Shrimp for Chocolate. Fair Trade!

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This past week I had a most excellent surprise visit AND gift from one of our patients at the office who has not only become a culinary chum but who has also convinced me, (to my happy astonishment!), to give tequila a second chance.  He’s a pilot and his name is Tom…Cap’n Tom to you.  He’s been coming in for years and our friendship has evolved into food, Food, FOOD!  The Cap’n has been fortunate enough to be with an international carrier with sufficient time to hold long haul flights.  That translates to great trips to Europe and Asia.  So, for instance, when he would come back from his trips to Milan he’d ask, “You ever heard of farro?”  Well, yeah.  Then I’d launch into “I LOVE farro!  It’s a fabulous grain that dates back to biblical times.  It makes a great, healthful side or salad…it’s just the best!”  Anyway, he came in this week just to bring me a gift.  A VERY special gift.  Every time he flies into Zurich he stops at a swiss chocolatier by the name of Laderach.  There’s an umlaut over the first “a” but I can’t figure it out on the keyboard.  I’m pretty certain one of y’all will let me know how to do that.  And, btw, I’m still pretty impressed every time I put the little circle over the baking temperature as in 350°.  So back to the swiss chocolatier.  Tom found some time ago the best- bar none- toffee.  O.M.G.  This is the second time he has brought it and the first time I thought, “How thoughtful”, but I didn’t really pay attention to it.  In fact, I completely disregarded it.  Thankfully, I DID pay enough attention to hide it, and hide it well, from my little family.  James will go in the kitchen when he comes homes at two or three in the morning and melt my fine baking chocolate in the microwave then mix in chopped up almonds, maybe a little heavy cream, a drop or two of vanilla and then dip in strawberries or apple slices.  And Jimmy?  I don’t know when he raids the pantry but…well, let’s just say I know he does.  And they ain’t getting NONE of this.  Anyway, a while after I had received the first gift I had some sugar cravings and, naturally, made a beeline to my tucked away stash.  At first bite I swooned.  What was this heady, toothsome, sweet exquisiteness that I was now a slave to?  (I know you can’t end a statement or question with a preposition but, hey, that’s how I felt.  ‘K?)  It was like the first time I ever tasted crawfish etouffee, all that rich, buttery, creamy flavor swirling around your mouth…well, I was positively hooked.  Remember the first time you REALLY tasted a homemade buttermilk biscuit melt in your mouth?  And then you poured honey over the next one?  It just got lost in your mouth, a smooth, velvety mess punctuated with the clean, tart edge of the buttermilk.  It’s pure, positive luxuriousness.  Well, that’s how this toffee tasted.  It was my crack and I became Captain Tom’s toffee ho.  There I said it.  Now, please know, I do nothing to get this indulgence.  There’s no exchange of anything, except today with this recipe, and I remain as disciplined as a Trappist monk when it comes to watching what I eat, working out and staying in shape.  But when that toffee’s around?  I go weak in the knees.  It’s my Kryptonite.  My Candy-Crack.  And so, dear Captain, in return for this gem of a gift I give you a jewel of a recipe that you can whip up anytime because you’ll have all these ingredients at hand when you entertain and delight your many guests.  I give you Potted Shrimp, a slightly sweet but savory and elegant starter from the South!

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Potted Shrimp is just splendid.  Dating back to the 1600’s, potted foods were prepared to avoid waste.  For example, when a pig was slaughtered by the time it was half eaten the rotting process would have already begun and the meat would have to be tossed. But if it had been potted, or preserved in butter, it would last two, three even four months.  The pots of meat, fowl, fish or whatever had been preserved were then stored in a cool place such as a root cellar staying fresh under their protective cap of clarified butter.  The British still enjoy this dish.  It’s perfect for a picnic, as an hors d’oeuvre for a party or as the first course at a dinner party.  Because there are so few ingredients and the preparation is so simple the flavors of each component positively shine.  The shrimp, the mace, the bay…it’s just brilliant!

POTTED SHRIMP

yield: serve 4-6

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 whole bay leaves, fresh is possible
  • 1 pound medium to small shrimp, peeled, deveined and roughly chopped
  • crusty bread cut to serve or toast points
  • lemon wedges

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  1. In a large skillet, over medium heat melt the butter.
  2. When the butter foams toss in the spices and salt. Stir well.
  3. Add the chopped shrimp, stir and cook until just pink.  Do not let the butter brown.
  4. Take off the heat and add the bay leaves.
  5. Being careful not to crush, pack the bay leaves and shrimp ONLY into a jar, crock or small, pretty bowl.  I position the bay leaves in different layers of the shrimp.
  6. Pour the butter mixture over the shrimp.
  7. With a spoon gently push down any errant shrimp sticking up.  You want them completely covered by the butter mixture.
  8. Refrigerate at least 2-3 hours or until firm.
  9. Serve with crusty bread or toast points and lemon wedges.
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