Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Complementary Creations: Selfish Shrimp and Tarragon Soup

If there's one quality that all great chefs share, it's respect for their ingredients. The chef is like the conductor of a choir, directing the blending of many singers, and choosing soloists and duets to shine through. But, regardless of its role, each ingredient contributes its own unique voice to the ensemble. This is one of the great beauties of food; the unity and contrast of the one and the whole.

Respect for the ingredient also takes another form: an aversion to waste. This is partially driven by the restaurant's bottom line, of course. But there is a deeper urge that was driven home to me this weekend when I took a knife skills class at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. While showing us how to remove the inner membrane of a bell pepper, the instructor kept suggesting ideas for the scraps, constantly pointing out "all that pepper flavor" we were tossing into the waste pile. That's when I came to understand that the primary concern is not wasting something you can sell; it's wasting something you can taste. Wasting flavor was a greater culinary sin than wasting money.

In that spirit, I've decided to create a new "column" on this blog: complementary creations. Whenever there is a significant scrap remaining after one of my Recipe Three-ways, I will attempt to create a recipe that uses it, or point you to an existing recipe that does.


Assuming you use frozen raw shrimp to make my Shrimp and Tomato Persillade, you will almost certainly come out of it with a pile of shrimp shells. Useless? Hardly.

Shrimp stock is a magical ingredient. Its own taste is not very distinct, but it can serve as a rich underlayer for brighter flavors, or add complexity to meatier flavors. Mark Bittman mixes it half-and-half with chicken stock for a rich and complex base for Garlic Soup with Shrimp in The Minimalist Cooks At Home. In this recipe, the shrimp stock highlights the crisp acidity of the vinegar, and the bright vegetal quality of the tarragon. If you are going to make this recipe ahead, add the vinegar right before serving; otherwise it may curdle.

Each 2-serving batch of Shrimp and Tomato Persillade will produce enough shrimp shells for one cup of stock, so I recommend keeping the shells in the freezer until you have enough for the desired amount of soup. Or, better yet, be selfish and only make enough soup for yourself! You have my permission.


Selfish Shrimp and Tarragon Soup
Serves 1

Ingredients:
Shrimp shells (including tail and legs) left over from 8 oz. of frozen shrimp
1/2 tsp olive oil
1/2 shallot, coarsely chopped or sliced (you may substitute appx. 1 Tbsp of onion)
appx 3 cups water
1/2 to 1 tsp apple cider vinegar, or any fruit-flavored vinegar
1/2 tsp butter
Salt to taste, preferably sea or kosher
Pepper to taste, preferably fresh-ground
1 tsp chopped fresh tarragon, or 1/4 tsp dried (or try it with sage!)
cooked shrimp, whole or chopped (optional)


In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium or medium-high heat and add the shallots. Sautee until just softened. Add the shrimp shells, and saute until they release a nutty aroma. (I prefer to continue to cook until they are lightly browned. Either way, don't skip this step.) Add the water, and reduce heat to medium. (If using dried tarragon, add it at this time.) Simmer until the stock is reduced to approximately 1 cup. It should have a rich, milky look to it. Pour through a sieve, and press the shrimp and shallots into the sieve with the back of a spoon to extract as much of the juices as possible. Stir in the vinegar, salt, and butter or butter spray. Adjust seasonings to taste. Pour over cooked shrimp if desired, and sprinkle with tarragon and pepper.




(Update 12/08)
Seafood Watch:
(Note: the rating only applies to seafood purchased in the US. Readers from other countries may want to try the Seafood Choices Alliance)

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Score: Avoid

Shrimp is listed as a "good alternative" if it's produced in the US or Canada (farmed or wild), but the vast majority of shrimp you'll find is produced in supermarkets is imported, which is on the "avoid" list. Your fishmonger may be able to get you domestic shrimp, as well as lots of other tasty seafood.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Recipe Three-Ways: Shrimp and Cherry Tomato Persillade

This dish is one of my stand-bys. It's based on the Shrimp Persillade recipe from James Peterson's "Fish & Shellfish" (highly recommended), but underwent a metamorphosis the summer that I made my first stab at container gardening.

