Potted Shrimps

Traditionally made from Morecambe Bay shrimps, the tiny ones the French call crevettes grises, the first problem is the dwindling supply and, when you can find them, the attendant high cost. Peeling them is a pretty hellish task, but if you are lucky you may find the fresh Dutch ready-peeled ones which your fishmonger should be able to obtain. A word of warning: they cost around £25 per kilo wholesale, so how this converts at retail is anybody’s guess.

Potted shrimps are one of our finest English starters, but their apparent simplicity is deceptive. The clarified butter in which they are turned and then packed must not be too hot or it will toughen them and it must be flavoured only with nutmeg and/ or mace and a little cayenne.

It is important when packing the shrimps into pots for chilling that not too much butter is used. The set butter should not be more than 5 mm / ¼ inch thick. A generous serving would be 75 g / 3 oz, though in the few restaurants which still serve them you would be lucky to get 60 g / 2 oz.

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Ingredients

  • 300 g/ 10½ oz unsalted butter
  • ¼ small nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 550 g/ lb peeled shrimps
  • melba toast, to serve
  • quarters of lemon cut lengthwise, to serve

Method

Melt the butter in a pan over the lowest heat. The milk solids will separate. Pour the clarified butter carefully through a muslin-lined sieve into a bowl, leaving the solids in the pan.

Grate the nutmeg into the butter and season with cayenne pepper. Add the shrimps and turn to coat evenly.

Leave in the hot butter for 2 minutes, then pack into ramekins in 75 g/ 3 oz portions. Press down gently to ensure the surfaces of the shrimp are covered with butter.

Chill before serving with melba toast and lemon quarters.

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