Potted shrimp is one of those terribly English things that peppered my childhood reading and fired my interest without me really knowing what it was.
In one of the Blandings books Lord Emsworth is horrified and outraged when his pig girl goes to get her tea and shrimps without sufficient concern for her charge the prize pig Empress of Blandings.
Then I got a bit older and (if humanly possible) more interested in food. And I discovered that mixing tiny brown shrimps with melted butter is not just a delicacy but a preservative. Using melted, clarified butter efficiently excludes air preventing the growth of aerobic bacteria. The traditional seasonings of nutmeg and mace add a bit of spice to mask the flavour of slightly past-it seafood and may also help to kill bacteria.
Most importantly, of course, they taste good. When I first arrived in England we went to a celebrity chef-run restaurant (which I shall tactfully not name) and were served two of the most abysmal steaks that anyone ever charged £30 for. But I can't be entirely down on the place because it was there that I first tried potted shrimps. And fell hopelessly in love.
Now when I go to 32 Great Queen St, I have to hope that the potted shrimps AREN'T on the menu, so I can order something else. If they are on the menu I haven't the strength to resist.
I've been wanting to make them myself for ages. The thing that has put me off is the thought of peeling all those little shrimp. I really don't have the patience for that sort of fiddle. So you can imagine my delight when I discovered that The Fish Society sells peeled brown shrimp online. Nothing was holding me back but the need for a recipe.
I searched long and hard, comparing recipes from all over. But I decided that Marco Pierre White was the way forward. His recipe appealled because firstly it sounded right. All the flavourings that I wanted to see in it (white pepper, cayenne, mace and nutmeg) were there. And secondly he did away with the tedious clarifying process. I suppose in this day and age no one is actually planning to store seafood on a larder shelf for weeks at a time...
So I made it. Scaled down because I only had 200g of shrimp.
It made 2 tidy little ramekins worth, with enough left over to pile, still warm, on a couple of thick slabs of toasted rye sourdough bread for some quality control.
The next night we had some more of them piled onto a barbecued rump steak for an elegant take on "surf & turf". With an Oregon Pinot Noir it made an extremely fine dinner.