of the high end variety using cream, cognac and Gruyere cheese.
But here’s the thing with seafood, various types of; different values are placed on different types of seafood depending on the cultural and historical context it is eaten in. I won’t repeat the myth that paupers ate lobsters in Victorian times but you get the idea – who knows how razor clams/spoots will be seen in future times? They may be attributed a higher place in the seafood pecking order, especially if they become more rare, so the trick is not to judge a food by what it currently costs. If it’s good but unpopular – maybe because it’s harder to prepare or is simply out of vogue – take advantage while you can because you never know how long it will be before people catch on!
Although this shellfish thermidor is a less labour-intensive, more economical version of the original it is no less delicious or luxurious than the dish which emerged in Paris in 1894. The work is all in the prep and it can then be assembled and ready in minutes to serve. It is therefore a perfect dinner party dish. Impressive, too, I think. They key to to it is in lightly cooking the shellfish beforehand and then cooling it down immediately before it becomes overcooked and tough. This is easily achieved by steaming them in a bamboo (or any type of) steamer for two minutes and quickly running under ice cold water.
The razor clams, or spoots as the Scots affectionately call them, need to be cleaned and the soft, sweet flesh seperated from the gritty, inedible bit and the mussels need to be gently prised from their shells. For presentation purposes the shells need to be dry so I tend to spread them out on a baking tray and put them into an oven that has been on high for a few moments and then turned off. The residual heat is all the shells need to dry off.
9 razor clams/spoots (or 3 per person)
1/2 kilo mussels between 3 (admittedly greedy) people, multiply up or down according to need.
1 oz butter
1 tbsp flour
Glug white wine
200 ml milk
100 ml double cream
1 oz parmesan
1 tsp mustard
2 cloves garlic
Couple tablespoons breadcrumbs
Steam the razor clams/spoots and mussels for two minutes and immediately run under cold water to chill down. Remove the shellfish from their shells and place the mussels in one bowl and the razor clams/spoots in another (as I said, you will need to take away the inedible part of the razor clams/spoots but the part that you eat is very easy to identify – take that part and cut it into 2cm pieces). Pat both types shellfish dry before you put them in the bowl, by the way.
Next, make your ‘thermidor’ sauce (this is not authentic, for one thing, we’re using Parmesan not Gruyere but there is no point trying to please the purists on this one seeing as I’ve already fundamentally changed the dish by substituting the lobster); melt the butter in a small pan and add the finely chopped or crushed garlic. Cook very lightly, making sure you don’t let the garlic brown. Pour in your glug of wine and sizzle it down until it has evaporated – you want the taste of it not the volume. Add the flour and stir like the clappers. Proceed from here pretty much in the usual bechamel-type sauce way. Add the milk gradually until it’s all incorporated, do the same with the cream and stir over a gentle heat until the sauce thickens. Finally stir in the mustard, the grated parmesan and salt to taste. Set aside too cool.
Dry off the shells as I’ve described above. You will only need to reserve one razor clam/spoot shell per person and half of the mussel shells (use the half of each shell that the mussel was not attached to – obviously!). When choosing which razor clam/spoot shells to use for presentation look for ones whose hinge has remained intact as this will help when you come to finish them off.
To assemble the dish you simply pour half the cooled sauce into each bowl of shellfish meat, combine thoroughly and divide between the shells. For the mussels this simply means placing one mussel in each half shell and for the razor clams/spoots divide the mixture into three and spoon into your chosen 3 shells. Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and grill for one to two minutes or until the breadcrumbs begin to brown.