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

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.

1 comment:

Larcana said...

Hi Jessica,
I found your blog at your Kimkins journal. They're both very good.
The recipes sound like I need to try them.
Best of luck with your gastronomy!!