Posted by: Carolyn ODonnell | November 17, 2018

Decadent Dalí Dinner Extravaganza Featuring a Bush of Crayfish

DSC_0772Feeding frenzy: Finally we sit down to sample the Bush that Jane built

To distract me from several unsavoury episodes at the dentist, my friend Jane Ripley offered to do something special for my birthday. Involving teeth for the more pleasurable activity of mastication, she proposed a Decadent Dalí Dinner.

Jane has a book you see: Les Diners de Gala. This was Salvador’s collection of recipes first published in 1974 and thoughtfully reissued by Taschen. It was up to me to choose the menu, but I knew in my waters that Jane had a hankering to sculpt something in prawns, in this case the Bush of Crayfish with Viking Herbs.
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Raw materials

We learnt a number of things from doing this. Firstly, the Vikings really liked dill. Secondly, prawns/crayfish poached in a broth containing cognac is a Very Good Thing. Thirdly, the cabbage does not make a stable base for a Bush of Crayfish and when the sodding thing has been assembled and then it falls over, then that is Very Bad Thing. Especially for an ancient damask tablecloth.

Allez, to the recipes. Yes, I realise Salvador was Spanish, but many of his recipes seem to have come from Parisian restaurants such as Maxim’s. And while my French is pretty mal, my Spanish is non-existent. On y va.

This is the book. Lovely shiny – decadent even – gold cover.
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Research and recipes. With cognac
The Bush of Crayfish with Viking Herbs is a recipe from a Parisian restaurant called La Tour d’Argent. After sharing it, the chef decided he didn’t want to share it, so the description of how to make it is rather vague. Ingredients are mentioned – though not in any specific quantities, and method is practically non-existent. Research was required.
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Here is Jane surrounded by cookbooks trying to figure out proportions of wine, vermouth and cognac for the broth (or bisque). This is a very First World set of problems. Then you may well cry: BUT WHAT ABOUT THE HERBS? C’est difficile, aussi.

A great deal of shopping was required.
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Somehow we struggled on. Jane valiantly trudged around Notting Hill and Holland Park looking for shellfish, a saddle of lamb for the main course, and some chestnut puree to make the dessert. Here is the menu with insights courtesy of Dalí.

This was a man with a very strong stance on spinach. To be exact, he hated “that detestable degrading vegetable”. He loathed it “because it is shapeless, like Liberty.” So no spinach then. We did have asparagus, which I think was OK, because there was a photo of it in the book. I can’t imagine Salvador would have let that happen if he had no fond place in his heart for greenery that could hold its shape. He really was very particular about food. He wanted to make a table out of boiled eggs so he could eat it afterwards. Go Cool Hand Dalí.

We figured out that crayfish would taste good in a broth of fish stock with 2 cups of wine, half a cup of Noilly Prat and half a cup of cognac. I imagined that drinking of cognac would be required at some point too.
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Herbs were needed. Vikings really loved dill, so that was a given, and after puzzling over a few books, Jane made a microbush of thyme and dill to be lowered into the broth. Et voila.
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The prawns/crevettes/crayfishy things were added.
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And cooked. Then the pot was put outside to cool where Wolfie and Cheekymouse, the Burmese cats who come to visit, gave it their seal of approval by trying to get at the contents. They were foiled by two bricks. Not on the cats, on the pot.
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Stuffing was required for the saddle of lamb. This meant chopping a lot of mushrooms, and then cooking them down, before adding chopped pâté. Foie gras was in the recipe, but duck pâté was a palate and wallet-satisfying substitute.
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Here’s the saddle of lamb au naturel.DSC_0720.JPG

The lamb bones were used to make stock.
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The lamb avec its stuffing.
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Bush of Crayfish Construction
This proceeded in a number of stages. Firstly, there was the matter of the core skewer and in what it might be inserted. A pumpkin was an early contender.
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Then the focus moved to a cabbage. Wrinkly tomatoes and some peppers were procured to form the middle section.
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Broccoli was poached in lemony water. Broccoli had to be in there, as I am highly regarded as a connoisseur of broccoli. Even my front page when I left The Times featured broccoli.
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Build it and they will come for dinner

Jane attempted a decorative base. This looked attractive, and then it fell over. Jane studied set design, worked on theatre productions and even decorated sets for John Cleese’s training films, but bending crayfish to her will in time for me and our lovely guests to eat them was a challenge.
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There were four main stages:
1. Partial construction with cabbage base, followed by collapse and minor damage to tablecloth.
2. Full construction with cabbage base followed by total collapse, frustrated muttering and more damage to tablecloth.
3. Construction with tomato base. Euphoria, followed by complete collapse, anguished shrieking and tablecloth decimation.
4. Final construction with extremely large onion base. This time the fucker stays where it is put. Yaay.
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Cabbage base: A good look, until it fell over

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Cabbage discarded: Looking good with a tomato base and slightly prawny tablecloth

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Nearly there …

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Yeah baby!

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Leaning tower of crayfish … Blame it on the broccoli

And then it fell over, which meant prawny juice everywhere and starting again.
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Finally! And not falling over, though tablecloth is a bit damp

When we thought it was safe to approach the table was set.
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Note the citrus used as ballast

We have many dishes to put on the tablecloth so prawny stains are not a major issue. Phew.
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Jane is happy the Bush of Crayfish is not falling over

Feeding the people

In the midst of crayfish chaos, guests arrived. Here are Richard, Lyndall and Michael with their Dalí Dribbles wondering if they will ever get fed something apart from crisps.

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Here I am, looking slightly crazed. Possibly I am just really hungry.
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The eyeliner is a tribute to Dalí. I was going to draw on a moustache, but that might have put people off their food. I am holding a Dalí Dribble, which is a great colour for a decadent cocktail. Maybe it needed a crayfish garnish.

Oh yes, the food: The crayfish/prawns were pronounced delicious. All that alcohol produced a stonking good broth too. Lyndall was having a month off drinking alcohol, but we made sure she ate plenty of it, as it was in the crayfish, the lamb sauce, and the dessert. Lyndall has been known to cook with alcohol though – I have eaten her Beer Bum Chicken.

When everyone had stuffed themselves into a mild stupor with cognaccy crustaceans, it was time for the lamb. Look away now, vegetarians.
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We put Michael to work and made him carve it.
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Twas a thing of beauty with its filling of diced mushroom and pâté. Cheekymouse was scratching at the back door demanding a slice, but he would have to wait for leftovers. C’etait magnifique!

Chocolate
This is my main criterion when it comes to dessert and Dalí came through with a chocolate, chestnut and rum concoction. The prunes on the top were soaked in rum too.
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It was marvellously moist and chocolatey, as I think most food should be. I would build a table out of this and eat it.

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A bit of birthday sparkle

DSC_0832.JPGWith fruit and no flour, it’s almost healthy

The Decadent Dalí Dinner was anointed a wonderful success: great to eat, and plenty of discussion points to chew over later. While this menu might be a little more taxing than the average person might consider for a mid-week supper, the individual dishes were not that difficult. Especially once we’d figured out the components. They are definitely all worth cooking – and eating – again.

As an added bonus, this meal was quite light on carbs. We were going to have bread, but we forgot to buy it and then we found we didn’t need it. Of course we did have cake – I think Marie Antoinette would have approved.

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