Russian Plateau de Fruits de Mer

Posted by Florian in Russian Food, Seafood, tagged with , , , , , , , ,

This is one of my recurring ramblings: why do we see so little shellfish in Russian restaurants outside of Russia? Oh sure, you can have seafood fettuccine, lobster bisque, snails in garlic sauce, or softshell crabs at Tatiana or Volna in Brooklyn. Maybe even some shrimp cocktail and mussels vaguely marinières. But only in the lengthy salad section of the menu do you ever spot mussels, shrimp, and squid in dishes that actually looks like ethnic cuisine (if only because nobody likes non-lettuce salads as much as Russians do).

Yet there’s plenty of shellfish in Russia — or at least some! Just try to count how many seas the country’s got coasts on: the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Bering Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, the Sea of Japan, plus a bunch of bodies of arctic water whose names nobody knows. Go to the Black Sea and despite the water’s low salinity, you’ll be served local mussels, shrimp, or Black Sea whelks. Just look at the menu of a place like Baran Rapan in Sochi, where half of the dishes are seafood: salads, shashlyks, soups, stews, pies, pasta, and more. Venture to the Far East, and it’s scallops, oysters, prawns, king crab, octopus, and (another type of) whelks. This is, after all, the Sea of Japan, the same sea whence Japan supplies its own seafood-heavy cuisine. Check out Ogonyok’s provenance-centric menu or Zuma’s simple “aquarium” seafood in Vladivostok.

And yes, some of those places even offer shellfish platters. The aforementioned Zuma does. In Saint-Petersburg, Pryanosti i Radosti, for example, does too, even if I cannot confirm that any of it comes from the Baltic. Some places in Moscow probably do as well, but not being located by the sea, chances are they have French names, French chefs, and French seafood flown in daily (well, except for the current food ban), so that’s cheating. But platter options, in any case, remain scarce.

Out in Brooklyn, they seem non-existent. Maybe you could order oysters, shrimp, and scallops separately, and transfer them to a single large plate? Don’t they realize — all those places that welcome you with faux chic decor, with tuxedoed waiters serving pseudo-classy dishes (such as Baku Palace and its fake crab) — that a simple shellfish platter would look more impressive, and turn more profit than, say, watermelon carvings or assortments of mayo-drenched appetizers? Or am I the only one to think so?

Seafood Platter at Pryanosti i Radosti
Seafood Platter at Pryanosti i Radosti

So to fill that gap, I decided to create my own plateau de fruits de mer that celebrates some of the diversity of the Russian marine fauna. It features products from seas across ten different time zones:

  • The oysters and king crab legs hail from the Peter the Great Gulf (that, or the Long Island Sound plus Alaska). Just like at the local restaurants with their “aquariums”, I’m serving serving them au naturel.
  • But the author of this blog doesn’t just throw some raw ingredients on the table and call it a recipe, no. The next tiers of the platter, coming from the Black Sea, require a little bit more work. During my trips, I remember seeing restaurant menus listing dishes like mussels baked in their shells with cheese and mayonnaise; julienne of mussels, squid, and shrimp in cream sauce with cheese and mushrooms; and the famous salads, as usual. I’m creating my own salad, and keeping the baked mussels, to preserve the two oh-so-Soviet seafood-cheese and everything-mayo combos. Then I make cute little bamboo skewers of shrimp and mussels, the former infused with tea, the latter flash-smoked with the Smoking Gun, for a post-Soviet update.
  • Finally, there’s the caviar, representing the Caspian of course (that, or Tennessee). I know, caviar doesn’t exactly count as shellfish, fish roe doesn’t have shells, etc., but hey.

Having prepared the plateau without first fully investigating the latest options offered in restaurants in Russia, I have some regrets now… Should I have included an adaptation of Ogonyok’s scallops with lemongrass and garlic scapes? A whelk shashlyk inspired by Baran Rapan? Fake crab drowned in Hellmann’s mayo?

Russian Food - Russian Seafood Plateau

Mussel preparation
Yields about 4 servings

900 g mussels in their shells
60 g white wine
6 g stems parsley
15 g peeled shallot, sliced

  • Rinse the mussels under cold water. If a shell is open and doesn’t stay shut when you pinch it, the mussel is dead and you should discard it (where I live, this happens way more often than it should).
  • Place the mussels, white wine, parsley, and shallot in a large pot. Cover with a lid, and cook over medium heat, shaking the pot regularly, until all the mussels have opened.
  • Take the mussels out of the pot. Keep some mussels on the half shell for the baked mussels below. Pick the rest out of their shells, let cool, and refrigerate.
  • Strain the cooking liquid in a chinois, let cool, and refrigerate (we’ll only use a tiny bit of it in the mayo).

Shrimp preparation
Yields 4 servings

120 g water
6.5 g smoky black tea (such as the Samovar black tea from Kusmi Tea)
230 g peeled jumbo shrimp
salt
canola oil

  • Heat the water to 95 C / 205 F using your favorite kitchen gadget (kettle, saucepan, microwave…). Stir in the tea leaves, and let steep for 10 minutes.
  • Strain the tea, discarding the tea leaves.
  • Season the shrimp generously with salt. Sauté in a hot pan with canola oil until the shrimp are slightly colored on both sides. Add the tea, and simmer for a few minutes, until the shrimp are cooked throughout. Let rest in the pan for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a container and reserve.

