Wine Trail - Cook's Edition

Shrimp in Strong Sweet Sauce

It is almost New Years and you might be looking for something special to prepare. Here's a recipe that can be both a great appetizer or,  paired with some simple pasta,  a fancy and extremely tasty full meal. Large shrimp bathed in a fantastic sauce made up from shrimp shell and fish stock, raisins, cinnamon, pine nuts and sweetened lemon peels. An Italian preparation that may be new to you, as it was to us. It was a great discovery!

Even better, most of this meal can be prepared in advance leaving plenty of time to relax and celebrate.



 e have a lot of cookbooks. Yes, the internet can serve up an almost infinite number of free recipes, but we find that there is something about browsing through a book. This way you find things you might never think of trying. We had some fish stock and a bag of Mexican White Shrimp in the freezer, and we wanted something different. Put that into Google and in .54 seconds there were 14,200,000 pages to look at. We were thinking Italian. Add that to Google and there were merely 8,240,000 results. The first several pages were all cioppino. We went to our bookshelf and pulled out a classic and leafed through it, and found something completely different from anything we had ever tried. Internet recipes are technically free and that is a valid reason not to buy books. We probably are just old fashioned, but having the book in hand, leafing through pages slowly, savoring the lines of thought of a particular author,  is rewarding. Skimming pages on the 'net isn't the same. Sure, we do it but somehow it actually takes us longer to find an interesting new recipe on the internet than in our library of books. And you can't make notes on your PC or phone (ok, with the right app, yes you can, but do you?).

We adapted our recipe from one in  The Silver Spoon which was first published in Italy circa 1950 and went on  to be one of the most popular cookbooks in the world. It was translated from Italian to English in 2005. According to the publisher the Italian version was "an instant classic, selling over one million copies in eight editions. Considered essential in every household, it continues to be one Italy’s most popular wedding presents." The Financial Times says:  "The most successful Italian cookbook of all time."

And yet, the one-star reviews on Amazon that address its usefulness as a cookbook dwell on things like "simplistic" or "not enough pictures" or "there are better recipes on the internet".

We have cookbooks that we almost never use, but they aren't the ones that are 'simple'. They are the ones where the chef has gone out of his or her way to throw in dozens of ingredients, often only easily available to a restaurant, and plates them in grand style that no home chef wants to deal with. We might for special occasions but do you always need recipes that are complex?  There's a reason this book is a wedding present. Many people at the start of a marriage may be more used to dining out, or out of a box. Cooking is an art and a skill and for most does take a bit of learning.

By the way, we certainly aren't trying to make money 'selling' this book. Fact is it appears to be out-of-print. You can get used copies for prices ranging from $50 to $1000. These are the recipes that, if you are Italian, you remember your mother and grandmother making. Though many are close to how to boil a potato (instructional if you don't know how!) others are like the one we present here. Interesting and delicious. We might one night cook from a book by Alice Waters of the famed Chez Panisse, or another night from The Woman's Home Companion, printed in 1942 and passed down to us.

Too simple? What is an omelet?  At it's most basic, nothing more than eggs and salt. A dish that can take less than a minute to prepare. Yet, Julia Child, in Mastering the Art of French Cooking spends 3 pages showing you how to cook those eggs. Great chefs remember the time they first perfected the making of an omelet.

The Silver Spoon is a book, filled with ideas for both the 'big' and the 'small'. From the standpoint of an American, it also brings to life another world and another time. Truly, if you get good ingredients, when something is simple that doesn't mean it is to be ignored.

We expect there are those who will complain that our dish here is NOT simple, yet, except for the somewhat unusual step of candying some lemon rind (nothing more than lemon, sugar and water in a pot), there is nothing unusual about it. And, if you can boil water, the full meal we suggest just pairs the appetizer recipe with a plate of spaghetti tossed with some parsley, garlic, red pepper flakes and doused with good olive oil. Simple, yes. And yet, we thought it good enough for a New Year's dinner in a year where you don't want to be doing things that are just too hard..

To the New Year and better times ahead.

Large Mexican White Shrimp

raw shrimp
These are what a really good butcher shop we frequent sells (along with some seafood stocks). According to one of the butchers, Mexican White Shrimp are 'the only ones to buy'. The store also supplies it to a fine dining establishment we know that specializes in only the best ingredients. They do tend to be a bit sweeter than some shrimp and we find them to be very tasty. That is not to say that other shrimp can't be used (though we suggest large shrimp for this recipe) but brushing up on what shrimp are all about is a good idea and we refer you, once again,  to Serious Eats, for a quick primer on shrimp. As a teaser, we love what they have to say about buying pre-cooked shrimp: "Just don't. 'Pre-cooked' shrimp should almost universally be labeled 'overcooked' shrimp. They're usually rubbery and bland, and since they're already cooked, offer no room for flavor improvement and will end up dry when added to dishes. Leave them be."

Be aware that almost all shrimp you see out on a seafood counter were previously frozen. Techniques for flash freezing these days are pretty good and you don't need to ask for 'fresh shrimp'. Some markets receive shrimp in 2 pound bags and when there is shrimp we like we ask the market to sell us the still frozen bag. That way we can defrost what we want when we want.

One more thing about shrimp in general. Producers may add chemicals. Sodium bisulfite is added to prevent melanosis (also known as 'black spot'). This is done for aesthetic reasons. Of more concern is the addition of tripolyphosphate. It causes the shrimp to absorb water, possibly up to 10%. So not only are you paying for that water, the result is that when you go to pan fry the shrimp the water is released and instead of getting a nice sear, they steam instead and are mushy. When you buy shrimp by the bag, check the ingredients. For best results it should just say SHRIMP.

