Lamprey Bordelaise: the nine-eyed monster – a macabre but true recipe

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This is perhaps the most celebrated dish to come out of Bordeaux - with good reason. All of the major ingredients are sourced locally. The liberal use of the local beverages effectively seals its imprimata on the recipe. Don't use anything but a wine and Cognac you would be happy to drink in normal circumstances. The taste of the dish rises in direct proportion to the quality of wine used. This recipe uses the technique of 'hypovolemia' a somewhat uncommon culinary practise in a domestic kitchen. Note that the sauce is likely to push you over your permitted weekly units of alcohol.

For this recipe you will need: some olive oil, onions, shallots, garlic, ham, a bouquet garni, cloves, flour, leeks, a bottle of your favourite Bordeaux wine - the better the wine the better the dish, one glass and one cup of Cognac, salt and pepper and, of course, one large, slimey lamprey. Lampreys aren't actually eels - they just look like them, feel like them and squirm like them. Like eels they're also high in fat, and proteins.

If you look inside the mouth of a lamprey you might think you are looking at the head of an electric toothbrush with all those teeth on the oral disk and tongue. The whole contraption is designed to stick iteself onto a 'host' and suck out sustenance. However, not all lampreys are parasites and its name derives from the Latin and Greek meaning 'rock licker'. There's a lot to be said for a fish without bones but it doesn't necesarily add to its physical appearance. The lack of any proper proper jaw line turns it from being ugly to quite hideous. Since there is a link between something that looks good and tastes good (and vice versa), the lamprey is disguised in a rich sauce and chopped up so you can't see it's unappealing physiognomy and any doubts you may still be having about consuming a creature which supposedly led directly to the death of King Henry 1 are dispelled by the pleasurable effects of the alcohol. But don't eat too many of them, Henry did.

Another name for the lamprey is 'nine-eyes'. This is a good moment to see why since you're about to embark on a fairly major cosmetic rearrangement of its features. This name comes from their seven external gill slits on one side along with an eye and their only nostril (cheating... because it also has to count for the other side). In Germany they call it the 'Neunauge'.

Now for the fun part. Gulp down the glass of Cognac and take a deep breath, this is where it starts getting messy. Gripping the lamprey by its head make an incision in the tail and holding it over a cup or bowl allow it to bleed to death. Make sure you keep the blood though, and by adding a small amount of Bordeaux wine it will act as an anti-coagulant. Following the exsanguination, drop the lamprey into boiling water for a minute or two and then take it out, peel it like a cucumber and perform a spineostomy. Then, lop off its head and tail. Slice what's left into large bite-sized pieces and marinate it in the blood and wine mixture.

The sauce: using the olive/peanut oil lightly fry the ingredients for the soup adding a little flour to thicken and mix in the blood wine marinade adding the bouquet garnet and the rest of the wine. Season. Simmer for an hour. Then lightly sweat the leeks and add to the sauce.

Flame the lamprey with the Cognac (if you've also drank the second cup by now you'll need to go pour another one) and add it to the casserole. Add a little sugar and simmer the casserole over a very low heat for another hour. Add whatever blood may have been left over. Transfer to a small cocotte and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Serve with garlic croutons.

If you don't have much time then you could purchase a prepared version in a can, but then you lose all the enjoyment in its preparation and there's no excuse for that glass of Cognac (or two).

Next month: Lop-sided breaded testicles with stewed onions.

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