Sometimes I wish that someone would produce a British chef family tree of masters, protégés and establishments so that I could pore over the complex story of how cooking expertise in the UK has been propagated down the years. Hell, I might even do it myself. One of the pivotal British chef lineages is the one that starts with Albert and Michel Roux and goes something like this: Roux Brothers (Le Gavroche, The Waterside), Pierre Koffman (Le Gavroche, Tante Claire), Marco Pierre White (Le Gavroche, Tante Claire, Harvey’s), Gordon Ramsay (Tante Claire, Harvey’s, Aubergine, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay), Clare Smyth (the Waterside, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Core), Matt Abé (Restaurant Gordon Ramsay).
As chefs learn one from another, recipes also get passed along the chain. It was Marco Pierre White who dreamed up lobster ravioli during a phase where he admits to making an awful lot of pasta. Ramsay took the recipe to Aubergine and then to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, where it remains at the head of the menu to this day, under the supervision of Matt Abé.
In 1990, White collaborated with photographer Bob Carlos Clarke to create possibly the most important cookbook ever produced by a British Chef. This was White Heat. White Heat, is a modest-sized book of some 60 recipes that covers most of the Harvey’s menu. Many of the recipes are challenging, and most use ingredients that domestic cooks can find hard to come by.
This slim book of slightly inaccessible recipes became what I believe to be the second step change in modern British cuisine. The first of these was the 1890 arrival in London of Auguste Escoffier. Although there were chefs crossing the Channel the whole time, I think it is fair to say that Escoffier cemented the notion of French-style cuisine in the minds of the British diner. If it was Auguste Escoffier transformed our view of food, it was Marco Pierre White who transformed our view of chefs. White Heat was a gritty manifesto to hard work and love of the craft of cooking. The photographs portrayed White as part cook, part sex symbol and part madman. Hundreds of cooks and chefs up and down the country suddenly had a hero and a goal to shoot for. Cooking was now cool and people wanted to a piece of that. Of the book, chef-writer and fellow madman Anthony Bourdain wrote:
“Marco Pierre White was the original rock-star chef – the guy who all of us wanted to be … he made history.”
Of course, White Heat contains White’s recipe for lobster ravioli. I has taken me a while to work up to this, including a dummy run with king prawn. I finally felt the pressure to finish the job because I have dinner booked in 2 weeks with Matt Abé cooking, and I intend to order the lobster ravioli. It somehow felt important to make the original before I try the latest iteration.
It is important to get fresh, uncooked lobster. The best way to do this is to get a live one. To deal with it, you need to put him in the fridge to make him go to sleep. Cover him with a piece of wet paper to settle him. If he is stressed out, he will release cortisol into his flesh, and that adversely affects the taste. To deal with the lobster, you need to line up a knife on the cross point between head and carapace, drive that down and through the head in in one quick movement. For White’s recipe, you are only going to blanch the meat to release the membranes, so many of the instructionals on the web on how to extract lobster meat do not apply. You will need to run a finger inside the shells to additionally loosen the flesh before it will come out in one piece. Forget the legs, unless you want to cook those in full and have them as a chef’s treat while you make the rest of the dish.
It is very important to leave the pincers tied with elastic as lobster blanched this way will make a very good impression of being very alive even after being thoroughly dismembered.
We obtained our lobster from Cheshire Fish, 4 Roe Street, Macclesfield, Cheshire SK11 6UT, where the staff had named him ‘Barnacle Bill’ on account of a barnacle attached to his pincer (for some peculiar reason, my son named him ‘Lobster F Kennedy’). Call +44 1625 425567 24h ahead in the season to get your fresh, live lobster. British lobsters are in season from April until November.
You can get our basic pasta recipe here.
Lobster ravioli Marco Pierre White
- For the ravioli:
- 1 fresh, live lobster
- 25g fresh root ginger, cut into a brunoise
- A few sprigs of coriander, finely chopped
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- Lemon juice
- 115g fresh salmon fillet, skinned, boned and cubed
- 1 egg
- Sea salt
- 115g fresh basic pasta, with some semolina for dusting (in practice, it is easier to just make 200g with 150g flour, 50g semolina and 2 eggs and deal with the waste)
- For the sauce:
- 60ml vegetable stock
- 1 knob of butter
- 20ml sherry vinegar
- 5 ml soy sauce
- For the garnish:
- 10 king scallops, coral removed and sliced through the middle into 20 discs
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 leek, julienned
Begin by making the sauce. Reduce the vegetable stock with the butter until it coats the back of a spoon. Combine the vinegar and soy and reduce by half. Add a little of this to the stock until you can just taste it poking through (take care as the vinegar is potent). Reserve the remaining soy vinegar mix.
Next, make the raviolis. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Ensure the lobster pincers are tied. Kill the lobster by driving a knife through the cross and down through the head. Twist off the pincers and tail (protect your hands with kitchen towels). Bits of anatomy will keep moving as you do this – try to ignore it. Blanch the tail in the boiling water for 10 seconds, and the pincers for 15 seconds. Recover the meat from each part, chill for 1 hour and then cut into 1cm cubes.
Meanwhile, put the salmon and egg in a food processor and purée. Salt to taste.
Put the ginger brunoise in a very small pan (a Mauviel 'Mini' works well if you have one), cover with water, add some lemon juice and bring to the boil. Refresh the water and repeat three times to make the ginger taste a bit milder.
Combine the lobster, cayenne pepper, coriander, salmon purée and ginger in a bowl. Adjust seasoning and chill while you make the pasta.
Have a large pan of rolling, boiling water to hand, as you are going to make and cook the raviolis as you go. Roll out some pasta to the thinnest setting on your pasta machine and dust with semolina to improve handling. Cut two discs 10cm in diameter (these are big raviolis for a reason). Wet the edges of the pasta discs, hold on in the cup of your hand and add a spoon of the lobster mix. Close over with the second disc and pinch all around to seal. Toss the ravioli in the boiling water for 30 seconds, recover, plunge into cold water to stop the cooking, recover again, blot with a kitchen paper and set aside on a large, deep dish. Repeat for all four raviolis. Make a fifth one if you can in case you have a disaster. Cover the raviolis and chill until you need them.
To make the garnish, heat a pan to medium with the olive oil (not too hot or you will burn the food) and fry the julienned leeks until just browning. Remove and place on kitchen paper to blot dry.
Heat a dry, non-stick frying pan to hot, and then fry the scallops for 20 seconds on each side. Use the cheffy technique of working from 12 o'clock in the pan placing one scallop per second, and turning one scallop per second. Remove one scallop per second, paint each with a tiny amount of the reserved soy vinegar mix (I use a clean finger) and keep warm while you reheat the raviolis.
Gently rewarm the sauce (take care as it will go dry in an instant). Bring a pan of water to the boil and reheat all the raviolis together for 2 minutes. Lift out with a slotted spoon and blot with paper.
To serve, arrange the scallops around the plate, intersperse with clumps of crispy leeks. Place a ravioli in the middle, and spoon a little of the warmed sauce over.
The mise en place for the part cooked raviolis is incredibly useful. To cook them from raw to finished in one bounce, boil for 3 minutes.