This dish was designed to be prepared using a Parrot Ranch Pottery California Steamer. This stoneware steamer is the perfect size for this recipe, but any pot-top steamer will work as long as it is large enough. I do not recommend this recipe for the inset steamer baskets as there is not enough room to hold the aromatics, and you might run out of water before the dish is done. Don’t be intimidated by what appears to be a long recipe. This dish comes together quickly and does not require accurate measuring. Think of this recipe as a guideline.
For the Shrimp:
1 head of fennel, stalks and branches removed and reserved, split and cored, and sliced crossways very thin
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into long matchsticks
1 small onion, peeled, quartered, and sliced into thin quarter moons
1 clove garlic, peeled, de-germed, and sliced paper-thin
1 1/2 pounds 21-25 (or smaller) shrimp, peeled and deveined
Large pinch of Herbes de Maquis* or Herbes de Provence with fennel (not with lavender!)
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
For Steaming Aromatics:
Smaller fennel stalks and some fronds
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and cracked
1/2 tablespoon of fennel seeds
Small pinch of salt
Pinch of Herbes de Maquis*
3-4 cups water
Shrimp shells from shrimp, rinsed
1 shallot, peeled and minced
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon, plus 2-3 more, olive oil (use a good aromatic extra virgin oil such as Belle Farms or Colline di Santa Cruz
For the Shrimp:
Place the largest fennel stalks in the bottom of the steamer to form a lattice to keep the steamer holes open. Place a few fennel fronds over the lattice.
In a bowl, toss the fennel, carrot, and onion with the garlic. Sprinkle with half the Herbes de Maquis, and some salt and pepper. Toss 3/4s of the mixture into the steamer. DO NOT pack this down.
In a bowl, toss the shrimp with a pinch of salt and pepper and the remaining Herbes de Maquis. Scatter these over the vegetables, trying to avoid a lot of overlap. Use some of the remaining vegetables to add space between the shrimp so there is room for the steam to travel.
Add the remaining vegetables to cover the shrimp, and place the top on the steamer, and place over the pot that is steaming. Cook for around 15 minutes, or until the shrimp are cooked through. Check after 10 minutes. If necessary, use a pair of tongs to turn the shrimp and vegetables to expose the not quite done parts of the shrimp to the steam. The shrimp are done when they are opaque all the way through and have a firm texture to them. They are ready to serve when they have reached this point.
Shrimp may be served in the steamer on the catch plate as is, or you may wish to make the sauce that follows.
For Aromatic Steam Bath:
Place the small fennel stalks and fronds, garlic, fennel seeds, salt, pepper, and Herbes de Maquis in the bottom of a pot that will best hold the steamer, and add the water. (If the pot has a wide bottom, you may want to use the larger volume of water because a larger surface area will evaporate more rapidly than a smaller surface area.)
Bring to a boil and cook for 3-4 minutes to bring out the aromas of the aromatics. Reduce the heat so the liquid is steaming, but not at a full rolling boil. The idea is to have steam without soaking the food in the bottom of the steamer. Proceed with cooking.
For the Sauce:
This is essentially a shrimp stock lightly emulsified with olive oil, sort of like a vinaigrette.
In the bottom of the pan that you will use to steam the shrimp, add 1 tablespoon of oil. Heat over medium-high, and when hot, add the shrimp shells. Be careful as they will spatter and spit. Stir the shells around in the oil to get them thoroughly colored and aromatic.
Add the shallots into the bottom of the pan, and cook until translucent. Add the rest of the dry (non-liquid) steaming ingredients, and stir in.
Add the wine, and cook to reduce by 80 percent.
Add the water, then proceed with cooking the shrimp.
When the dish is done, strain the liquid into a bowl large enough to hold it and a whisk without spilling. If you have more than a 1/2 cup of liquid left, empty out the pot of the aromatics and return the liquid to the pan over high heat.
Boil to reduce the liquid to a 1/2 cup. When reduced, whisk the oil into the liquid in a steady stream to emulsify the oil into the liquid, forming a loose dressing/sauce.
If you use this sauce to pour over the dish, transfer the shrimp to a regular serving bowl. Pour over the shrimp and vegetables or use as a dipping sauce. (For a thicker sauce, use more oil. Remember – a standard vinaigrette has a 3:1 ratio of oil to vinegar. If you want a thicker sauce, reduce the liquid to 1/4 cup and proceed to avoid an oily dish.)
This stock can be made anytime you have shrimp shell, and is good for other dishes such as paella or risotto. It freezes well and will last a month or so.
*Herbes de Maquis is a specialty herb blend available from Chef Andrew Cohen at Malabar Trading Company at the Aptos Farmers Market.
YIELD: 4 servings (or enough for 2 hungry adults)
SOURCE: Recipe courtesy of Chef Andrew Cohen, Chef in Residence
ABOUT PARROT RANCH POTTERY: To order a California Steamer or to see other beautiful and functional serveware, see the Parrot Ranch Pottery website gallery or visit Parrot Ranch Pottery at the Aptos Farmers Market to see a large display of the stoneware pieces available.