For this recipe you want shrimp that have not been peeled. In fact, no matter what purpose you might be buying shrimp for, we think you should always buy unpeeled shrimp.  Those peels, as they are used here will go to making a truly rich broth. When peel-on shrimp is not part of a recipe, we still buy them and save the shells in the freezer. When there are enough we make a quick shrimp stock, reduce it and put it back in the freezer. Frozen gold for some later meal.

shrimp shells
And we do mean quick! While we, like we suppose many, might think simmering something for a long time does a better job at getting flavor. This, according to Cook's Illustrated (and after following their instructions, we agree), is wrong. They brown the shells in a pot and then simmer them with water, peppercorns, a bay leaf, and salt for no more than a five minutes.

Pine Nuts

Pine Nuts
Pine nuts are expensive. Even more expensive are toasted pine nuts. You can save some money by toasting them yourself, but, as we have learned from experience, there is a decent chance of burning them. So much for saving cash. But recently we came across a way that seems almost foolproof, which we discussed recently in another recipe. Take a look!

Fish Fumet

Just what is fish fumet? It's a fish stock. Some use the term interchangeably with fish stock, but Mirriam-Webster defines 'fumet' as a reduced and seasoned fish, meat, or vegetable stock. That's what we are after in this recipe. We were lucky enough to have some fish stock in the freezer which we had already reduced to save space. For most that's probably not going to be the case.

What to do?

You could go ahead and prepare your own. Here's a perfectly nice recipe from Serious Eats. High end grocers may have their own fish stock ready to go. Many supermarkets will have fish stock, often in cartons. Markets that don't have fish stock may very well stock clam juice in a bottle. Used judiciously, that can be a good substitute (see this article at Serious Eats for more about that). There are also boullion style fish and lobster stocks in jars, such as those from Better For Boullion that we have found in many supermarkets. You might even have some in your pantry. When using boullions or clam juice, watch out for the salt they contain and adjust your recipe to account for it.

If you don't find any of those solutions workable, anchovies or little tubes of anchovy paste are almost universally available. Try grinding up a few in a small food processor or blender with garlic (or use a mortar and pestle... or even just the side of cleaver). Maybe add a few drops of worcestershire sauce or Nam Pla, an Asian fish sauce that is becoming more and more findable. We keep it on hand for the extra umami it gives to dishes (but use sparingly!).

The Recipe

We think this make an excellent appetizer for a special occassion.  At the same time, paired with pasta, you get a tasty meal. Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a dinner with pasta

Shrimp in Strong Sweet Sauce
Heat 3 TB of the oil in a large pan. Add the shrimp shells, carrots, celery, onion and leek. Cook over low heat stirring occasionally until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add the brandy and cook until it is evaporated. Add the white wine and bring to a boil. Add the fish fumet, thyme, bay leaf and tomatoes.

Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is thickened somewhat. Look for thickly breaking bubbles. Do not let it all boil down as you want there to be enough liquid to capture by straining.

Place the contents of the pan in a sieve or chinois and strain the liquid into a new pot (we prefer non-stick for this step). Remember to take a large spoon or other appropriate tool to push down on the vegetables to extract all the liquid.

Simmer the liquid until it is reduced to 5 or 6 Tablespoons. Take the pot off the heat and set aside.

Reduced Sauce
Pare the lemons, avoiding all the white pith. Long strips are nice but not mandatory. Cut the peel into very thin batons (the size of matchsticks). Squeeze lemons and strain the juice. Reserve.

Using three separate changes of boiling water, blanch the batons three times. Drain the water and place the rinds into a small pot. Add the sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Bring the water to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved then boil without stirring until the lemon rind is coated with the syrup. Don't overcook, you don't want it to get so hard that you can't get it out of the pot. Remove from the heat. The rinds may harden or mass into a ball but if you haven't overcooked them they will come apart when placed in the sauce.

Lemons 1
Lemons 2
You can do all the above in advance which means there's very little left to do!

Lightly dust the shrimp with the flour. Heat the remaining 2 TB of olive oil in a large pan. Add the shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned.

Finishing Ingredients
Sprinkle in the cinnamon. Add the reserved stock, lemon juice, lemon rind, raisins and pine nuts and mix well. Season with salt to taste and serve.

If you would like to pair the shrimp with pasta, we suggest the following:

Pasta with Garlic and Oil

For two...

Two Pans
8 oz. thin or angel hair pasta (or even just regular spaghetti). We used De Cecco No. 11 Thin Spaghetti.
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3rd cup (more or less to taste) Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 tsp (more or less to taste) hot red pepper flakes
10-15 large sprigs Italian parsley, chopped (leaves only if you want to be fancy and avoid crunch; we just use it all)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large pan (we prefer non-stick for this), heat the oil, then add the garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste then cook over low heat until the garlic just starts to turn brown. About 2 minutes.

Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and add to the large pan. Add the parsley and toss. Season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Add a little more olive oil if you like. Serve immediately with the shrimp to the side.


Wine Pairing

Nalle Hopkins ZinfandelNalle Winery

We drank a Sangiovese with the meal and it was a fine match. If you don't have one around or want to celebrate with a Nalle, consider (if you have one) the 2018 Nalle Hopkins Ranch Sparkling, their own version of a Blanc de Blancs. Made in the traditional Champagne method with secondary fermentation in the bottle and no dosage at disgorgement (no sugar added), this wine will surely help to ring in the new year.
Nalle Winery Squirrels


Here is a summary of the recipe in a .pdf you can print