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Buttering up the shrimp

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Today was one of only two scheduled days we can catch spot prawns here in the Seattle area this year.   As it turns out, the weather decided to make it challenging, with wind and rain making pulling shrimp pots a chore.  But it wasn’t enough of a challenge for me.  That’s why I “decided” to neglect to hook the tension straps on both my traps on the first drop.  Those hold the trap’s entries shape, making them easier for the shrimp to enter and harder for them to leave.
I’m a rock star.

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Despite a rocky start, we did manage to fill a couple buckets with shrimp.  What more, they were an especially chunky batch. Many of them were upwards of 9 inches.
I’m writing this with a very full stomach, by the way.

If you’ve heard me talk about spot prawning before, you’ve likely heard me speak of my indignation over those anglers who throw the heads of the prawns away.  Seeing so much flavor being tossed out hurts my chef’s soul.

I wrote in my post on how to make fish stock, that the same recipe can be used with shrimp heads & shells.  Still, I know that simmering up a batch of stock isn’t everyone’s cup of tea … as it were.  However you can capture that flavor in a quicker and more compact way by making shrimp butter.  This only takes about 15 minutes to make, once the shrimp heads are separated.  The butter can be kept frozen for months, and is great for cooking fish, sautéing crab cakes, making sauces, and of course, preparing shrimp dishes.  Try making scampi with shrimp butter.  It’s ridiculously good.

I like to use a good quality butter for this, since they tend to have less water content.

I like to use a good quality butter for this, since they tend to have less water content.

Shrimp Butter

  • 2 lbs unsalted butter
  • heads (& shells if you peeled them raw) of 80 shrimp
  • 1 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped ….. you can add more if you want to make a shrimp-garlic butter

Melt the butter in a large sauce pot over medium-low heat.  Add in the shrimp heads & shells, and turn the heat up to medium.
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Add the salt & pepper, cook the shells at a low boil for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  At this point the shells should have a lightly toasted fragrance.
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Stir in the garlic and continue cooking for 3 more minutes.
Strain the butter and discard the heads.
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I divide mine up in these plastic, 2 ounce cups, and freeze them.
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I made the Spot Prawns with Pasta & Vegetables pictured below for dinner tonight, and it’s a perfect example of how to use this butter. Shrimp cooks very quickly, so in a dish like this, you start sautéing the vegetables first in butter or oil.  I used onions, peppers, tomatoes, and asparagus for this one.
Then you add a little white wine, followed by garlic, your choice of herbs and seasoning, an perhaps a little touch of cream.  Then, right at the end you toss in the shrimp and freshly cooked pasta, cooking it just a minute or two more, so the shrimp is just barely cooked through.
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This makes a fine meal, the only problem is that the shrimp flavor never has a chance to really permeate the dish. So basically you have a vegetable pasta with pieces of shrimp in it.
However, if you start off sautéing the vegetables in shrimp butter, then shrimp flavor is at the core of the dish.  The difference that makes is profound.

Shrimp butter is also great for pan searing ling cod or halibut.  Also try rubbing it on salmon before it goes on the grill. It’s fantastic.  My only caution is that if you are feeding people who may have allergies, make sure you let them know about the shrimp butter.  Shellfish allergies can be serious, and they won’t see it coming in a normally non-shrimp dish.

Now go eat some shrimp!   🙂

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