Potted shrimp is the only potted food that remains prevalent, at least in Britain: nothing potted is prevalent in the United States. While the rest have disappeared from menus, potted shrimp appears fairly regularly as a starter in restaurants throughout Britain. It also appears in more cookbooks than the other potted foods. Potted shrimp is very good and deserves its survival.
- about 1 cup tiny raw shelled shrimp, or bigger shrimp cut into small pieces
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- scant ½ teaspoon mace or less
- cayenne to taste (we would say up to ¼ teaspoon; that would pack some heat)
- salt to taste (optional)
- clarified butter or ghee to cover
- Toss together the shrimp and seasonings.
- Melt the butter over low heat; it should liquefy but not foam or even sizzle. Stir in the shrimp and cook just until they curl.
- Remove the shrimp from the heat immediately; spoon them and their butter evenly into a ramekin or, better, a number of very small ramekins. Push the potted shrimp down firmly into the ramekin(s) to reduce the gaps between the shrimp and butter.
- Cover each ramekin with clarified butter or ghee and chill overnight before serving.
- It is nice to use tiny shrimp and small ramekins. If you do, turn the potted shrimp out of the container: the shrimpy cylinder makes a pretty presentation surrounded by a sprinkling of parsley or chives and toast points. Chopped shrimp do not have the same effect
- Elizabeth Ayrton uses more mace and adds the equivalent of ¼ teaspoon ground ginger in her Cooking of England recipe: recommended. She also uses a whopping 8 Tablespoons of butter per half pound of shrimp; not recommended.
- In Clubland Cooking, Robin McDouall offers characteristically amusing variations on potted shrimp. He uses just under ¼ lb. unsalted butter for a generous cup of peeled raw shrimp and seasons the dish with dry mustard, nutmeg and pepper to taste. His instructions:
“I suppose you ought to clarify the butter - - I am lazy about doing it.
Over a low flame, stir the shrimps into the butter, add the seasoning and let them heat through. Strain off the butter. Put the shrimps into a terrine and leave it in a slow oven for 10 minutes. When cold, cover with butter - - which really should be clarified.”
We think he means to tell us to melt the strained-off butter in which the shrimp cooked and pour it over the shrimp. Anyway the recipe works that way with an oven temperature of 275°. But why not slowly sauté the shrimp until it curls and press the whole mess directly into ramekins? The baking seems superfluous. The mustard seasoning, however, is good.
- Add what you like to the seasonings. White pepper is good, celery seed or salt (do not use much, or use mace, mustard or nutmeg with it) is different and curry powder marries well with shrimp.
- Eliza Acton boils her shrimp before seasoning and potting. Her recipe makes for a milder flavor:
“Let the fish [sic] be quite freshly boiled, shell them quickly, and just before they are put into the mortar, chop them a little with a very sharp knife; pound them perfectly with a small quantity of fresh butter, mace, and cayenne.”
Her recipe (from 1845) is relatively abstemious in the use of butter and restrained in seasoning:
Shrimps (unshelled), 2 quarts; butter, 2 to 4 oz.; mace, 1 small saltspoonful (probably about ½ teaspoon or less); cayenne, 1/3 as much.
If you pound the shrimp or process it, presumably to a paste, you can use cold butter. We like this version of potted shrimp modified by pouring melted butter over the shrimp as in the other variations and pressing the mixture firmly into its pot rather than smashing it, and by increasing the seasoning.