Monday, January 12, 2009

Maine Shrimp Stock and Salad

What made me decide to drop everything and write this post is that it's a food writing emergency. I know this sounds funny. It makes me think of a person with a whisk and a laptop returning a call from his pager: "Hello, this is the food writer on call. How can I help you?" But emergencies happen even in the field of food writing. The Maine Shrimp (sometimes referred to as Nordic Shrimp) are only in season for about a month, that's why I can't procrastinate with this post. If you live in the North East of the US or on the east coast of Canada, you will probably see them in your fish market and Whole Foods this time of year. Spotting them is easy. They are tiny (about an inch), pink, very inexpensive, and normally sold with the shell. They might not have the succulent texture of larger shrimp, but their intensely sweet flavor will knock your socks off. In my opinion, they make the best shrimp stock, so make sure to keep the shells -- it's the best part!

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.

Shrimp Stock

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
  1. 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.
  2. Add the shrimp shells and cook stirring constantly, until shells start to smell very shrimpy, 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and tomatoes and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim any scum that rises to the top.
  5. Reduce the heat so that the liquid simmers gently. Add thyme and bay leaf. Simmer for 40 minutes.
  6. Take off heat, let cool for 1 minute, and strain through a sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on solids. Discard solids.
If you don't need stock immediately, cool completely and keep in the fridge for 3 days or freeze. If freezing, try to use within a month for best flavor.

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)
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
Citrus Risotto recipe coming soon...


Anonymous said...

Keep posting some more tasty recipes!!!

sudu said...

OK! these look soo good! I never knew abt this and thanks for posting - I am going to buy some today!

Minti said...

I hadn't know about Maine shrimp either. A most interesting post.

Anonymous said...

There used to be a Maine fellow who sold these shrimp out of a truck in Newton. He set up not far from the Watertown Galen Street border. Anyone know whether he still does this? Stumbled across him by chance several years ago - instantly recognized this shrimp species. It's what we used to eat in Scandinavia. What a treat! You can sometimes find these frozen in small ethnic markets, like the Portuguese markets in Union Square, Somerville. Don't get fussy. Best just to steam them and eat them out of the shell by hand with other side dishes. Don't forget soft rolls to sop up the liquid.

Faine said...

Holy moly, that looks good. I'll try the shrimp salad out with some of our Louisiana shrimp and see if it holds up. Definitely no Maine shrimp sources down here in New Orleans unfortunately...

Anonymous said...

Didn't take long for over-harvesting to deplete the stock of Maine Shrimp! Warming ocean waters accelerated the species' collapse. Maine shrimp fishing was halted in 2013 to give the shrimp population a chance to recover. The moratorium will extend at least through 2017. In the future, The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission may limit the number of fisherman allowed to participate, shorten the harvest season, or lower quotas.