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Tidbits for Political Junkies with Short Attention Spans & Hearty Appetites

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Saturday, April 03, 2004

 
Weekend Food Section, Part II: Shrimp Paste


After last week’s guacamole, I was tempted to continue the Mexican theme and offer up some tips on salsas – but let’s face it, folks, decent tomatoes are a rarity in April. So, instead, I’ll follow the theme in a different direction – and offer up another easy cocktail nibble: Low Country Shrimp Paste, adapted from Edna Lewis & Scott Peacock’s The Gift of Southern Cooking:

Essentially, shrimp paste is a purée of shrimp and butter, seasoned with a reduction of sherry and lemon juice, and a touch of cayenne. Traditionally, it’s served on toast points as a canapé, on crustless white bread as a tea sandwich, or even stirred into grits (a great option to remember if you have any left the next morning). The more fusion-minded among you may choose pita triangles, or Japanese rice crackers, which are easy, and also work well. Or, indulge your inner metrosexual: spread it on toasted baguette rounds, sprinkle it with chives, and hand around thoroughly contemporary crostini, southern-style. Any way you choose, it'll keep your guests occupied while you concentrate on the grill, or whatever else. (And the richness works very nicely with a chardonnay, or champagne.)

First, a brief side note for the nutritionally conscious among you. You may point out, considering that the recipe calls for half a pound of butter, that this is, well, a rather fattening way to prepare shrimp. Maybe -- though I prefer to think of it as a lighter & more flavorful alternative to pure butter. In either event, the total fat content of this recipe is only slightly more than that of the guacamole, so give it a rest and enjoy. It’s just an appetizer.

The most time-consuming part of the recipe is peeling & deveining the shrimp, a step you can do hours ahead of time. The rest of preparation takes less than ten minutes. It’s best served when freshly made, and still warm or room temperature – although it keeps in the fridge for days.

You’ll need a food processor with steel blade, a large sauté pan, and the following ingredients:

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ pound butter, cut in 1 tablespoon pieces (two sticks, no skimping allowed)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup sherry
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon cayenne

Here’s the formula: In the sauté pan, over medium-high heat, heat 6 tablespoons of butter until hot and foaming (but not burning). Add the shrimp, salt, and pepper, and sauté until pink & cooked through – about 5 minutes. Add the cooked shrimp to the bowl of your food processor.

To the same pan, add the sherry (I measure generously here), lemon juice, and cayenne (see note on cayenne, below), raise the heat to high, and reduce the mixture until you have only a few tablespoons left. Immediately add this to the shrimp, and process until evenly pureed. Then, with the motor running, add the butter, one piece at a time, until it is incorporated smoothly. Turn the machine off, taste, and adjust. Add more lemon juice, cayenne, salt, pepper, or sherry, as needed, until it’s so good that you are seriously worried you may consume the whole batch before your guests arrive. Turn it out into a serving bowl, tidy up -- and you're done.

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