Let's just say that my efforts weren't very successful - a cat dug up my pot of turnips and radishes, my snow peas wilted, and the lemon cucumbers were so evil (spiney, snaking vines that tried to strangle the other plants) that I uprooted them myself. But the cherry tomatoes thrived. I had planted two pots: one of fairly ordinary red grape tomatoes, and one of sweet, flavorful, golden-orange sungold cherry tomatoes. After about two weeks of tomato and mozzarella salad, I was ready for a change, and inspiration struck. Where inspiration took the form of a bag of frozen shrimp that fell out of the freezer and landed on my foot.

This dish is fast, easy, elegant, and can be made at any time of year, but it really shines when cherry tomatoes are in season. It makes a delicious topping for pasta, but can stand on its own as an appetizer or main dish alongside a green vegetable like spinach, asparagus, or brocolli raab. Its appeal is all about balance: the rich olive oil, light and mineralic shrimp, bright parsley, bold garlic, sweet tomatoes, spicy pepper, toasty caramelization, and topped with a nutty cheese. There's also a wonderful balance of textures: silky persillade, firm shrimp, and slightly soft tomatoes that explode into a shower of juice as you bite in.


Shrimp and Cherry Tomato Persillade
Makes 2 hearty appetizer-sized portions, or 1 generous main dish portion

Ingredients:
8 oz. Shrimp, preferably not pre-cooked
12 Cherry tomatoes, washed and dried
1/2 cup Fresh Flat-leaf Parsley
1 clove fresh Garlic (jarred is fine)
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
Pepper, preferably fresh-ground
Salt, preferably kosher or sea salt
2 Tbsp Shredded or shaved parmesan cheese


1- Thaw the Shrimp
If your shrimp is frozen, start it thawing. I'm told that the correct ways to do this are to leave it overnight in the fridge, or run it under cold water in a collander. I usually soak them in cold water, changing it once or twice when ice forms around the shrimp, but try it at your own risk. In the meantime, make the persillade.

2- Make the Persillade
Mince the parsley and garlic together as finely as you can. It should almost resemble a pesto.

3- Prep the Shrimp
Once the shrimp are fully thawed, remove the shells (you can leave the tails on, if desired) and dry them very well with paper towels.

4- Cook the Shrimp
Heat a large frying pan over very high heat. The pan should be large enough to hold all the shrimp without crowding. When the pan is very hot, add the olive oil, and then the shrimp. Stir-fry until the shrimp turn pink and are no longer transparent, about 2 minutes.

5- Add the Persillade
Add the persillade to the shrimp mixture, and continue to stir, being sure to scrape the pan as you go. The persillade should cling to the shrimp and begin to caramelize after about two minutes. (Some may not cling - that's okay. Just make sure that it's being scraped off the bottom and turned along with the shrimp.) I like mine very dark and a little crispy. You may prefer yours only slightly browned.

6- Add the Tomatoes
Add the cherry tomatoes, and continue to stir-fry until the tomatoes are warmed through, and begin to change color slightly and swell, about 1-2 minutes. (The goal is to stop just before they burst, but it's okay if they do.)

7- Serve
Place on top of linguine, or on individual plates. Sprinkle with salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste. Sprinkle with cheese (optional). Serve with crusty bread. (Optional)


Seafood Watch:
(Note: the rating only applies to seafood purchased in the US. Readers from other countries may want to try the Seafood Choices Alliance)

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Score: Avoid

Shrimp is listed as a "good alternative" if it's produced in the US or Canada (farmed or wild), but the vast majority of shrimp you'll find is produced in supermarkets is imported, which is on the "avoid" list. Your fishmonger may be able to get you domestic shrimp, as well as lots of other tasty seafood.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Welcome to Savor Lightly

Hi everyone, and welcome! I'm a food and wine geek, but I also have some dietary restrictions, both long-term (to control reactive hypoglycemia) and short-term (currently on a diet). As a result, I spend a lot of time thinking about food. Furthermore, I'm a shameless know-it-all, and love to talk about food.

I'm not quite sure yet what kind of shape this blog is going to take. Some ideas I have include:
- restaurant reviews in the Boston area (or wherever I happen to go)
- recipes
- rhapsodies about particular foods (don't get me started on how much I love radishes or sardines...)
- reminiscences about meals I've eaten
- cooking tips
Early on, I'll probably include a mix of these, although I may narrow my focus as the blog takes shape.


Until next time, eat well!