One of the items from our Winter Party Menu was Spiced Potted Shrimp, which was once a common British preparation. There’s a very good summary here by Felicity Cloake on the Guardian of the history and variations of potted shrimp, including her own recipe. It’s a dish that was developed as a means of preserving the very perishable small brown shrimp that used to be common on the tables of Britain.
Ms. Cloake (perhaps rightly, history will judge) disdains the kinds of flavourings I’ve used here as “…better suited to a Spanish terrace than a northern dinner table.” I feel that she might be hewing too closely to the historical British reluctance to…you know…actually flavour dishes. The final results of the recipe I describe here still taste beautifully of shrimp, nothing’s being subjugated to the seasonings in my opinion.
680g/24 oz small shrimp*
450 g/1 lb unsalted butter, clarified
90 ml/6 tbls unslated butter
45 ml/ 3 tbls finely chopped preserved lemon
6 cloves garlic
2 small dried chilies
2 bay leaves
Step one: You need to clarify the butter. I’ve said 1 lb of butter, but it really comes down to how big the jar is. The idea here is to cover the flavoured shrimp in clarified butter in the end—you need what you need. I put the block of butter in a small, heavy-bottomed pot, added the bay leaves, a pinch of saffron (Michelle’s brilliant idea), a few coriander seeds and a few peppercorns and let it simmer until the milk solids had almost burned on the bottom; then I strained it through several layers of cheese cloth and set it aside—keeping it liquid.
Step two: I put the remaining butter in a small pan on a moderate heat and added the garlic, chilies, preserved lemon and a small pinch of smoked salt. I sautéed the mixture until the garlic had started to brown, then I pulled the cloves out and discarded them.
Step three: I added the shrimp to the pan and just warmed it gently. If you’re using raw shrimp, you want them to just become opaque and start to curl. For god’s sake don’t overcook the shrimp. Once the shrimp were warmed through I transferred the chilies to the bottom of a large jar, then added the shrimp on top.
Step four: I poured the reserved clarified butter carefully over the shrimp to cover, then set the jar aside to cool.
Step five: Once the clarified butter had begun to set I sprinkled some smoked paprika on the top, screwed on a tight fitting lid and put it in fridge.
Potted shrimp should last up to a month in the fridge. I recommend letting it come to close to room temperature to serve. If you’re serving it in the jar, dig through the clarified butter on top and scoop out a few shrimp to show your guests how it’s done.
Potted shrimp are fantastic on baguette, toast or good crackers, but can also be used in other dishes, such as omelets. The trick to using them in other dishes is not to re-cook the shrimp themselves—that way rubber lies. What you have is both the shrimp themselves and gently seasoned shrimp-flavoured butter. What can’t you put those on?
*The ideal here would be raw brown shrimp (peeled, no tails) but pre-cooked, frozen North Atlantic shrimp (thawed) are a great substitute (that’s what I used). Never canned shrimp. If you have to, use larger frozen shrimp and just chop them into 2 or 3 pieces.