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Langoustine, from sea to plate.


Pierre Lorthioir, les langoustines
Les Langoustines by Pierre Lorthioir, a local painter to discover in our Partners pages.



The langoustine, or Nephrops norvegicus, is a decapod crustacean, the only species in the genus Nephrops. As in French, it is sometimes known as ‘langoustine’ in English, but it will be more familiar to many in Britain as ‘scampi’. Other names for it are Norway lobster or Dublin Bay prawn, and whilst it looks like a shrimp, it is officially in the lobster family. Langoustine are found in the north-eastern Atlantic, from Iceland to southern Portugal, and in the North Sea. They are also present in the Mediterranean, particularly in the western Med.

La langoustine

Langoustine is usually caught using trawling nets; France has a fleet of around 80 boats using this method. Ireland and the UK are the other two countries exploiting this species, and the biggest fisheries are located in southern Ireland. Yield from these fisheries varies through the year, mainly due to hydrological conditions.



Chalutiers


France’s langoustine economy predominantly takes place in southern Brittany, with trawlers based in the ports of Le Guilvinec, Douarnenez and Lorient. These boats are 20 metres in length on average, and each catch takes 14 days. They use a 100mm mesh, which allows them to target fish if langoustine numbers are not sufficient. The majority of langoustines sold to the French market measure between 11cm and 15cm. Only about 10% of these are female, partly due to many females being thrown back by the fishermen because of their size (females are smaller than males of the same age). French boats throw a large quantity back, in comparison to Irish boats which find a market for smaller langoustines. Studies have shown that approximately 25% of langoustines that are thrown back into the sea survive.



Les langoustines


Langoustine is seasonal, and the best period to enjoy it is between April and October, which nicely complements the season for scallops, which are best eaten between October and Easter. The French are the most prolific consumers of langoustine, eating 14,000 tonnes per year, of which 80% is consumed in western France.



Chalutiers



In France, langoustine is caught in the Bay of Biscay or along the Breton coast around Loctudy. Here langoustine is sold whole; alive, dead on ice, or frozen. Langoustine lives only a short time in the open air, barely 12 hours, and is therefore very delicate. It is best to buy it alive, soon after being caught. You can tell a fresh langoustine by the blackness of its eye and its pink, shiny shell.



La langoustine



Langoustine is very popular in Brittany, and found in every seafood restaurant. The ‘capital’ of langoustine fishing is the area of Loctudy and Le Guilvinec, two neighbouring ports in Bigouden country, in the far southwest of Brittany.



Chalutiers



Loctudy, a traditional Breton fishing port, has even adopted the langoustine as a sort of emblem, dubbing it ‘The Lady of Loctudy’. You can’t stay in Finistère (western Brittany) without tasting it, either in a restaurant or at home; fried, poached, grilled, flambéed, roasted or simply cooked, with a good homemade mayonnaise.



                         Les langoustines



‘The maritime district of Le Guilvinec’ encompasses the four ports of the Bigouden area: Le Guilvinec, St Guénolé, Bénodet, Loctudy & Lesconil. 98 of the 253 boats within this maritime district are based at Le Guilvinec itself. It is the largest maritime area in France, both in terms of the number of fishermen and the value of the fish sold. The Bigouden ports represent 17.5% of the fishing economy in France.



                         Les langoustines



About 850 tonnes of langoustine per year are brought into Le Guilvinec. From April to July, the industry is in full swing. But this sector has become less profitable in recent times, a victim of fuel prices and European standards on discarding fish at sea. "It represents 80% of our turnover," says an independent fisherman, "the rest is hake, sole, monkfish, pout or conger."



Port du Guilvinec



The nicest way to buy langoustine is at a small local port, at the fish market. If you wait for the return of the fishing boats in the afternoon, you’ll get the freshest produce, caught that morning... A kilo of langoustine costs about 15-25 euros, although prices do rise a little during the holiday season, towards 40 or even up to 80 euros per kilo - the price depends on the size of the shellfish, the larger being the most expensive (even though the smaller ones taste just as good!). Also when the weather is bad and the boats can’t go out the prices rise. You’ll need around 300-500 grams per person for a meal.



                     Les langoustines


There are many ways to cook and prepare langoustine. The gastronomic restaurant « La Taupinière », in Pont-Aven, is expert in the preparation of this delicious inhabitant of our Breton waters, and has made it their speciality - you’ll find their details in our Partners pages.



Les langoustines


But why not prepare them yourself after buying them direct at the port from the local fishing boats, or at the market, or of course at the fishmonger or fish section of your supermarket. Here is my easy recipe:


Langoustines with mayonnaise



Les Langoustines mayonnaise




Boil a large quantity of very salty water in a large pan - the salinity should be close to that of sea water. Use sea salt crystals and, if you wish, a bouquet garni, some thyme or parsley.

Once the water is boiling, throw the langoustines (still alive) into the pan and leave them to cook for just a few minutes, until the water gets back to boiling point and a white froth begins to form on the surface. Remove the pan from the heat as soon as the water is bubbling rapidly, and leave the langoustines in the hot water for about one minute… then drain them and allow them to cool down naturally for about 20 minutes, as ideally they should be eaten lukewarm.




La Mayonnaise



A simple mayonnaise is the best accompaniment. You can either buy it in the supermarket or, of course, you can make it yourself, which will taste better! So, here is the recipe for the mayonnaise… In a bowl, mix together an egg yolk and a teaspoon of mustard (adjusting the amount according to your taste). Season with salt and pepper. Then incorporate, little by little, especially at first, a thin drizzle of sunflower oil (other oils are fine although perhaps not olive oil). Mix it vigorously as you add the oil, and it will start to thicken to a mayonnaise consistency. If you add too much oil too quickly, the mixture is effectively drowned and cannot be saved! The secret is to add the oil very gradually, whilst beating the mixture energetically, very little oil at the beginning then increasing the amount slowly. Another good tip is to make sure all the ingredients are at the same temperature, room temperature, when you start to incorporate them. At the end, you can add a few drops of vinegar, which serves to stabilise the emulsion you have produced. This homemade mayonnaise should really be prepared and consumed the same day, as it does not keep well.


                           La Mayonnaise


Then you just need to arrange the langoustines on a serving dish. The main meat is in the tail, of course, but also in the forelegs and pincers. This requires a certain technique, particularly if the langoustines are large, as follows: with a knife, make a nick of a few millimetres in the shell at the base of the immobile upper pincer, just before the joint, and when you snap it at the cut, the pincer will come away with the meat from the leg still attached and available to savour. Some people also suck the inside of the head!



Langoustines et crevettes



This popular Breton dish is delicious and easy to prepare, and great for special occasions. It could be accompanied by a good white wine - a muscadet, a gros-plant wine from the Nantes area, or an Alsace wine, a rustic loaf such as rye bread or black bread and, of course, slightly salted butter.

Bon appétit !

Philippe.