Poached shrimp with grain mustard & shallot mayonnaise
Technical descriptions of poaching crustaceans, mollusks and bi-valves abound, and vary widely. Years of experience have made me a believer in poaching slowly over low heat as the best method for cooking shrimp, lobster and crab. Aromatics (vegetables or herbs) or liquids like wine don't impact the flavor of the final product significantly when they are added to a poaching liquid. Include them, but focus first on searching out and purchasing seafood of the highest quality, including previously frozen seafood, for the most flavorful dish. Look for the larger shell-on shrimp sometimes referred to as 16-20s for this recipe. (The numbers translate to how many shrimp are contained in a pound, so the lower the number, the larger the size of the shrimp.)
The Northern Pacific doesn't yield large amounts of poaching shrimp aside from the famous spot prawns, which are harvested wild, from Alaska and down into Oregon at times. The flesh of a spot prawn is slightly softer than its southern counterparts, so fares better when shelled and served hot. Most of the shrimp available to wholesalers and retailers is previously frozen. Varieties popular in the Pacific Northwest include Mexican white shrimp and Gulf shrimp. Because the majority of shrimp for sale in grocery stores is farm-raised in Southeast Asia, I use this consumer guide from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to ensure that I'm making sustainable purchasing decisions about seafood in my region.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 pounds 16-20 shrimp, shell on
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium-size yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 lemon, cut in 6 to 8 pieces
Fresh herb leaves and stems of your choice (sage is pictured)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Mayonnaise (See recipe) blended with 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard and 1 finely minced shallot
Add the carrots, celery, onion, fennel and coriander seeds, red pepper flakes, lemon and herb leaves and stems to a large pot with 1 gallon of water. Bring the ingredients just to a low boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer the liquid for 20 minutes.
Once the flavor of the poaching liquid is to your liking, add the shrimp to the pot and return the liquid to a simmer. Do not boil. When the liquid has come to a simmer, immediately remove the pot from the heat and allow the shrimp to sit in the hot poaching liquid for 10 minutes before straining. At this point, you can serve the shrimp right away, or chill them in the refrigerator. I recommend serving them with grilled bread and lots of napkins.
Note in the photo above that I've left the vegetables in with the shrimp, and tipped them out unceremoniously onto a butcher block, with the mayonnaise and grilled bread. That way, shelling the shrimp is a part of the eater's process of enjoying them, along with the vegetables, if desired.