Saturday, May 02, 2009
WTSIM Avocado and Prawn Cocktail
Jeanne has asked us to cast our minds back to the Seventies for this month’s WTSIM – the theme is retro classics, things that we would now blush to present at a dinner party but which were the epitome of cool way back then.
My childhood memories of food are mostly of traditional home-cooked fare, ageless dishes like shepherds pie and Sunday roasts, and then the unchanging school-food themes of stews and pies, sausages and mashed potatoes, none of which were the height of food fashion even in the Seventies. But I do remember going out as a family for meals as a special treat at half-term or to start off the holidays. In our early teens the Berni Inn was our favourite venue, a chain of steak houses that served steak and chips in all its permutations, followed by ice cream with chocolate sauce and, as a hugely daring end to the meal, one of those Irish coffees where the cream floats in a thick layer on top leaving you to create swirls and patterns as you stir it in.
Very occasionally though we would dress up and be taken to a more sophisticated, grown-up restaurant called The Pheasant, usually with grandparents or to celebrate a momentous birthday. There we would order from big menus in the lounge by a log fire and only be shown to our table as the starters were about to be served. The main courses have faded from my memory, but I do remember my favourite starter, which I thought was incredibly sophisticated – half an avocado filled with a prawn cocktail heaped into the hollow left by the stone. Avocados were still a bit of a luxury then, and getting them to ripen, as now, was a challenge, so scooping out the succulent smooth flesh with a spoon with the addition of the prawns and a dash of sauce was the ultimate in indulgence.
I don’t think I have had a prawn cocktail since the Seventies and certainly couldn’t remember what went into the sauce, so I Googled it and found Delia’s recipe (and she should know the authentic Seventies style, as that was the era when she was really cool too!). My memories of the prawns in prawn cocktail back then, reveal them to be small in size, so probably not actually prawns at all but what are sold here as shrimps. And though Delia suggests organic ketchup and home-made mayonnaise, I am sure the Seventies wasn’t big on those either, so I went for good old Heinz tomato ketchup (bought specially for this as I am mean and never brought my kids up to eat it, though two of them acquired a taste for it regardless!) and bought mayonnaise. She also says to use lime juice but I don’t think we could get limes back then, so have used lemons for the sake of authenticity (also because I can’t get limes in my local town either!)
One thing I was sure I wouldn’t have a problem with was getting good ripe avos, as the avocado season has started here now and I bought two specially last week for this. But they stayed stubbornly hard and I had to resort to putting them in a bag with a banana in a belated attempt to ripen and soften them sufficiently to be eaten with a spoon. The flesh should be velvety and seductive, not hacked out in solid lumps sending prawns flying in every direction.
I did very little measuring for this, just mixing up the sauce ingredients to taste, though I overdid the Tabasco to start and had to increase the quantities of everything else.
Avocado Prawn Cocktail
2 ripe avocados
a couple of handfuls of peeled small prawns or shrimps
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2-3 drops Tabasco sauce
squeeze of lemon juice
Mix up the sauce to taste. Cut avocados in half and remove the stone. Put a dollop of sauce in the hollow of each avo, fill with defrosted prawns and top with either a squeeze of lemon juice or more sauce depending on how much sauce you like. Sprinkle some shredded parsley on top for contrast. Eat with a spoon and add more sauce and prawns if you like.
The kids were unimpressed by my culinary retrospective and fled down the hill to lunch at their aunt’s, but my husband gamely sampled his. We were both rather underwhelmed however – it didn’t live up to my fond recollections – probably because I don’t really like cocktail sauce much! The frozen shrimps were fairly flavourless and need the clout of a strong sauce, but next time I would forget tradition and go with a strong balsamic vinaigrette and good sea salt.
The other reason that this dish has lost its glamour for me, besides the fact that I seem to have a more sophisticated palate, is that in South Africa the avocado has never been an exotic rarefied ingredient. My husband remembers having avocado breakfasts as a child in the Sixties and Seventies, when they would each fill half and avocado with a selection of toppings, ranging from crispy bacon, to cream cheese or plain vinaigrette and guzzle however many they could manage, as in winter here avocados are plentiful and cheap. All you really need with a perfectly ripe avocado is some good olive oil, a dash of lemon juice and some sea salt for an exquisite lunch or starter. Who needs prawns and cocktail sauce when it tastes so good alone?!
We did enjoy the novelty though and there is an intrigued candidate for finishing off the de-frosted shrimps!