"A smooth yellow cork of clarified butter is an attractive sight
and boasts a smooth texture and silky flavour"
Potted Shrimps are a real treat, showing off a wonderful British delicacy to perfection. Perfect for picnics, cold collations, jubilee teas and celebratory dinners. The dish takes its name from a traditional dish, often enjoyed by the seaside, which features small pinky-brown shrimp covered in a layer of clarified and cooled spiced butter – what the English food historian Bee Wilson has called “medieval cling film”, (as she wonderfully dubs it ) to preserve them.The lightly spiced butter could be spread directly onto bread or toast, along with those delicious brown shrimps.
Potted shrimps is a recipe to take you straight back to childhood, to your grandparents’ table or seat by the fire. It’s the sort of dish you just know was part of the picnic when the Famous Five took a hike over the island or Ratty and Mole sat down by the river bank.The practice of ‘potting’ meat and fish evolved as a way of extending the shelf life of food in a world without the fridge. Clarified butter was used to create an airtight seal over the food to preserve it, allowing food to be kept for longer and improving the availability of seafood inland.
Traditionally, brown shrimps are used. They are delicious, but not so widely available these days,even less so in the Algarve. Use them if you can get them – they are good, traditional, sustainable local seafood. Otherwise, pick small, ready cooked and prepared shrimp.I was lucky enough to stumble on some baby shrimp in the market in Ayamonte, grabbed them and as soon as I got home put them in the freezer with my Christmas Day starter in mind.
We don’t need to make potted shrimps to preserve them these days, so I tend to be a bit more relaxed about the recipe. You clarify the butter or use ghee. If you are eating the shrimps the next day, however, it’s not really necessary. I melt the butter, which separates the fat and milk solids, which trickle down to the bottom of the pot, leaving a clarified layer on top.
Some tips one needs to knowButter – A good quality butter, salted or unsalted according to what you have. You can adjust the seasoning later.
Spices – Traditionally mace or nutmeg are added, and you can use a dash of cayenne pepper or paprika according to taste. I used a pinch of cayenne, lime zest and ginger. Use your spices sparingly. You don’t want to smother the flavour of the shrimp.
Simple potted shrimps
80g butter, plus melted butter to serve
2 blades of mace
A pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Freshly grated nutmeg
Zest of 1 lime (optional)
Grated ginger to taste (optional)
200g peeled brown shrimps
Hot toast, butter and lemon wedges to serve
1. Put the butter, mace, cayenne pepper, if using, and a little grated nutmeg into a medium pan and allow the butter to melt gently over a low heat. Pat the shrimps with kitchen paper to remove any excess moisture, then add to the pan. Stir gently, allow them to heat through and leave on a low heat for 5 minutes; do not let the liquid boil.
2. Remove the mace blades, divide the shrimps and butter between ramekins and level the tops. Leave in the fridge to cool, then spoon a thin layer of clarified butter over the shrimps and allow it to set.
Serve with hot toast,brown bread or melba toast, more butter and lemon wedges