Sunday, August 30, 2009

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Pickled Shrimp, a Lowcountry Ceviche

It’s hot in San Diego. Miserable hot. Playing in the hose hot. To escape the worst of the heat, I turned on the stove—briefly—yesterday morning to blanch shrimp for an old version of a cold ceviche that South Carolinians would recognize simply as pickled shrimp.

The recipes for both the shrimp and the spice mix for the boil are adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, though I altered the proportions for a bigger batch. In heat like this, I’m firing up the burners as infrequently as possible, so the bigger batch gets us through two days with minimal extra hotness. Most of the batch got toted along to a poker game last night with a mess of sangria, but there’s still a few to throw in a green salad for lunch or a light dinner. They're snappy little appetizers for cocktail parties and handy to have on a picnic. Better with beer than wine, though: the residual acidity in the shellfish can clash with red wines in particular.

An ingredient note: the original recipe calls for sour oranges, but those are infrequent finds here. The mix of fresh juices below is an attempt to recreate that Seville/naranja agria taste. If you have blood oranges, then by all means use them for the orange juice component in the juice blend. They make a better-tasting pickle and I regret we had none on hand. Still, though, this was tasty. And house is cool as a cucumber today.

Pickled Shrimp

First make the pickling solution.

3 large dried bay leaves
1 oz pimentro dram or 5 whole allspice berries
1.5 oz coriander seeds, dry toasted for 30 seconds until aromatic
1.5 Tbl black peppercorns
1 Tbl kosher salt
1 Tbl sugar
1.5 tsp Aleppo or other red pepper flakes
1.5 cups rice vinegar
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 cup fresh Valencia or blood orange juice
  1. Grind the bay leaves, allspice (if using), coriander, peppercorns, salt, and sugar in a mortar or spice mill into a rough powder. Add this powder to a 3- or 4-quart nonreactive container.
  2. Add the vinegar, juices, red pepper, and pimento dram (if using) to the container and set aside.

Second, blanch the shrimp.

1 gallon water
4 Tbl shrimp boil (see below)
3 lbs medium shrimp, heads off, peels on
  1. Heat the water and shrimp boil spice mixture in a large stock pot. Rinse and drain the shrimp while the water heats.
  2. Let the water boil 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the shrimp (in two batches if necessary) to the water, turn off the heat, and let it rest one minute. The shrimp will turn pink and firm.
  4. Using a strainer, scoop out the shrimp and throw over ice to stop the cooking.
  5. Peel the shrimp, slip them into the pickling solution, and cool.
The cooled shrimp are ready to eat within four hours and are best if eaten with 24.

The shrimp boil spice mix is also from the Lee brothers’ cookbook, though I prefer to make mine more of a powder than the rough grinding they call for. This is a decent all-purpose seafood boil and would be fine for crabs, crawfish, and other shellfish as well as broiled or grilled fish.

Shrimp Boil

1 Tbl peppercorns
1 Tbl celery seeds
6 bay leaves, snipped with scissors
½ cup kosher salt
3 Tbl ground cayenne

Place all ingredients in a spice mill (I use a Krups coffee mill for spices—and nothing but spices). Grind to a medium powder. Store in a jar.

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