It was a real treat for dinner tonight: a pink prawn, salmon and asparagus lasagne. I’m not talking shrimp here but tigers. Succulent and juicy with tender salmon in a lemon-infused béchamel. Even panda-in-crime gave it a rare ten out of ten seal of approval. And would you believe that this is our eating on a budget? For this, I must give thanks to (1) the Japanese shop below Escapade Sushi that sells the offcuts and trimmings of sashimi grade salmon and (2) the local fish market in Gadong.
The mangroves fringing the estuary and Brunei bay provide nursery grounds and a safe haven for a plentiful supply of prawns, fish and shellfish. Local fishing methods such as cast-netting, in which a circular net with small weights fringing the edge is ‘cast’ into the water so it spreads out and sinks down trapping the critters within, are sustainable. The fishermen make it look so easy, but there is definitely a knack to it which I haven’t yet mastered –much to their amusement.
You’ll be pleased to know that I’m not going to embark on a tirade of the importance of ethically sourced produce, as I’ll devote a future post to sustainable fishing and the aquaculture industry, so back to the recipe we go. The secret to an exceptional lasagne is to first infuse the milk from which you make the béchamel sauce. Typically I use half an onion studded with cloves, a bay leaf and a couple of peppercorns, but as this was a seafood lasagne, I popped in the heads and shells of the peeled prawns and a couple of strips of lemon peel. I think the depth of flavour it imparts is well worth the extra time and effort of prawn peeling and milk straining, but you can skip this step and use shelled prawns if you wish.
RECIPE: PINK PRAWN AND SALMON ASPARAGUS
Makes two individual servings
12 large prawns, peeled with heads and shells reserved
200g of salmon trimmings
A bundle of asparagus (you may need to blanch these first)
50g of butter
25g of plain flour
Half an onion studded with 5 cloves
A bay leaf
Two strips of lemon peel
The remaining zest and juice of one lemon
A handful of roughly chopped flat parsley or tarragon
A grating of nutmeg
Anchovy paste (optional)
A sprinkling of salt
A couple of grinds of white pepper
Fresh lasagne sheets
A dusting of parmesan to finish
INSTRUCTIONS: First you need to make the béchamel or white sauce. Pop the prawn heads, shells and salmon fillets into a saucepan with the milk, onion, peppercorns, bay leaf, and lemon peel. Using a low heat, bring the pan of milk slowly up to simmering point and simmer for five minutes by which time the salmon should be just cooked. Remove the salmon from the pan and leave it aside to cool before flaking (if you only have small chunks of salmon, poach the fish for two to three minutes in the milk and remove the pieces before adding in the prawn carcases). Let the milk simmer gently for five more minutes until the prawn shells are deep red in colour and then strain the liquid into a jug. Melt the butter in the same saucepan and stir in the flour so the roux forms a paste. Cook for a minute or two over a gentle heat and remove from the heat. I find that I don’t get lumps if I just add a little bit of milk at first as it’s much easier to stir out any lumps. You can then add in the rest stirring it vigorously. Return the sauce to the stove and bring it up to the boil when it will start to thicken. Keeping stirring, reduce the heat and gently simmer for a couple more minutes before adding in the juice and zest of a lemon, the chopped herbs and a grating of nutmeg. Taste the sauce and season with salt and white pepper. If you wish you can add a squirt of anchovy paste and reduce the salt added.
Now it’s time to layer up your lasagne. Place a spoon of sauce in the bottom of the dish and cover with a layer of lasagne. Place the fish, raw prawns and asparagus (blanched in boiling water for 30 seconds if the spears have a generous girth) on top and cover with a generous layer of sauce. Add another layer of pasta and then another fish and sauce layer. Cover with the final layer of lasagne sheets, pour over the remaining sauce making sure that the pasta is fully immersed, arrange a couple of asparagus tips and an unpeeled prawn on top if you’re feeling artistic and dust with finely grated parmesan. Bake in a medium pre-heated oven for twenty to twenty-five minutes until the lasagne sheets are cooked and the sauce is bubbling up and starting to turn golden brown. Serve with a simply dressed salad and a hunk of garlic bread, pour out a glass of a crisp white wine and enjoy.