Russian Food - Russian Seafood Plateau

Squid preparation
Yields 4 servings

50 g squid tentacles (heads and arms)
50 g squid bodies (mantles)
salt
black pepper, ground
olive oil

  • Season the squid tentacles and bodies with salt and pepper.
  • Heat a pan over high heat with a thin layer of olive oil, add the tentacles — spread out — and sauté until brown on all sides. Let cool.
  • Cut the conical squid bodies into halves, like flat triangles, and use the tip of a knife to make some crossmarks on the outsides.
  • Heat a pan over high heat with a little bit of olive oil. Sauté the bodies crossmarks-down until just colored. The squid should be tender and just starting to curl. Let cool.

Lemon-mustard mayonnaise
Yields about 4 servings

1 (about 18 g) very fresh egg yolk
5 g Dijon mustard
10 g lemon juice
5 g mussel cooking liquid (or water)
1.5 g salt
0.5 g piment d’espelette
0.2 g xanthan gum (optional)
250 g canola oil

  • In a bowl, mix the egg yolk, mustard, lemon juice, mussel cooking liquid (or water), salt, and piment d’espelette. Optionally, sprinkle the xanthan gum while still mixing.
  • Slowly dribble in the oil, and whisk until the mayo is thick and the oil is incorporated. Keep pouring the oil in a thin stream while whisking. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.

Croutons
Yields 4 servings

40 g fresh white bread (e.g., baguette), medium dice
12 g olive oil

  • In a bowl, toss the bread with the olive oil.
  • Transfer to a sheet tray lined with parchment paper, and toast in a 225 C / 450 F oven until brown. Let cool.

Shrimp and squid salad
Yields 4 servings

salt
90 g peeled fingerling potatoes
75 g prepared shrimp
prepared squid
75 g tomato concassé
25 g pitted Kalamata olives, brunoise
croutons
40 g lemon-mustard mayonnaise
3.5 g parsley, minced
black pepper, ground

  • In a small saucepan filled with salted water, boil the potatoes until cooked, then drain and let cool.
  • Slice the potatoes. Cut the cooked shrimp into large dice. Cut the squid bodies into thinner strips, but keep the tentacles whole.
  • In a bowl, toss the potatoes, shrimp, squid, tomato, olives, croutons, mayo, and parsley. Rectify the seasoning with salt and pepper. Refrigerate.

Russian Food - Russian Seafood Plateau

Skewered mussels
Yields 4 servings (4 skewers)

80 g prepared mussels out of their shells

  • Stick the mussels onto short bamboo skewers, 4-5 mussels each, and transfer the skewers to a quart container.
  • Using a Smoking Gun, fill the quart container with smoke, close with a lid, and let sit for 1 1/2 minutes.
  • Open the container to let the smoke out, then close again and refrigerate.

Skewered shrimp
Yields 4 servings (4 skewers)

8 (about 120 g) prepared shrimp

  • Stick the shrimp onto short bamboo skewers, 2 shrimp each.
  • Bam, you’re done! Refrigerate.

Baked Mussels
Yields 4 servings

90 g lemon-mustard mayonnaise
60 g aged gouda, grated
16 prepared mussels in the half shell
chives, chopped

  • In a bowl, mix the mayo and the grated cheese. Spoon the mixture onto the mussels. Don’t put too much if you don’t want to completely overpower the mussels — it’s OK if you have some mixture left.
  • Transfer the mussels to an oven-safe dish, and bake in a 175 C / 350 F oven for about 10 minutes, until the cheese is completely melted. Don’t try to brown the cheese, as this will break the mayo and you’ll end up with a greasy mess (as I did on my first attempt).
  • Sprinkle with chives, and proceed with assembly immediately (ideally, you should start the assembly while the mussels are baking).

Russian Food - Russian Seafood Plateau

Assembly
Yields 4 servings

about 400 g king crab legs
12 oysters
1 lemon, cut into quarters or eighths, seeded
shrimp and squid salad
100 g caviar
skewered shrimp, room temperature
skewers mussels, room temperature
baked mussels, hot
remaining lemon-mustard mayonnaise
about 50 g butter
about 100 g crème fraîche
assorted breads (rye and Pullman recommended) and bagels, optionally toasted

  • Using kitchen scissors, cut the shells of each crab leg lengthwise twice, so that the meat can be easily picked out by the diners.
  • Using an oyster knife and the usual precautions, shuck the oysters, keeping the liquor in the shells.
  • Arrange all the elements on a seafood tray to your liking. For example, place the crab legs, oysters, and lemon wedges together on ice; have the shrimp and squid salad and a tin of caviar together; the skewered shrimp, skewered mussels, and baked mussels can form another tier, which doesn’t need to be chilled.
  • Spoon the mayo, butter, and crème fraîche in ramekins, and distribute where they fit.
  • Serve with assorted breads and bagels.

Russian Food - Russian Seafood Plateau