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Herbs for Shellfish

What is the ultimate foodie treat?

This is subjective of course, but a safe bet would be a platter of prawns or oysters for that champagne occasion, whether it is an anniversary, a bonus or winning the lotto. Creating your own prawn feast at home is more affordable, and it’s possible to be a lot more creative with special dips, butters and sauces to go with the prawns. The secret is to buy fresh prawns and use your powers of persuasion to encourage the fishmonger to devein them for you. If that‘s not possible, rope in the family to make light work of it; bribery may be necessary. So what are the best herbs for shellfish? As with all other fish, lemon-flavoured herbs bring out the sweet flavour of prawns and are often used in combination with chilli and garlic for a zesty, taste-tingling experience..

Reuben Riffel’s ‘Prawns on Fire’ with basil and chillies

Coming from a nation of chilli eaters who love to braai, it’s no surprise that celebrity chef Reuben Riffel has developed this ultimate braai recipe: peri-peri prawns with basil butter.

For the peri-peri sauce, sweat one sliced onion, 15 red chillies (deseeded and chopped) and 4 sweet red peppers, also chopped, over a slow heat for 10 – 15 minutes. Stir in 100ml red wine vinegar to deglaze, add 30g smoked paprika and simmer for a further 20 minutes. Pulse in a food processor until smooth.

The basil herb butter is even simpler. Blend 150g butter, the juice of one lemon, salt and black pepper to taste with a handful of basil leaves. On a hot braai grill tiger prawns (cut open) topped with slices of lemon and fresh basil leaves for two minutes on each side (starting with the meat side down). To serve, top each prawn with a dollop of basil butter and peri-peri sauce.

3 Must Have Herbs for Prawns and Shellfish

Basil ‘Lemonade’ is a new basil that caught the attention of gardeners at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show. Its lemon flavour is softer than that of lemon basil, and it has an additional hint of cloves. It grows into a neat, bushy plant (30cm high and wide) with soft green pointed leaves that release a zesty lemon fragrance when rubbed or bruised. Plants tolerate a wide range of weather conditions and remain disease free.

Plant in full sun in fertile soil that drains well, and water regularly. When using the leaves, tear rather than chop to retain the aroma.

Basil ‘Lemonade’ marinade

Use this as a marinade and a baste for prawns, line fish or chicken. You will need: 2 tablespoons chopped basil leaves, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, the juice from 2 lemons and ¼ cup olive oil. Mix everything together. Pour the marinade over the prawns and leave them to absorb the flavour for at least one hour or overnight. Brush the marinade over the prawns as they are grilling.

Thread prawns on soaked wooden skewers and grill for 4 minutes on each side, basting with the marinade.

Basil ‘Lemonade’ dressing

Toss this zesty dressing into a prawn salad or stir into warm pasta and mix in crunchy sweet peppers, creamy diced avocado, mango and prawns for a light lunch or supper.

To make: Toss a handful of basil leaves, coriander leaves, the juice and zest of one lime and one orange, ½ teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons honey and 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar into a food processor and whip until smooth. Stir into hot pasta or a salad just before serving.

Lemongrass does double duty as an ornamental grass, growing into quite a substantial clump. It is one of those plant-and-forget herbs that requires only regular watering. Being frost sensitive, it dies down in winter. Cutting back hard in spring encourages new growth and keeps the clump under control. The sweet-sour lemon flavour of its leaves adds depth to any recipe that calls for lemon in one form or another.

Lemongrass dipping sauce

Lemongrass features in many Thai dishes, and that’s the inspiration behind prawn bundles that are dipped in a lemongrass sauce. Instead of shiso leaves, wrap the prawns in lettuce, basil or Chinese cabbage leaves, with a sprig of coriander in the bundle. Secure with a toothpick.

To make: Remove the outer layers from a stem of lemongrass and coarsely chop the tender inner stem. Mince it in a food processor, stir in ¼ cup of water and add the following ingredients: ¼ cup Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 garlic clove (minced), 1 teaspoon minced chilli, 1 tablespoon finely chopped Thai basil leaves, and 1 tablespoon finely chopped mint leaves. Pulse until the ingredients blend into a sauce.

Chillies are good-looking plants (especially when full of fruit) for the patio, in pots or mixed with flowers and veggies. Although many blame the seeds for harbouring the heat, capsaicin is more concentrated in the white membranes of the fruit. Chillies are rated according to their capsaicin content, using a scale developed in 1912 by a pharmacist named Scoville. Easily available varieties are ‘Jalapeno’ (Scoville scale 6), ‘Cherry Bomb’, ‘Cayenne’, (Scoville scale 8), ‘Thai Dragon’ (Scoville scale 9) and ‘Habanero’ (Scoville scale 10). Chillies need sun, fertile well-draining soil and regular watering. Feed with a liquid fertiliser once a month.

Chillies dry easily, and this is a good way of preserving a glut of them. String the peppers by running a needle and thread through the thickest part of the stem. Hang them outdoors or in a sunny window to dry. Drying takes about three weeks, after which the fruit should be brittle. Store the dried chillies whole in a container in a cool dark place. Crush them as you need them using a rolling pin or whiz them in a blender for a finer powder.

Lemon-chilli salt

Australian food stylist and author Donna Hay serves her crispy prawns with a lemon-chilli salt and garlic mayonnaise; a match made in heaven.

To make lemon-chilli salt, place 30g sea salt flakes and 1 teaspoon of chilli powder in a bowl and pound it with a pestle until fine. Add 1 tablespoon lemon zest and ½ teaspoon ground black pepper. Mix well and set aside for use. Jam jar chilli dressing is a good standby to keep in the refrigerator. Put the following ingredients in a jam jar, close and shake to mix well: 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 teaspoons honey, juice of 1/2 a lime, ¼ of a small chilli, seeded and very finely chopped, and 1 tablespoon finely chopped coriander leaves.

For more info: www.healthyliving-herbs.co.za