You can easily make this shellfish butter from crawfish, crabs, or lobster, but shrimp are classic in the Lowcountry. Early in the shrimp season, when the sweet, tiny creek shrimp are all you can find in a cast net, you can make this butter without the maddening effort of cleaning the inch-long shrimp. It is true that creek shrimp are the sweetest and must be used for authentic Charleston shrimp and grits, but you can extract their flavor in this way without having to pick them.
Lightly coat the bottom of a large skillet, wok, or Dutch oven with olive oil. Add the shellfish and stir-fry over high heat until thoroughly pink. Add the chopped aromatic vegetables, reduce the heat, and continue to stir-fry until the shallot is transparent, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir it into the mixture.
Add the butter, continuing to stir, and the water or stock. Bring to a boil, give it a good stir, turn off the heat, and leave it on the burner for about an hour for the flavors to infuse. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve, pushing as much liquid through as possible.
If you have used whole shrimp, you might want to take the solids and grind them in a food processor, then put them through the sieve again, to extract all the flavor. Refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, lift the congealed butter from the surface of the mixture and heat it over very low heat. Save the remaining liquid for Shrimp and Grits or soup. When the butter is melted, strain it again into an 8-inch square cake pan and refrigerate again. When cold, cut into the desired sizes and wrap well in foil for freezing.
A little of this melted butter over fish is exquisite. A little melted in a pan, with a few peeled shrimp added, makes a perfect topping for pasta, rice, or grits.
© 1992 All rights reserved. Published by UNC Press.