My favorite way to serve them is chilled in a salad. I've had them this way at Le Convivial restaurant in Montreal and loved them. To make use of every bit of sweetness in these shrimp, I first peel them and make a quick stock out of the shells. Then I poach the shrimp in this stock for 30-60 seconds. They are so tiny, they cook almost instantly. I drain and chill them and then combine with a vinaigrette and whatever accompaniments I have on hand. The most perfect combination involves shallots, mango, and sweet peppers. But this time, I didn't have either mango or peppers on hand, so I threw in some preserved lemon and cilantro instead. Feel free to improvise with fruits, vegetables, and herbs to make a harmonious shrimp salad. Just remember that these shrimp are tiny, so your shallots and herbs need to be minced extremely finely and your fruits and vegetables should be cut into brunoise (tiny dice of about 3mm or slightly less than 1/8 of an inch on each side). If you combine these shrimp with large chunks of vegetables, they'll be completely lost.
Can you imagine how intensely flavorful this stock was after getting every bit of deliciousness out of the shells and then having shrimp poached in it on top of that? It had risotto written all over it. Since I had a ton of sectioned grapefruit in the fridge from the Knife Skills class, I decided to give Zuni Cafe's Citrus Risotto a shot. The recipe called for chicken stock, but citrus and shrimp seemed like a natural combination, so I used my shrimp stock.
It was stunning! I thought it might be good, but it surpassed all my expectations. I served the shrimp salad and the risotto as 2 separate courses with a good bottle of German Riesling to complement the sweetness and tartness of the meal. Jason and I agreed that it was the best meal we've had in a long time (and we normally eat pretty well around here).
How to peel Maine shrimp
Peel these tiny shrimp as you would any other shrimp. Slip your fingers under the feet at the thick part of the shrimp and remove the shell. Then gently pinch the tail and slip whatever remains of the shell off. The shrimp should be completely naked. Don't leave the tails on.
If you find any gray stuff under the shell around the feet, that's the row. Clean it off the shrimp with your fingers, but don't discard it. Put it together with the shells for the stock.
Beware that even though Maine Shrimp are tiny and totally innocent looking, their shells are prickly near the tails. Eventually, you'll figure out just where that spot is and won't prick yourself any more.
The long list of ingredients for this stock is almost all optional. If you had nothing but shrimp shells and water, you could still make it. But if you could throw in a few aromatic vegetables and herbs, the stock will be even better.
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 small carrot, peeled and diced
1/2 celery stock, diced
Shells from 1 Lb of Maine shrimp
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup diced tomatoes from a can, drained
6 cups cold water
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 bay leaf
Salt to taste
- Set a 4 quart pot on the stove over medium heat. When the pot is hot, add oil, onion, carrot, and celery. Cook stirring occasionally until the vegetables are just starting to get tender, about 5 minutes.
- Add the shrimp shells and cook stirring constantly, until shells start to smell very shrimpy, 2-3 minutes.
- Add the garlic and tomatoes and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim any scum that rises to the top.
- Reduce the heat so that the liquid simmers gently. Add thyme and bay leaf. Simmer for 40 minutes.
- Take off heat, let cool for 1 minute, and strain through a sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on solids. Discard solids.
Tiny Shrimp Salad
The sour cream in the dressing is the trick I learned from the chef at Le Convivial. It's barely detectable, but gives the dressing a nice richness. If you don't have it, just skip it.
1 Lb of Maine shrimp, peeled
2 Tbsp finely minced shallot
1 Tbsp finely minced herbs (one or more of cilantro, tarragon, chives, dill, or parsley)
2 Tbsp diced red, yellow, or orange pepper (the dice should be tiny -- 1/8 inch or smaller)
2 Tbsp diced mango (the dice should be tiny -- 1/8 inch or smaller)
Salt and pepper to taste
For the dressing:
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp olive oil (the best you have on hand)
2 tsp sour cream (optional)
- Bring the shrimp stock that you just made to a simmer. If you decided not to make stock, bring 6 cups water to a simmer.
- Add the shrimp and cook at a bare simmer for 60 seconds. Remove shrimp immediately with a slotted spoon and place on a plate. Set in the fridge to cool, while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
- To make the dressing, place the lemon juice in a small bowl. Whisk in mustard using a fork or a small whisk. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly. Whisk in the sour cream. Season generously with salt and pepper.
- When shrimp are cooled to room temperature or colder. Mix them with the shallots, herbs, peppers, mango, and the dressing. Taste and add more salt, pepper, and lemon juice as needed. Can be made a few hours in advance and stored in the fridge in an airtight container.