Roasted langoustines (ofnbakaður humar)

Mention lobster and the image conjured up in most people's minds tends to be of an American lobster. Looks yummy, doesn't it?
Public domain image downloaded from Pixabay

Public domain image downloaded from Wikimedia

However, when Icelanders speak of lobster, they tend to mean leturhumar or langoustine (Nephrops norvegicus), a smaller cousin of the American lobster that is found in the north Atlantic ocean and parts of the Mediterranean. The westernmost part of its range is around Iceland and it is found as far north as northern Norway and as far south as Portugal. (Here is a distribution map).

Also known as Norway lobster, Dublin Bay prawn or scampi, it is a delicious crustacean that has many fans. It can be used in many different kinds of dishes, but the most popular uses in Iceland are in soup and roasted, grilled or fried. Often the same langoustines will provide material for two dishes, with most of the flesh being fried/grilled/roasted and the shells being used to make soup stock. This is decidedly not a traditional food - Icelanders of old would at best have used langoustines as bait, and probably not even that, just as American lobsters were once so little regarded that they were used as fertiliser. 

I like langoustines best simply roasted or fried. When I make them for myself, I generally remove the shells and de-vein the langoustines before briefly sautéing them in butter with lots of crushed garlic and eat them straight out of the pan. When I have company, I prefer to roast them in the oven, because it takes a lot of langoustines to feed a group of people and frying them would be too much work.

For a main course, you will need about 400 to 500 grams of langoustine tails in the shell to serve one person. I generally buy what's called "broken" langoustines (brotahumar or skelbrot), which are cheaper than whole ones. "Broken" means that they don't look particularly good and might, for example, have bits missing from the shell, be halfway torn apart, be in pieces, etc. They also have not been separated into sizes, so you can get tiny ones and large ones and all sizes in-between in the same box. This makes oven-roasting them a bit tricky. It's best, if possible, to get them as even-sized as possible.

To serve four as a main course:
1.6 kilos langoustine tails in the shell
about 150 grams (or more as needed) butter
6 cloves of garlic (or more if you really LOVE garlic)

If the langoustines are frozen, take them out and let them thaw for about an hour before de-veining. If they are fresh, de-vein them just before you cook them - give yourself some time because de-veining can be time-consuming if you have never done it before. Here's a video to show how it's done. 

However, I prefer to roast langoustines in the shell, because it ensures they stay succulent and don't get dry while cooking, so my method is slightly different:
     With a sharp knife, make a shallow cut through the back of the langoustine tail. Using your fingers, open the cut slightly and you should see the the vein. "Vein" is a misnomer, by the way, as it is actually the digestive tract (i.e. gut) of the animal, and part or all of it will generally be black or greenish in colour, a mixture of sand and partially digested food. Gently lift it up with the tip of a knife and pull it out. I actually prefer to use a wooden toothpick rather than the tip of a knife, because the gut is slippery and the toothpick gives a better grip than a knife.

AS you can see, the sizes can vary considerably.
Copyrighted image.
If there is a considerable difference in the sizes of the tails, I recommend splitting the biggest ones down the centre so that they just hang together by the shell. Arrange the tails in an oven pan with the cuts upwards.

If the sizes vary a lot, set the smallest ones aside. They can be put in another oven-pan, ready to be put into the oven, or you can quickly add them to the pan with the rest when the time comes.

Heat an oven to 180 °C for a convection oven, 190 °C for a regular oven.

Crush, grate or finely chop the garlic and put in a saucepan with the butter. Melt the butter over low heat. Cool down to the required consistency if necessary. It should be liquid enough to dribble but thick enough not to run much and cool enough to not start cooking the tails.

Dribble the garlic butter into the cuts in the langoustine tails and salt lightly. Put the tails into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes. 10 minutes should be enough for small and medium sized tails, but if they are large, you will need the full 15 minutes. Remove one and cut into it when 10 minutes have passed. If it's a solid white all the way through, it's cooked. A cooked langoustine should have a slightly softer than al dente feel when you bite into it, and be juicy. If it's firmer and feels dry, it's overcooked.

If you set aside any small tails, put them into the oven after 3 minutes if you're cooking for 10 minutes or 7-8 minutes if you are cooking for 15 minutes. 

Remove from the oven, pour the juices into a bowl and serve. The diners should be left to remove the langoustines from the shell, which is easy using a knife to hold the tail still while the fork is used to pluck the flesh from the shell. The flesh can be dipped into the juices as needed.

I prefer to serve langoustine tails with just pieces of baguette on the side, which can be used to mop up any stray juices, but feel free to add other elements to the meal.


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