Brown shrimps for me are one of the tastiest and most under-rated seafoods in the entire country. Fortunately, here in Cumbria we are very lucky enough to have them landed and available in the south of the county at Flookburgh found on the shores of Morecambe Bay, as well as in the north at Silloth on the shores of the Solway Firth.
In both places the traditional method of preparing them is to ‘pot’ them in a butter and spice mix; a recipe which dates back to the 18th century, which was a way of preserving the excess catch. The added bonus is the process is also thoroughly delicious, a fact not lost on author Ian Fleming who passed on his love of potted shrimps to his foremost creation none other than James Bond!
‘Potting’ is an ancient but effective form of preserving meat, game and fish before the advent of refrigeration. Through potting, surplus food could be kept for a future date without the fear of it turning rancid. Initially potting was the preserve (pardon the pun) of the rich, bringing together costly spices and the best cuts of meat to create some delicious table delicacies. However, as sea trade links opened up through the ports of Lancaster and Whitehaven spices became more affordable and the world of potting opened up to entirely new segments of society. Potting took off and they pretty much potted everything going including ham, beef, veal, tongue, game, chicken, turkey, woodcock, quail, pigeon fish char, trout, and eel, crab, and shrimp, mushrooms and even cheeses.
Shrimps like all shellfish aren’t cheap, which isn’t surprising considering how difficult they are to catch and how fiddly they are to peel. Historically they were caught using a hand net which the fishermen pushed in front of them whilst wading in shallow water. There were two drawbacks to this, the relatively small catch and the obvious danger of being swept away in the strong currents found on the sands of both Morecambe Bay and the Solway Firth. Subsequently horses were used to drag a net behind a cart allowing fishermen to venture into deeper waters and harvest a much bigger catch, until tractors took over in the 20th century. Once harvest ed the shrimps are taken off to be processed, which involves them being boiled in sea water for a few seconds, to clean them, then they are hand peeled and further boiled in butter with a secret combination of herbs and spices and then sealed into individual pots with more butter. This delicacy can be either eaten warmed through, or at room temperature served with freshly made crusty bread.
We ‘pot’ our own shrimps at the restaurant using our own secret recipe, which we’ve developed over time based on several traditional methods. However, for ease I would recommend buying them ready potted from Booths or from your local fishmonger for this dish.
Recipe Serves 4
Spiced apple and cauliflower velouté
1 large or 2 medium cauliflowers
1 white onion
1 Braeburn apple
1 tbsp mild Madras curry powder
1 pinch of saffron (optional)
250ml double cream
250ml boiling water
2x 50g potted shrimps at room temperature
24 large golden raisins soaked in mead for 24 hours
Toasted almonds (almonds cooked in a hot oven for 3 – 4 mins until golden brown)
Remove the leaves and core from the cauliflower then finely slice the florets. Peel and slice the onion and Braeburn apple.
Melt the butter in a large pan over a medium heat until it begins to foam but doesn’t colour.
Add the sliced onion and sweat until it softens. Add the curry powder and cook out for a couple of minutes.
Add the apple followed immediately by the cauliflower. Season with salt and stir together to coat with the spice, onion and butter.
Add the saffron, milk, cream and boiling water and turn up the heat and cook until the cauliflower and apple are soft (this process is best done as quickly as possible as the cauliflower will become bitter and unpleasant if over-cooked).
Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth. At this point use water and salt to adjust the flavour and consistency to your preference.
If pre-making for later cool down as quickly as possible and store in the fridge until required.
If serving immediately divide between four bowls, sprinkle the shrimps over the top along with the almonds and raisins.