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Eric Akis: A sumptuous seafood dish for Valentine's Day

In this decadent Valentine’s Day dish for two, a saucy, creamy mix of seafood is served in and around a golden, flaky case of puff pastry
Seafood Vol-au-Vent for Two is a luscious mix of creamy seafood served in and alongside a puff pastry shell. ERIC AKIS

Saucy, creamy, sumptuous seafood is a wonderful thing that becomes even more delectable when served in a vol-au-vent, a golden case of puff pastry.

Vol-au-vent translated from French literally means “flight in the wind,” in other words, windblown. With regard to cooking, it’s a way to describe how light and airy puff pastry is when baked.

You could, of course, make puff pastry at home and form it into vol-au-vent. Or, you can do what I did and go the convenience route and by frozen, ready to bake vol-au-vent at a grocery store.

On packages of them, beyond vol-au-vent, you’ll also see the English name for this type of pastry, patty shells. For my recipe, which serves two, you’ll only need two vol-au-vent, but you can keep the rest frozen for another time.

To make the seafood mixture for my vol-au-vent, prawns were peeled, and a lobster tail was halved and the meat removed from the shells. The prawn shells and lobster shells were used to flavour the stock that was used in the sauce for the seafood.

To finish the dish, the lobster meat was cut into smaller pieces and it, the prawns and some bay scallops were sautéed in a skillet until just cooked through. They were removed from the pan, and the sauce was made in the skillet. The seafood was returned to the skillet and heated through in the sauce. A vol-au-vent was then set on each of two plates, and the seafood mixture was set in and around them.

There are a few steps required to make this dish, which would make a nice Valentine’s Day dinner. But you can prepare different elements of it in advance. You can also adjust amount of prawns and lobster added. See the Eric’s options part of the recipe for details.

I served the seafood vol-au-vent with miniature potatoes, small carrots and green beans. Instead of potatoes, you could also serve it with rice pilaf.

Seafood Vol-au-Vent for Two

A saucy, creamy mix of seafood served in and around a golden, flaky case of puff pastry.

Preparation time: 60 minutes

Cooking time: about 45 minutes

Makes: two servings

20 bay scallops

1 (about 85 to 100 gram) East Coast lobster tail (see Eric’s options)

8 large, raw, shell-on prawns or shrimp

3 tsp olive oil (divided)

2 frozen vol-au-vent (also called patty shells), partially thawed (I used Tenderflake brand)

1 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp minced shallot or onion

1 small garlic clove, minced

1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp dried tarragon

• pinch ground cayenne pepper and paprika

1/4 cup white wine

1 cup chicken or fish broth or stock (divided)

• salt and ground white pepper, to taste

1/4 cup half and half cream, table cream or whipping cream

2 tsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Gently pat scallops dry with paper towel and set on a plate.

Cut lobster tail in half, lengthwise. Carefully pull the lobster meat out of each half tail. Cut the emptied shells into 2-inch or so pieces and set in a bowl. Cut lobster meat into 3/4-inch pieces, gently pat dry with paper towel, and then set on the plate with the scallops.

To peel each prawn, hold the end of the tail in one hand and use your other hand to grab onto its swimmerets, the little legs under the shell. Pull off the shell, leaving the very bottom portion of the tail intact. Set the prawn shells in the bowl with the lobster shells. If the prawns were not sold deveined, use a small paring knife to make a lengthwise slit along the back of each shrimp. Pull out, or rinse out with cold water, the dark vein, if there is one, and then pat prawns dry. Set prawns on the plate with the scallops and lobster meat, and then cover and refrigerate (see Eric’s options).

Place 1 tsp of the olive oil in a small pot set over medium-high heat. Add the lobster shells and prawn shells and cook and stir until both are bright pink, about three to four minutes. Pour in the wine and stock and bring to a gentle simmer, lowering the heat as needed to maintain that gentle simmer. Simmer, uncovered, 12 minutes. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve into a glass-measuring cup. You should have about 3/4 cup of prawn/lobster-flavoured stock. If you don’t, top up with water until you do (see Eric’s options).

Preheat oven to 400 F. Set the vol-au-vent on a non-stick baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, or until puffed, golden and cooked through (see Eric’s options).

Place remaining 2 tsp oil and butter into a 10-inch or similar-sized cast iron or non-stick skillet set over medium, medium-high heat. When butter is melted, add prawns and sauté them about one minute per side, until barely cooked through. Lift prawns out of the skillet and set on a clean plate. Add scallops and lobster meat to the skillet and cook them, stir occasionally, one to two minutes, or until barely cooked through. Remove skillet from the heat, and then lift scallops and lobster out of it and onto to the plate with the prawns.

Set skillet back over the heat, add shallots and garlic and cook and stir one minute. Mix in flour, tarragon, cayenne and paprika and cook one minute more. Slowly whisk in 1/4 cup of the lobster/prawn-flavoured stock. When mixture is thick, whisk in the rest of the stock and the cream. Bring to a gentle simmer, lowering heat as needed to maintain that simmer. Simmer a few minutes, or until a lightly thickened sauce forms. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.

Add the cooked prawns, scallops and lobster meat to the sauce and heat them through two minutes. Mix in the parsley, if using. Set a vol-au-vent on each of two plates. Cut out a circle of pastry in the centre of each vol-au-vent to create a cavity. Now spoon the creamy seafood mixture in and around each vol-au-vent and serve.

Eric’s options: If you want more lobster in this dish, use two lobster tails, instead of one, and only use four to six prawns, instead of eight. The seafood can be prepped for cooking many hours in advance. Cover and keep refrigerated until ready to cook. The lobster/prawn-flavoured stock can also be prepared in advance. After making it, cool, cover and refrigerate until needed. The vol-au-vent can be baked hours in advance. When needed, simply reheat in a 300 F oven a few minutes.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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